Extraordinary Rendition After Milan: What Now?

November 4, 2009

Italy convicts Americans for C.I.A. renditions
Italy convicts Americans for C.I.A. renditions. BRENNAN LINSLEY/AFP/Getty Images

American courts and politicians have been reluctant to take a stand against the use of kidnapping and torture by American officials in the war on terror, but critics of those policies today received a stunning vote of support from an unexpected source – the Italian courts.

An Italian judge convicted a CIA station chief and 22 other Americans in the kidnapping of the 2003 Egyptian cleric from the streets of Milan.  The cleric, Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, known as Abu Omar, was seized and rendered to Egypt where he was allegedly tortured and held in detention without trial before his release nearly four years later. Abu Omar said he was tortured while held in secret detention in Egypt and that methods included alternating extremes of temperature and electric shocks to the genitals. There was no indication that the allegations were the subject of any investigation by the Egyptian authorities.

Supporters of American renditions insist that the policy is limited to actions against the most dangerous of the dangerous, but in fact the American kidnapping thwarted an Italian investigation into the cleric that might have resulted in criminal charges and a fair trial.  The fact that the Egyptians released the cleric after four years, despite that countries record of long-term administrative detention, simply underscores just how much of a loser the American policy is.

So now former CIA station chief Robert Seldon Lady and 22 Americans, all of whom were tried in absentia, are fugitives from Italian law.  The practical consequences of the Italian ruling are minimal, but the ruling sets a standard of truth and justice that American courts and politicians have yet to make.  For all the talk about moving forward, the extent of the illegal American practices, particularly involving rendition and torture, has still not been publicly disclosed.  If the Obama Administration doesn’t heed the call of the Italian courts and act, it may be that other nations are willing to do the job for us.