Italian judge puts nuke case against U.S. on hold
PORDENONE, Italy — Tiziano Tissino says he has no problem with a continuing American presence in Italy.
Americans wearing military uniforms? That’s a problem. The weapons those servicemembers use? A larger problem. The supposed nuclear weapons that the United States maintains in his country? About as big a problem as he can think of.
So he and four other residents of the largest city near Aviano Air Base have taken the United States to court in an effort to oust that suspected nuclear arsenal from Italy.
“I am not anti-American,” Tissino says in Italian during an interview in his apartment, about a 10-minute drive from the Aviano gates and, presumably, just a bit farther from where he believes the United States keeps nuclear weapons.
He doesn’t like U.S. foreign policy, though. And he doesn’t think the United States should be allowed to keep nuclear weapons on the soil of an ally that he says doesn’t want them. He said Italians rejected nuclear energy in a national referendum in the 1980s, and Italy signed a global nonproliferation treaty on nuclear arms. And polls repeatedly indicate that a majority of the population opposes American action in Iraq and even Afghanistan, where Italy has more than 1,000 troops.
He also says that plans leaked from the former Soviet Union reportedly stated that a Russian nuclear strike would first target U.S.-based weapons in Europe — leaving anyone around them in danger.
Tissino said he’s really not worried about the Russians launching a nuclear attack on Aviano or Ghedi Air Base, the other site where he believes nuclear weapons are housed. But he believes that terrorists might try to target those facilities and could set off such devices. Or that an accident might occur, detonating them.
Tissino has long been an opponent of nuclear weapons. He said he’s participated in rallies marking the anniversaries of the atomic weapons dropped on Japan each year since 1996.
When he and the others saw a report by a U.S. organization in 2005 detailing the U.S. nuclear arsenal around the globe — Aviano and Ghedi were both cited as sites — they decided to act.
So they filed a motion in Pordenone in December 2005 that Tissino said eventually made its way to U.S. authorities. A local Italian judge started to hear the case, but decided to put it on hold last week until Italy’s highest court in Rome rules if he’s able to judge such a case. Tissino said lawyers representing the United States have maintained that a local judge shouldn’t be allowed to decide such a matter.
Base officials at Aviano refused to comment on the matter, referring questions to the public affairs office for the Secretary of the Air Force.
In a phone interview Friday, Will Ackerman, a civilian employed at that office, reiterated the Department of Defense policy that neither confirms or denies nuclear weapons at any site. He said he had no knowledge of the case and would have to research the matter before commenting.
Tissino said he has no idea how long it might take the Italian high court to decide if the case can proceed. It might be months, he said. Or longer.
And he said even if the local judge gets the go-ahead and he and his peers win, he’s not sure if the Italian government would demand the U.S. take action. After all, there have been several recent cases where the Italian government has declined to seek action against the U.S. after a legal decision. Those include the abduction of a Muslim cleric from Milan by CIA agents and the shooting death of an Italian special agent in Iraq. But Tissino said he does believe that if he and his peers win the case and the government does nothing, Italian citizens will be outraged.
Valentina Scheu provided translation for this report.