Italy Convicts CIA Operatives in Absentia

This must be the week that chickens come home to roost. First the five plaintiffs against Ashcroft et al win a victory, and now the Italian courts have convicted 23 CIA guys for just doing their thang on Italian soil.

An Italian court sentenced 23 former CIA agents to up to eight years in prison today for their role in the abduction of an Egyptian terrorist suspect in the first trial over “extraordinary renditions”.

The Americans were all tried in absentia, but the verdicts were nevertheless hailed by human rights campaigners as an important victory that could open the way to further prosecutions.

That’s 23 guys who can’t vacation in Italy, anyway. That’s something.

Classed under Italian law as “fugitives”, all were represented by Italian lawyers who had little or no contact with their clients.

“Fugitives.” Sweet.

The trial, which opened in June 2007, is the first in the world over the abduction of terror suspects during the Bush era by the CIA and its proxies and their subsequent “rendition flights” to third countries which permit or turn a blind eye to torture.

Abu Omar, an imam and militant Islamist whose real name is Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr, was seized on a Milan street in February 2003. He was taken to the US air force base at Aviano in northeastern Italy, then flown to the US base at Ramstein in Germany, and eventually to Cairo. He claims he was tortured.

He was released after four years in prison without being charged, and now lives in Egypt. He told Human Rights Watch in 2007 that he had been “hung up like a slaughtered sheep and given electrical shocks” during his interrogations. “I was brutally tortured and I could hear the screams of others who were tortured too,” he said.

In June [former CIA station chief Robert Seldon] Lady spoke to Il Giornale, the newspaper owned by Mr Berlusconi’s brother Paolo, about the affair. “Of course it was an illegal operation. But that’s our job. We’re in a war against terrorism,” he said.

He added: “I am not guilty. I am only responsible for following an order I received from my superiors. It was not a criminal act, it was an affair of state.”

Interesting defense. Puts me in mind of what George W. Bush said at the advent of his war on Iraq: “War crimes will be prosecuted, war criminals will be punished and it will be no defense to say, ‘I was just following orders’.”

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