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About the Cermis tragedy and NATO bases September 27, 2006

Posted by dorigo in news, politics.

In the previous post, while discussing the liberation of Silvia Baraldini, I ended up dealing with a recent case when the United States frustrated all italian attempts at obtaining justice for 20 deaths caused by the negligent behavior of a US Marines.

In my post yesterday I wrote what I remembered about the accident but only used a quick web search to refresh my memory about the facts (dates, names of the pilots, etc.). Today, though, I found an article on wikipedia on the matter, which I think is very informative. You can browse it at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cavalese_cable-car_disaster .

In particular, the trial where the american pilot Richard Ashby was acquitted from the charge of involuntary killing the 20 occupants of the gondola is discussed in some detail. It transpires that the usually dreaded court martial was rather benevolent on that occasion – indeed in stark contrast with Baraldini’s 43-year sentence.

On the other hand, I have to say it is not fair to compare Baraldini’s case to Ashby’s, despite the only purpose of the comparison was to illustrate the US-Italy political relationship when dealing with judiciary issues. And that for a number of reasons. One cannot really expect that a foreign alleged terrorist be treated fairly in a trial, in the United States or elsewhere: sad but true. And besides, one should not put on the same scale the participation in an illegal movement culminated in a criminal act which did not cause injuries (driving a car to help the escape of a fugitive) with a stupid and negligent act causing the death of 20 people.

I think the reason of the sometimes troubled relations between Italy and its ally are due to the evident habit of the US administration to consider Italy its outpost rather than a state sovereign in its territory.

As much as I think Italy owes to the US forces who liberated Italy from the nazists and fascists in 1943 – and which then decided to stay – I believe that NATO treaties (specifically, the London convention of 1951) should be modified, now that the threat of the “west” does not come from USSR anymore: the reason of existence of US military bases in italian territory is evidently not connected to the “protection” of Italy from the red block, but only to provide the US air force and navy with facilities that help them conduct operations on whose design Italy does not have any real decisional power.  

Mind you, the London convention has been renegotiated by a number of NATO member states. In particular, Germany has now a convention which states that in case of alleged crimes involving the death of a person, robbery, or rape, the US has to yield jurisdiction to the german legislation.



1. gordonwatts - September 29, 2006

These treties are slow things to change. But you see the relationship between the US changing all over the world. “Trust us to do the right thing” no longer works for us (Japan, S. Korea, etc.) — they want more control. It wouldn’t surprise me that more of this changes over the next 20 years.

But, in the end, it will come down to politics and who has what the other person wants. You can see it all over. It probably isn’t possible to use straight ideals when dealing with contries (no more so than when dealing with people), so these local injustices will continue to occur. I don’t see a future without them; give-and-take will always be part of international relations as much as it is between people.

2. Sergio (Italy) - February 7, 2007

“I think the reason of the sometimes troubled relations between Italy and its ally are due to the evident habit of the US administration to consider Italy its outpost rather than a state sovereign in its territory.”
Completely true. But I also blame our Foreign Affairs Minister (D’Alema) to have made that exchange with the U.S.A. Government involving Silvia Baraldini. Unfortunately, you have the power to define what is a “terrorist”, and not only in your country… I blame, and consider very stupid, the decision of not judging the members of that airplane for the real reason: the killing of 20 people for a joke. You cannot say “they were only joking, but sadly something went wrong”… they should be in jail, like Silvia Baraldini. Like everyone else who committed a crime.

3. dorigo - February 7, 2007

Hi Sergio,

All good – but you do not mention what was the crime for the indictment of Baraldini: driving a car to help the escape of a political prisoner. She paid for it, quite dearly. She developed cancer while in jail. I think we did the right thing in fooling the US on this one.

The US need to be reminded of what I mention above every once in a while. Craxi -a man I do not have a high esteem of, but who really knew a few things about foreign politics – did it in Sigonella. Baraldini was the next fly in the face of the US. We lived through too many cermis tragedies, let’s not forget the Itavia flight on Ustica.


4. Michel Merlin - August 8, 2009

OK to punish authors of Cermis 1998 (20 dead) *and* of Ramstein 1988 (70 dead)
I agree entirely with blaming USAF for their conduct in and after Cermis 1998. Unfortunately USAF has a long history of flouting its own duties to people, and first of all, to American people; during WWII they killed more than protected western people (I was under bombings from RAF in 1944, which were the exact opposite of USAF: serious, taking risks *for themselves*, effectively destroying enemy targets, killing very few French civilians).

Now I am very upset with the systematic bashing of American in general. Compare with Ramstein 1988, where Italians made a vastly worse set of actions: violating safety rules by number of planes, distances between them, to the ground, to the public, not sincerely following the approved flight plan, and above all, flying one plane towards public; then routinely repeating this incredibly fool and dangerous stunt, until the inevitable catastrophe, which finally occurred Sun 28 Oct 1988 at Ramstein, killing 80.

Were these pilots American, of course they would still be (duly) badly bashed world wide 21 years later. But they were Italians, so their faults, while not really concealed at the time (which would have been impossible), have been silently yet promptly overshadowed by a number of things: quibbles about an alleged slowness of American rescue (while exactly opposite at the time to victim testimonies, including German, this was progressively made “true” and “official”), official number of victims progressively brought down to 67, sudden launch of a song with a derivative name, strange squelch of medias about it, etc.

So finally, please don’t help the official position, which is openly more indulgent with the nearly planned murder of 70 by Italians, than with the criminal negligent killing of 20 by Americans.

Versailles, Sat 08 Aug 2009 17:01:15 +0200

5. dorigo - August 8, 2009

Dear Michel,

of course I agree with your points. However, this post is about the Cermis tragedy, not the Ramstein one. It is ok to compare the two, but it is rather pointless to do it here using it as an argument to criticize my post, like saying “do not blame Stalin, because Hitler was worse” in a comment on a post about Stalin’s purges.

Anyway, there is one difference which you neglect in your comparison, and I will take this occasion to bring it up, maybe finding you in agreement. The people who were killed at Ramstein went there to see the show, knowing it is not one of the safest ways to spend an afternoon. The show was planned, mishandled, and there is a lot to say about the conduct of the pilots, the aftermath, etcetera; but it is an entirely different situation to the one which ended up causing the Cermis tragedy.

In the case of Cermis, we are talking about pilots having fun in their training flights above and within populated areas. Pilots from a foreign country, who should be trained at home, in safer places. Pilots who are not trying to please their fans as in Ramstein, but who are instead pleasing themselves for the risk they take on somebody else’s skin. I think this makes a small, but rather annoying aggrievating point against the american pilots at Cermis.


6. Michel Merlin - August 8, 2009

Thx Dorigo for replying. I agree with most. But I maintain one thing: OK to see the differences that are in favor of Italians (or against Americans), *IF* you also and equally see the ones in the other way around. And also if none exaggerates or slants some of the facts. In Ramstein certainly the vast majority of the immense crowds were NOT “knowing it is not one of the safest ways to spend an afternoon”, certainly not more than riding in a cable car in the mountains, etc (I can link you a moving report about family lives devastated by Ramstein while having obviously taken absolutely none of the risks you are implying). So please be equal, not biased – just as I tried.

BTW I was wrong for the date: it was Sun 28 *Aug* 1988.

I agree this is not about Ramstein. Now I know that the political handling of the net will certainly paint recalling Ramstein as morbid or inappropriate in any other way (to overshadow or lessen Italian faults), while they will paint recalling of Cermis as sensible (to outline or exaggerate American faults). So I would not be surprised if you weren’t daring to speak about Ramstein. Yet if ever you were, I can show you a few sober and factual links, including the one I mentioned.

Versailles, Sat 08 Aug 2009 18:14:00 +0200

7. dorigo - August 8, 2009

Dear Michel,

sure, I have no personal interest in this matter and I certainly try to be unbiased in discussing it. If you were to read through the 1500 posts of this blog you would find scores of them criticizing Italy, italians abroad, the italian government, the italian opposition, the italian army. So my only point now is that you are picking on one post against Americans covering their actions, ignoring the others I wrote. Not your fault if you did not read the rest, but I hope you will not use your freedom to pick a subset among my writings for the sake of arguing that I am biased.

As for Ramstein, I have no stimulus to write about that -I wrote about Cermis here only to underline some of the idiosyncrasies in the US-Italy relationship. This, after all, is a blog about Physics.

BTW, please note that this blog has now been inactive since April 09. I have moved my blogging activities to scientific blogging, a site I recommend for the high quality of the writers.


8. Michel Merlin - August 8, 2009

Sorry if I occupied a little too much space on your blog: *You* are right, *I* brought Ramstein here as an example of your “underline some of the idiosyncrasies in the US-Italy relationship” (I arrived here after seeing elsewhere – YouTube – discussions about Ramstein, trying to switch the fault onto Cermis and Americans). I was happy to share our POVs (not as different as they look IMO) and infos.

Thanks also for pointing scientificblogging.com, I didn’t know it.

Versailles, Sat 08 Aug 2009 19:52:30 +0200

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