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My Friend Giulio Andreotti and What I Think About the Italian Justice System

Prof. Joseph LaPalombara offers his comments in La Voce di NY after the exchange between former Prosecutor Mario Vaudano and Stefano Andreotti

The President of the Council Giulio Andreotti with US President Ronald Reagan (Photo from giulioandreotti.org)

My take on the Mario Vaudano “indictment” of Andreotti is that the former judge’s account  reeks of what is basically  wrong with the Italian magistracy system. Vaudano’s memory, however accurate it may be historically, is not just self-serving, it is also a powerful example of guilt-by-association, guilt-by-innuendo, guilt by indirection, guilt by what the writer, in this case a previous magistrate and judge, has decided beforehand must be the case. 

Italy’s crusading, pampered, feared magistrates  are the experts in a legal system where it is the accused, not the prosecutors, who must somehow prove otherwise! Magistrates are the preeminent experts. There is not a single line, not one bit of “hard” evidence in what Vaudano writes that would hold up in an honest, un-politicized, court of law.

My portrait of Andreotti, written some years ago, is autobiographical.   It follows:

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Giulio Andreotti, seven times Italy’s prime minister, was a distant friend. I have also described him as one of my teachers.  I met him in the late fifties.  He was visibly present in Italian national politics from immediately after World War II until he died, almost seven decades later.

If Andreotti had any close friends, that was a well-kept secret.  In one of the several trials he had to endure it was ludicrously claimed that he had once kissed the then notorious head of the Sicilian Mafia on both cheeks.  It would be news if Andreotti, called La Tartaruga (The Turtle) by Italians, were known to embrace members of this own family in that fashion.    

Andreotti was disliked in Italy probably by as many millions of Italians as those who swore by, and who supported this extraordinary man.  He often led the Christian Democratic Party; in many elections he received hundreds of thousands of “preference votes.”  If he was not first in the latter, he was certainly second.  Only a handful of the most popular political leaders ever garnered more of these preference votes than did Andreotti.  That fact alone enraged his detractors.

Andreotti was not popular in Washington D.C., probably because he was actively unwilling to be led by the United States.  He often infuriated the Americans, on grounds that Italy could make and follow its own foreign policy.  He openly maintained a friendly attitude toward the Arab World. This posture did not win Andreotti friends in a Foggy Bottom much more favorably oriented toward Israel than he was,  or as was the Italian Left—of which Andreotti was never a part.  Andreotti regretted Washington’s hostility toward him, but unlike so many of his political contemporaries, he was not inclined just to knuckle under to Uncle Sam.  

Andreotti during a visit in Jordan (Photo giulioandreotti.org)

Andreotti’s soft-spoken demeanor may have wrongly led some to believe that “The Turtle” was a softie or not very smart.  In my judgment and certainly in his feel for politics, Andreotti never had more than a few competitors in Italy.  Even his sworn enemies, and perhaps many who were known to detest him, were careful to give him space.  Friends and colleagues of mine in Italy were often amazed that I liked, respected and maintained contact with Andreotti.

I met with Andreotti the last time just before he reached ninety years of age.  I asked him if, in the span of his political career, there was anything at all that he lamented, or regretted.  He gave me what I thought was a condescending look; he hesitated a moment before he spoke.  He then said that his only true regret was the thought that he would not be alive when the court in Sicily, would dismiss charges against him. Once again there was no evidence at all to substantiate the charges that politicized magistrates brought against him.

Andreotti did discuss with me the  political motivations that underlay what the magistrates were up to in his regard.  His comments about the political or ideological motivation of Italy’s prosecutors and judges were many,  all of them negative.  Andreotti correctly saw the political side of the magistracy coming from right and left, from both extremes of Italian politics.

He correctly excoriated the “untouchable” magistracy. As he was careful to specify, Italy is a country where the same persons, often classmates and friends, are interchangeably prosecutors and judges.  In fact, they are expected periodically to play both of these roles. Several Italian attempts to “reform” the magistracy, in this obvious sense, have failed.

If the reader wants a hugely condemnatory examination of Italy’s magistracy, its horrendous political motivations, then get a copy of Stanton H. Burnett and Luca Mantovani, The Italian Guillotine (Rowman & Littlefield, 1998). I myself have published (The Yale Review Vol.99, January, 2011, pp. 89-105) an article in which I argue that the magistrates are much more accurately described as “vigilantes” because that is how the worst of them actually behave.  Any political scientist, in or out of Italy, would reach this conclusion.

Andreotti was especially eloquent in lambasting the behavior of the ANM, the national lobby for the magistrates. He warned me that this lobby was so powerful that neither deputies, nor prime ministers, nor presidents of the Republic would dare to be  openly critical  of the magistracy, or of the CNM, the National Council of the Magistracy, or the ANM, the powerful interest-group that represents and fights for the Italian magistrates,  who in effect officially  judge themselves and in a de facto way, are above the law.    

Giorgio Napolitano, an Italian president, saw this aspect of the magistracy after, in the early nineties, he was president of Montecitorio, the lower house of the national assembly.  But when his autobiographical book of that experience was published, he was super-careful  in his suggestions as to how Italian magistrates might improve their public behavior. 

Francesco Cossiga, another of Italy’s presidents, was much more direct, at least when he and I discussed the failings of Italy’s magistrate-prosecutors and judges. Cossiga said to me  that, where the  truth, or morality or the  professional ethics of public servants are concerned, Italian magistrates are similar to American district attorneys, particularly those who are elected. I thought a retired Cossiga actually abominated the magistracy.  His words to me were, “Questi sono non altro che truppe di assalto.”  He emphasized  that the prosecutors and judges in his country were no better than “assault troops”!

When Andreotti was found to be not guilty as the Sicilian magistrates had erroneously charged, he remembered our earlier conversation. So, from the Italian Senate, where he then enjoyed life tenure, the following message arrived in my mail:   

Caro Professore, come avra’ visto, anche i vecchi politici a volte siano capaci di sbagliare! Ossequi.  “Dear Professor, as you will have seen, even old political hands are capable of being wrong! Regards.”

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