No Comment — July 1, 2009, 9:45 am

“Just Following Orders”

Often enough, commentators talk about the prospect that some foreign prosecutors will open criminal cases against Americans involved in some of the Bush Administration’s criminal enterprises, such as the operation of the torture black sites. But such cases are not speculative. They are already pending, and the most advanced of them is now coming close to the conclusion of the trial phase. In Milan, Italian prosecutors are pursuing kidnapping and assault charges against 26 American officials—CIA officers, diplomats, and a military attaché—in connection with the seizure and torture of a radical Islamic cleric known as Abu Omar. According to some observers, the case will conclude by the end of the summer.

Now Robert Seldon Lady, the former Milan station chief of the CIA and a key defendant in the case, has surfaced with an extended interview in Il Giornale, an Italian newspaper.

According to a translation by the Associated Press, Lady has set up a defense that sounds remarkably familiar: he was just following orders.

”I am not guilty. I am only responsible for following an order I received from my superiors,” Lady was quoted as saying by Il Giornale. “It was not a criminal act. It was a state affair. I find consolation in reminding myself that I was a soldier, that I was at war with terrorism, and that I could not discuss the orders I received,” he was quoted as saying. “I have worked in intelligence for 25 years, and almost none of my activities in these 25 years were legal in the country in which I was carrying them out.”

From a number of reports, Lady was intensely critical within CIA circles of the proposed effort to snatch Abu Omar. As it turns out, Italian prosecutors were on the verge of arresting and prosecuting Abu Omar before the CIA interceded. Chief Italian prosecutor Armando Spataro stated that the criminal case against Abu Omar was demolished by the CIA action. But Lady opposed the action, noting that it would be understood by the Italians as a crime and would badly damage the relationship with a NATO ally which was supporting the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. It turns out that Lady assessed the situation with perfect accuracy. It’s a shame that his bosses in Langley didn’t listen to him. However, “only following orders” is also known as the Nuremberg defense, and the problem is that it is no defense at all.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

No Comment March 28, 2014, 12:32 pm

Scott Horton Debates John Rizzo on Democracy Now!

On CIA secrecy, torture, and war-making powers

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

August 2014

The End of Retirement

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Octopus and Its Grandchildren

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Francis and the Nuns

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Return of the Strongman

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
“Evidence of a chill was plain. People in Hailey spoke to me about Bergdahl in low voices, as if about a death.”
Fox & Friends, July 6, 2014
Article
The Seductive Catastrophe·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The world’s leaders were moved by a populace fused into a forward phalanx, were shaken by a tidal wave of militancy jubilantly united.”
Photograph courtesy Mary Evans Picture Library
Post
The Glitch in the Video-Game Graveyard·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“From the nerd squabbles of Internet discussion threads rose an urban legend that culminated in a film that hinges on digging through my town’s trash.”
Illustration (detail) by Timothy Taranto
Article
What the Camera Saw·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“They shot him behind the left ear, and he fell.”
Article
Bounty·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If I’d been one of the unprepared, I’d be desperate, too.”
Illustration (detail) by Simon Pemberton

Rolls of toilet paper Chicago’s city government has produced this year from recycled City Hall wastepaper:

19,000

Two thirds of U.S. teenagers experience uncontrollable rage.

Russia lost, then regained, contact with a satellite carrying five geckos sent to copulate in zero gravity.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today