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Italian court convicts 23 Americans in CIA rendition case

ARMANDO SPATARO

PROSECUTOR ARMANDO SPATARO

The Washington Post is reporting this afternoon:

An Italian court on Wednesday convicted 22 CIA operatives and a U.S. Air Force colonel of orchestrating the kidnapping of a Muslim cleric here in 2003 and flying him to Egypt, where he said he was tortured.In rendering the verdict, the judge in the case, Oscar Magi, acquitted three other Americans, including the former Rome station chief for the CIA, saying they were covered by diplomatic immunity.

The Americans were all tried in absentia but were represented throughout the trial by defense attorneys, most of them court-appointed. The U.S. defendants who were convicted each received a five-year prison sentence, with the exception of Robert Seldon Lady, the CIA’s former chief in Milan, who was sentenced to eight years for overseeing the kidnapping plot.

Armando Spataro, Milan’s deputy public prosecutor, said his office would seek to extradite the 23 Americans from the United States. But a formal decision rests with the Italian Justice Ministry, which has been reluctant to alienate Washington by asking for extradition.

The case is the only instance in which CIA operatives have faced a criminal trial for the controversial tactic of extraordinary rendition, under which terrorism suspects are seized in one country and forcibly transported to another without judicial oversight. A similar case involving a German citizen kidnapped in the Balkans has resulted in arrest warrants and a civil lawsuit but has not gone to trial.

The CIA and other U.S. officials have contended that extraordinary renditions, which began during the Clinton administration and accelerated under the Bush White House after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, are permissible under U.S. law to capture terrorism suspects in foreign countries.

The Post explains that:

Prosecutors said the Americans snatched Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, a radical Egyptian imam also known as Abu Omar, from a Milan street in broad daylight in February 2003. They said he was flown to Cairo, where he was subject to electroshocks and physical abuse at the behest of the CIA.

It will be interesting to see what follows.  It would not surprise me if the Justice Ministry does not request extradition.  In fact, I suspect that there might actually be a political game taking place. While I have no direct knowledge,  I suspect that the Italian government did give consent to the CIA for the operation, that the government, nonetheless, allowed the case to go forward for political reasons, and that the government will not choose to let the matter die without requesting extradition. But we shall see.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.