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Italian Jewish Leader Named to Probe of Abuse in Somalia

The Italian government has named Jewish leader Tullia Zevi to a high-level commission charged with probing allegations that Italian troops in Somalia carried out brutal human rights abuses.

Zevi, who is one of Italy’s most prominent women, is regarded as a moral voice in Italy because of her position as president of the Italian Jewish community and her outspoken condemnation of racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.

Prime Minister Romano Prodi set up the body last Friday to investigate charges made in the weekly news magazine Panorama that Italian peacekeeping troops in Somalia had engaged in the rape, torture and murder of Somalis.

Allegations, photographs and graphic descriptions of sadistic behavior on the part of Italian peacekeepers stationed in Somalia from late 1992 to 1994 have produced shock waves in Italy.

“With our commission, we want to identify who was responsible, but we also want to safeguard the honor and good name of those who have served their country,” Prodi said.

Panorama published photographs that appeared to show a naked Somali man being tortured and a Somali woman tied to an armored car and being raped by soldiers. It also quoted eyewitness reports and interviews with soldiers detailing such abuses.

The two army generals who commanded the Italian forces in Somalia resigned their posts Saturday in the wake of the scandal.

“This is the first time that women are called to evaluate a military case,” Zevi said in an interview, admitting that the commission’s work “will be a tough job.”

“The government expects us to have the courage to ascertain the facts — what really happened and how — and also to advise how to prevent this mechanism of dehumanizing human beings,” she said.

“The Jewish experience should allow one to see such mechanisms with greater clarity in their perfidy. We well know about the dehumanization of people from our experience in the Shoah.”

Zevi is one of two women on the five-member commission, which is headed by a former president of Italy’s Constitutional Court and also includes two military generals.

The other woman is former Cabinet minister Tina Anselmi, who was a resistance fighter during World War II.

The chairman of the commission, Judge Ettore Gallo, 73, was also a resistance fighter.

“Unfortunately, I know about torture,” he told the Rome daily newspaper La Repubblica. “I was tortured by the SS.”

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