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On the ground at the Diaz trial

Oscar Beard | 02.02.2006 16:21 | Genoa | Repression | London | World

An account of the British Diaz vicitms testimonies from the back of the court and on the street.

It is Tuesday evening here in the Genova Legal Forum office, where we have been operating from since our arrival on that sunny morning of 5 January, 2006.

The testimonies of the British Diaz witnesses are now over. For all of them this has been an ordeal that none of us could comprehend, not unless we had been through the same vicious brutality.

Now, 44 German victims of the Diaz raid are slowly trickling through the office and into the Genova Central Court of Justice to begin their testimonies.

But all has not gone well. From three-day lawyer strikes, in retaliation to the reform law that leaves Berlusconi and his lawyer, Previti, immune to prosecution, to the renovations of the main court room not being finished in time.

Rumours are abound of Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini issuing back-handed bribes to the decorating contractors, to halt the Diaz and Bolzaneto trials by buying the wrong colour paint.

On top of that you had two of the most vicious lawyers, Corini and Di Bugno, defending the police officers accused of the violence unleashed on 93 sleeping protestors, on that vicious night of 21 July, 2001, at the Diaz Pertini and Pascoli buildings on Via Battisti.

Di Bugno looked like a soap star. Tall, well-dressed, Gucci suits, heavily tanned and a shocking mass of greased black pubic hair for a hairstyle.

Corini was an even bigger arrogance. Openly known to be involved with the mafia and the extreme rightwing here in Italy, he looked like Ron Jeremy, but it looked like he had an easier life. His hair was black, long, swept both ways, a thin, sharp moustache following his top lip from end to end – an eighties porn star. A failed one at least.

Corini was rumoured to have two pet snakes, both named after Nazi concentration camps.

We didn’t get on from day one. The first moment I was in the court these boys were on me, watching and speaking to their assigned plain clothes police security, who then proceeded to hover over myself and the photojournalist like vultures ready to pick away at our corpses.

After 15 minutes of this I said “to hell with this” and called them over, identified myself as a registered British journalist and asked what the problem was.

The answer translated back to me was that they had no problem. It was me that had the problem. Di Bugno said I didn’t like the clothes he was wearing.

I replied in extremely busted Italian to Di Bugno that I had no problem and he should relax, referring to him as “segnore” all the time. In times like these a bit of false respect can go a long way. I learned that much in Mexico when held up by the military.

All this time Norman Blair was on the witness stand recounting his horrific testimony. Corini and Di Bugno seemed completely uninterested. Their soul scheme seemed to be to harass me. To try and start an argument, and either have me thrown out of court, or have the entire trial suspended because of disruption.

Blair’s account of that night in the Diaz school was incredibly coherent. He described the police as “a pack of wild dogs.”

He recounted how his friend Dan Macquillan stood before the police, hands up in surrender, telling them they were peaceful. The police did not reply. They advanced and laid into him with batons.

“You imagine blood to be quite thin,” said Blair, referring to the wounds of Macquillan, “but this was thick, like jelly.”

When asked if at any time the police offered medical assistance to the injured Blair replied: “Absolutely not.”

Corini and Di Bugno immediately attacked Blair’s character by asking about previous convictions. Blair said yes, he was convicted of shoplifting in the 1980s. The police lawyers eyes lit up and they homed in. Any convictions of resisting arrest? Blair replied he had no convictions of violence. Convictions for opposing the police?

“Obstructing police, obstructing the highway,” replied Blair, then added that these convictions were for peaceful demonstrations, sitting in the road, and there was a hell of difference between being arrested during peaceful protests and violence against the police.

Still, Corini and Di Bugno persisted. They seriously thought there was something to be sought from this angle.

You could see the judge looking at Corini and Di Bugno, a look that said 'where the hell is this leading'. Finally they gave up - no further questions - and Norman Blair stepped down from the witness stand.

There should be a law against heavily-armed plain-clothes police officers glaring at you. Since the altercation, these two, the grey skinhead and the thick-set dark-haired one had been on our journalist team constantly. We decided to leave and try to find some sanctuary, through beer and coffee, in the café across the road. But the bar was full of lawyers and cops. No rest for the wicked.

On 24 January independent journalist Mark Covell took to the witness stand. As soon our journalist team walked into the court Corini, Di Bugno and their now small army of bodyguards were on to us again.

They used mobile phones to communicate, the bodyguards whispered in each others ears. They all stared. And then they began to close in, walking up, really close behind us, arms folded and mean grimaces on their face. I guess no one ever explained to them the importance of body language or personal space.

Covell recounted the three separate attacks on him outside the Diaz Pertini building. He had called out “journalist” to the wall of riot police storming towards him down Via Battisti.

“You no journalist, you Black Bloc. We’re going to kill Black Bloc,” replied the riot police in English.

Covell was hit with a barrage of batons, smashed against the wall outside Diaz Pertini and then knee-capped with a baton strike.

“I feared for my life,” said Covell.

The second attack started with a kick to his spine: “All the police around me joined in,” he said: “I remember the police men laughing.”

The police proceeded to kick Covell around the street “like a football”. By this time, in the witness stand, you could hear the pain in Covell’s voice. He went on, one policeman stepped in and halted the beating. He grabbed Covell and yelled “Basta, basta,” [enough, enough].

Corini and Di Bugno, all through his testimony, did not listen. The English interpreter caught them laughing and joking about Covell’s account. I watched them while they sent text messages and played games on their mobile phones.

Then came the homing in on police uniforms. The prosecution tried to clarify this first. Covell replied that they were your “average riot cop”. He admitted to seeing some plain-clothes officers, “wearing suits”, in vests and helmets entering the Pascoli building, where the media centre was housed.

An argument immediately started between the lawyers on both sides when the word “Caribineri” was mentioned, which had gone down in the original statement. Incredible theatrics were soon calmed down by the judge.

But this calm did not last long. Within minutes one of the legal workers on the side of the victims yelled “shame on you” in Italian to Corini and Di Bugno. The performance that followed was worthy of an Academy Award. Again, the judge jumped in and told Corini to not make a drama out of everything.

The Caribineri argument continued through the rest of the testimony. By the end of Covell’s testimony I understood, despite the language barrier, that Caribineri meant argument.

Covell went on to describe his time in hospital, with three police officers at his bed, armed officers outside his room, and a woman, whom he thought was from the UK embassy. She turned out to be Daily Mail journalist Lucy Morris, who then proceeded to front page status by labelling Covell a terrorist and the organiser of the Genova G8 riots.

At one point police officers arrived at the hospital to remove Covell to Bolzaneto prison, where 81 others were currently incarcerated, suffering beatings and torture. But Covell’s doctors formed a human shield and stopped the police from taking him, knowing full well, if they did he would surely die.

Corini and De Bugno seemed to have one simple plan the moment they got to ask any questions. They wanted to discredit Covell as a journalist.

They asked if his work had been published. He said yes. Where? On the UK Indymedia website. Do you have a copy? No, because the servers were seized by the FBI in October 2004.

Then we were back to the Caribineri again. The police lawyers berated Covell on this. He replied that he was “not concentrating on the uniforms”, he was “too busy trying to stay alive.”

The bald-headed police lawyer that had the floor, being prodded and yelled at by Corini and Di Bugno, said Covell was not injured at the point prior to the first attack so he would have had time to register the uniforms.

The public bar burst out in uproar at this single statement. The general consensus of the public seemed to be that if you had some 50 riot cops running towards you down a dark street in Genova at night, after everything else that happened during those days of the G8, anyone, in their right mind, would fear for their life.

One young girl called Corini and Di Bugno “clowns” and, after much theatrics from the police lawyers, was promptly removed from the court by uniformed police.

It was then I noticed the blonde woman looking at me. I thought she was one of the police lawyer’s wives, or lovers, or whores. She wore a fir coat, very favourable with Italian women that have a lot of money. She looked rich, mean, a face that directed every stereotypical hatred. And she was looking straight at me. Maybe she had taken offence to my pink and blue Hawaiian shirt.

I turned away and laughed to myself, only later to find out she too was one of the bodyguards of the police lawyers. When I realised that I understood that look was of a woman that had killed. She looked like she enjoyed it too. I moved away from her.

Corini began attacking Covell on the Black Bloc issue. Were they in the school? No. Why was a meeting organised by the Genova Legal Forum to ban Black Bloc from the school? Security, fear of what the police would do. Where was Black Bloc? Around the school, in the distance. Were they in the school at any other time? No.

Then Corini moved on to the alleged road blocks erected to barricade the road from the impending police raid. Covell answered no, the only obstruction in the road was a large Rai TV news van.

After the failure to pick up anything the police lawyers headed for their usual route - discredit the witness. Any previous criminal convictions? Yes, convicted of receiving stolen goods in 1988 and a caution for cannabis.

Maybe these kinds of minor crimes would have made a difference 40 years ago, but not now.

As I waited for Covell to walk out from court I bumped into Di Bugno and Corini. They were surrounded by their bodyguards. All of them glared at me, some of the more hardcore bodyguards, including the blonde woman, actually menaced me, just with one look.

“Ciao,” smiled Corini.

“Ciao,” I replied, “como va?”

Good he answered. He smiled. His bodyguards leered. They left the court, an aura of organised crime about them.

When Covell finally exited the court in the early afternoon sun, he was smiling. He had grasped the gravity of the situation, just as I had. Corini, Di Bugno, all the police lawyers were clutching at straws. They had nothing left to fight with. Any excuse to start a wailing match across the court room was soon met with a swift response from the judge, whose patience had worn out many days before.

But now, on this warm evening in Genova, several Germans sit drinking fine Italian wine and go through their original statements. This three-week gig of imbedded journalism with the British victims of Diaz and Bolzaneto is over.

All that there is left to do is to drink heavily on this last night. And with people like Mooly around, that is not hard to do.

One thing that has come from all of this - the trials, the victims, the police surveillance, rabid right wing lawyers – the victims of Diaz, whatever their nationality, are beautiful people. Every last one.

For me, every single one I have met on this trip have been fine, upstanding, caring members of the same human race as us all. The damage done to them on that night in July 2001 has no end. For the victims and those around, working hard to solve this case, seeking true justice and hold the guilty accountable.

The hurt in the eyes of each victim is still as plain to see today as the day the police smashed down the doors of the Diaz school and beat them with no mercy or remorse, no fear of killing. And that is a hard thing to be imbedded with, no matter how tough or experienced one is in this line of work.

Oscar Beard
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