“I wish to express my closeness to Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre, and I confirm our long-term commitment to resolve a dispute that has been going on for too long”. This statement belongs to the President of the Republic. The words pronounced by President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella during a celebration at the Quirinale, which refer also to the Liberation Day on April 25, put a spotlight back on the question of the two Italian marines detained in India for the ‘murder of two fishermen mistaken for pirates. A never-ending story, in which Italy has made an endless series of errors and Indian authorities have changed their version for a myriad of time. Whatever perspective you choose, it is a unique case in military history in peaceful time, with two marines held prisoners since February 15, 2012, when the Indian vessel St. Antony became involved in a firefight off the Indian coast, in which Jalestine Valentine and Ajesh Binkuil were shot dead, respectively in the head and in the heart.
After having landed in the port of Neendakara at 10:25 p.m., the crew of the vessel which had previously denounced the incident by satellite phone, claimed that at the time of the accident everyone was asleep and that no boat had been spotted nearby. Port Authorities contacted all the vessels nearby: the Enrica Lexie, the Kamome Victoria, Giovanni DP, and Ocean Breeze, inviting those who had been attacked, to enter Kochi port to provide feedback on a fishing boat stopped with weapons on board. Only Enrica Lexie replied to this call and entered the harbor at 11.00p.m., accompanied by two Indian units of the Coast Guard.
The first question is: Who gave Lexie the order to surrender to Indians? And why? We can think of a partial answer, with a hint to another obscure detail in this story: the marines’ return to India after a license they had been granted for Christmas. Then Minister Terzi announced that the two marines would have stayed in Italy, only to be denied by Prime Minister Monti, a thing that pushed the former to resign. At the time, there were several trade agreements at stake, among them a large order for helicopters supply, which partially stopped later. This, however, concerns politics and the complicate intricacies with economy. The fact is that our military men have been formally in the hands of the Indian Justice for over four years now. (In theory), the two man may even be sentenced to death.
But are they guilty or not? A court will determine this, and this is yet another sore point: which court? Considering that Lexie was in international waters, it should be a “third court”, but Indians have claimed the right to prosecute and judge them. Recently, Italy has finally put its foot down and is now awaiting an international decision. In regard to the case, it is worth focusing – among other things – on one point in particular: the bullets. The ballistic analysis is the key point on which the whole investigation is based. The analysis of the warheads extracted from the bodies of the fishermen and the comparison between the trajectories and the signs left on the vessel would have made it possible to quickly shed light on this intricate story. Yet, it did not happen because of the attitude of the Indian authorities that did not allow Italian biased technicians to take active part in the survey. Besides, the vessel was “sunk” in ill-defined circumstances, thus making further thorough investigations impossible.
Why the Italian marines would be innocent is well explained by a chronological assessment of the events, which was developed by the lawyer Roberta De Luca and by a technical analysis conducted by the expert Luigi Di Stefano. The Italian armed forces are equipped with Beretta AR 70/90 rifles. There are several versions of it, but all of them are 5.56 NATO caliber. The report signed by K. Sasikala, pathologist, Professor of Medicine and Surgery in Trivandrum legal, claims that the “pointy metal bullet” found in the skull of the fisherman is “3.1cm long”, “with a circumference of two centimeters at the tip” and “2.4 cm above the base.”
The report mentions circumference, not diameter. Departing from the circumference (24mm), it is easy to calculate the radius R (R =C/2π), thereby obtaining a diameter of 7,64mm. This value can be easily identified with 7.62mm, a classic caliber that exists both in (NATO) versions and former USSR (AK47 is a typical example). On the basis of these statements, it would seem that the caliber of the bullet extracted from the bodies of the two fishermen (7,62mm) is not compatible with the (5.56 mm) caliber with which the two marine riflemen were equipped. This important finding actually helps to acquit the two Italian military men. A slap in the face of those who, even in Italy, have already condemned them on principle.
But, people will say, they have admitted an attack themselves… Yes, but it is not the same they were charged with. The ship was far away from where the two fishermen were killed. Attacks in that area of the sea are frequent; besides, there are also the Arrow Boats (small boats designed and built in Sri Lanka) that are used to control territorial waters and fight illegal fishing. And they are, indeed, equipped with 7.62 caliber that killed the two Indian fishermen.
Tomorrow will be communicated – except for last-minute postponements, a strategy already widely used by the Indian authorities – the decision on a possible extension of Latorre’s license for treatment in Italy; then, we will expect the sentence of the Hague arbitration court on the Italian request to allow Girone as well to await the outcome of the arbitration in Italy. After the arbitration, legal competence will be decided. And finally it will be possible to open the actual process. In short, the Italian marines’ case is far from reaching a conclusion, but at least this endless pantomime between Italy and India, which has caused so much harm to the families of the riflemen and to the prestige of the Italian nation, will probably come to an end.