Police recall ‘hell and back’ at US Capitol probe

Published July 28, 2021
(From left) Sergeant Aquilino Gonell, police officers  Michael Fanone and Daniel Hodges, and sergeant Harry Dunn prepare to testify at the hearing.—AP
(From left) Sergeant Aquilino Gonell, police officers Michael Fanone and Daniel Hodges, and sergeant Harry Dunn prepare to testify at the hearing.—AP

WASHINGTON: Wiping away tears, a police officer told a rapt US congressional hearing on Tuesday he believed “this is how I’m going to die” while defending the Capitol on January 6 against a rampaging mob branding him a traitor.

Another recalled how he was beaten unconscious by rioters supportive of then-president Donald Trump and said he “went to hell and back” protecting US lawmakers and the citadel of American democracy.

The gripping accounts served as opening testimony in a landmark hearing of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack, which opened with hair-raising videos of the deadly attack.

But it was the dramatic personal recollections of officers under siege by people they described as “terrorists” that set the tone in a closely-watched session.

It was “something from a medieval battle,” Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell, an immigrant US Army Iraq combat veteran, told the panel, describing how he and colleagues “fought hand to hand, inch by inch, to prevent an invasion” of the building.

“My fellow officers and I were punched, kicked, shoved, sprayed with chemical irritants and even blinded by eye-damaging lasers by a violent mobs who apparently saw us... as an impediment to their attempted insurrection,” Gonell told stunned committee members.

“This is how I’m going to die, defending this entrance,” he recalled telling himself.

Six months after hundreds of Trump’s supporters conducted the worst assault on the Capitol building since the war of 1812, the work of the committee has become a major political flashpoint.

“A violent mob was pointed toward the Capitol and told to win a trial by combat. Some descended on this city with clear plans to disrupt our democracy,” the panel’s Democratic chairman, Bennie Thompson, said in an opening statement.

“We know there is evidence of a coordinated planned attack. We know that the men and women who stormed the Capitol wanted to derail the peaceful transfer of power in this country.”

Published in Dawn, July 28th , 2021

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