On July 19, 1992, the Riina family was watching television in their holiday home. They were all silent, when broke the news of the massacre in Via D’Amelio, in Palermo, in which the magistrate Paolo Borsellino was killed together with the agents Emanuela Loi, Agostino Catalano, Walter Eddie Cosina, Vincenzo Li Muli and Claudio Traina. A Fiat 126 – later, it came out that it had been stolen -, stuffed with 90 kilograms of a TNT explosive mixture, used in war zones. The attack was an act of war, indeed, against one of the best representatives of the State independent body, the Judiciary, honest and brave, trying to apply true justice, which is based on truth and on the equality of citizens before the law. The Judiciary – guardian of legality. It was one of the most outrageous public acts of war, mostly quiet and silent, conducted by the enemies of the Republic, democracy, popular sovereignty, and freedom.
The boss of Corleone kept silent that night, as he did also on May 23, when an extra edition of the news had shown, the A29 highway gutted near Capaci. In that attack, whose size was that of an American Colossal, was killed Judge Giovanni Falcone, Borsellino’s colleague and friend. Riina’s silence was participant and responsible on both occasions. As his son Giuseppe Salvatore, told without any signs of guilt or emotion. That silence was broken by Riina’s youngest daughter, Lucia, 12, who asked: “Dad, do we have to leave?” In that silence, everybody knew, in the family. And maybe, not only in the Riina family. Some people in the “nerve center” of the institutions knew it too. A great silence, “the” Great Silence, accompanies those events, a war against the right in the “War of the Righteous,” as Judge Giuseppe Ayala has titled one of his books.
Ayala was one of the first ones to rush in Via D’Amelio that day. He had been elected deputy in the lists of the Republican Party shortly before the attack. That famous photo showing Borsellino and Falcone close and smiling had been taken on March 27, ’92 – he tells In Terris – on the occasion of a public meeting in his support in the election campaign, in which Borsellino had intervened in the name of the friendship that bound them, despite their different political ideas. Ayala was the first one to hold in his hands the famous work bag with which Borsellino never parted and with his precious and now painfully legendary “Red Agenda”, of that vivid color, as was his humanity, red, like blood poured in the service of legality, as a martyr of the Law, as Moro was the martyr of democracy. Some people called it the “black box” of the Massacre and of the history of our Republic. Then, as it was said also by the judges of the Court of Assizes in Caltanissetta, Ayala, he gave the bag with the red diary to a Carabinieri officer. It has never been found again, like the full truth about this bad, horrible Mess in D’Amelio street 24 years later.
At the funeral services of the bodyguards, in the Cathedral of Palermo, people shouted: “Mafia out of the State”. This is the horrible suspicion that screams in silence. That the deaths of Falcone and Borsellino, were organized and carried out with the complicity, perhaps even due to the will of some state apparatuses. Salvatore Borsellino, brother of the murdered magistrate, spoke of a “massacre of the state.” The wife of Paolo Borsellino, Agnese Piraino Leto, told the judges that just a few days before he was killed on her way to visit her mother, her husband had confided her that there was a relationship between the Mafia and diverted components of the state, that is where the “hidden instigators” should be sought.
In Terris interviewed the magistrate Giuseppe Ayala, who has been a close associate and friend of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino for years, before being elected to Parliament. After concluding his political experience, including his role of Undersecretary of the Ministry of Justice in the Prodi and D’Alema governments and Anti-Mafia Commission, he entered magistracy again, as an counselor of the Court of Appeal in L’Aquila. Since 2011, he has been retired.
Dr. Ayala, what is your first thought, on this anniversary?
“Sadness and anger. Time does not soothe the pain, there is always a strong memory that comes alive. When the attack on Falcone happened in 1989, from which he came out safe, Giovanni talked of ‘refined minds’ and ‘occult centers of power’, capable of guiding Cosa Nostra. That was the most reliable scenario, then, for Falcone, to understand the reasons for his eventual murder. And that pattern is still valid both for his and Borsellino’s deaths”.
The judge for preliminary investigations of Caltanissetta, Alessandra Bonaventura Government, by an Ordinance wrote that the massacre in D’Amelio street was “certainly influenced” by a “negotiation between people from the institutions and Cosa Nostra”, although “evidence that would allow to make concrete accusations against concrete individuals” has not emerged…
“On 23 May 1992, when Falcone was assassinated together with the men who escorted him, I was in Rome. I left right away to Palermo. Upon arriving to the airport, I was interviewed by a troupe of RAI-3 News and said the following words: ‘It is not just the Mafia’. Falcone and Borsellino had become aware of these relationships between diverged elements of state and the organized crime, that is why they have been killed”.
Is there any hope that the truth may come out and the “hidden instigators” will be identified and punished?
“Losing hope is like surrendering to evil and injustice, but honestly I am rather skeptical about this and about other Italian shady events.”
What is your strongest memory of Borsellino?
“The strongest one concerns the photograph where he is next to Giovanni Falcone. It was taken on March 27 that year, during a ballot initiative in my support. I was a candidate in the Republican Party. Giovanni Falcone’s political ideas were similar to mine; Paolo Borsellino notoriously belonged to the right wing. Yet, purely out of friendship, that night he came together with Giovanni. I remember it well, as a sincere friend.”
What about that terrible day when you saw him dead, mangled? What do you remember? What were your feelings, besides pain?
“It is difficult to describe them even today. When I arrived there, I stumbled on Paolo’s body. He was ravaged, unrecognizable. I panicked and I do not remember anything elese. I felt defeated. It was 55 days since Falcone had been killed. The heroes of legality had lost, this was my first sensation. By the way, I was on the list of the Mafia’s targets. After my election to the Parliament, Cosa Nostra lost any interest in my death. Seeing him like that, on the ground, lifeless, full of blood, his body mangled, I felt pain and great sadness, not only human”.
What has he bequeathed you as a judge? What has changed?
“When my political experience had ended, I became a magistrate again in L’Aquila, at the central court of appeal. I had nothing to do with the organized crime anymore. I believe, however, that since then, something important has changed in the fight against the Mafia. From the point of view of the state response, it has not been a failure. I am not saying that we are close to defeating Cosa Nostra, but important results have been obtained. The legacy of Falcone and Borsellino is love for their country, justice, the rule of law, and it has not been lost.”
What can you tell me on the negotiations between the State and Mafia?
“I have great respect for my fellow magistrates. There is a pending lawsuit, the so-called Borsellino quarter. I believe in a balanced and fair judgment. I am not saying anything. I call it good institutional education.”
What happened to “the red diary”? You were one of the first ones to hold it on 19 July 1992. Is there any hope that, in the long course of justice, it will finally come out along with the truth?
“I did not know that Paolo had that agenda. I hold his bag in my hands for a few seconds, but I had been elected deputy, I was not entitled to keep it. Therefore, I handed it over to two police officers. There is a video that shows a plainclothes officer who walks away with the bag, then any track of this agenda has been lost. It is clear that there is a strong involvement of the institutions in this attack. Paolo was keeping punctual notes, complete and accurate, which were of help to all of us to find the documents we needed. If it were found, the red diary would be certainly useful to shed light on many obscure facts, but I do not cherish hope that this is going to happen.”