No Comment — November 4, 2009, 6:04 pm

Judgment in Milan

An Italian court hearing criminal charges against 26 American officials and a smaller group of Italians arising out of a CIA extraordinary rendition has ruled today. The case relates to the CIA’s snatching of a Muslim cleric known as Abu Omar off the streets of Milan in 2003. He was whisked off to Egypt, where he was tortured before being released. Italian prosecutors noted that the American action botched a prosecution they had prepared against Abu Omar for participation in a terrorist conspiracy. Here’s a summary of the court’s decision from Reuters:

The heaviest sentence — eight years in prison — was handed down to the former head of the CIA’s Milan station, Robert Seldon Lady, while 21 other former agents got five years each. U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Romano was also sentenced to five years, despite a request from the Pentagon that the case should be tried by U.S. courts.

[Judge Oscar] Magi dropped the case against three Americans, including a former CIA Rome station chief, because of diplomatic immunity. Charges were also dropped against five Italians, including the former head of the Sismi military intelligence service, Nicolo Pollari, because evidence against them violated state secrecy rules. However, the judge sentenced two more junior Sismi agents to three years in prison as accomplices, indicating Italian authorities were aware of the abduction.

A more comprehensive discussion of the decision can be read in La Repubblica.

The case was tried in absentia after the Americans fled and the United States refused to extradite them. The judge’s written decision is now due within forty-five days. The prosecutors have announced that they intend to appeal the decisions acquitting senior Italian officials, and possibly other aspects of the case. The American defendants, who were represented by counsel during the trial, are also likely to lodge appeals, and to contest the fact that the case proceeded in absentia.

The decision came despite strenuous efforts by the American and Italian governments to shut the case down. The Italian government argued that prosecutors were using official secrets to make their case and appealed the matter to the Constitutional Court, which upheld the objection. The Milan court concluded that, even striking the official secrets from the trial record, sufficient evidence existed to proceed. In its final verdict, the court also suggested that a number of defendants were guilty but, once official secrets were extracted, the evidence was insufficient to convict. The court also found that three individuals had diplomatic immunity and thus would also escape punishment desite copious evidence establishing their guilt. Among them was the CIA’s former Rome station chief, Jeff Castelli, whom prosecutors saw as the plot’s ringleader.

The convicted Americans face arrest only if they travel outside the United States, since U.S. authorities have made it clear that they will not cooperate with European authorities pursuing CIA kidnapping cases. However, Italian prosecutors can now issue a European Arrest Warrant for the seizure and removal to Italy of any of the 23 Americans, should they set foot in the European Union.

Most observers, however, view the sentence as largely symbolic. When legal proceedings are concluded, it is widely expected that the United States and Italy will work out a resolution of the matter involving an act of clemency. The case serves principally to establish that the CIA extraordinary renditions program, especially when it involves torture or torture-by-proxy, is viewed as a criminal act, subjecting all who support it to potential prosecution.

The Milan decision offers a useful contrast with the decision of an American appeals court in New York dealing with another rendition case on Monday. In both cases, the courts considered claims of immunity, state secrecy, and a torture victim’s claim to compensation for his sufferings. In both cases, the United States applied enormous political pressure to shut down the case. Yet the outcomes could not have been more different. In the New York case, the Court of Appeals bowed to government pressure to refuse to hear the torture victim’s appeal. The decision, rendered by a group of largely Republican judges, is filled with breezy language openly acknowledging that the case turned on an extraordinary rendition, and suggesting that this was simply a policy choice for the government. The Italian court proved zealously independent of government influence from the beginning of the case down to judgment. It viewed extraordinary rendition linked to torture as a particularly grave crime, taking careful note of the historical precedents that supported that perspective. While the court accepted that state secrecy concerns restricted the court’s consideration of certain evidence, it nevertheless proceeded and rested its conclusions on evidence that was not protected. Similarly, the Italian court gave claims of immunity narrow applicability, so that only a handful of defendants could rely upon them. The court took the view that these highly technical defenses would give government actors some comfort, but it rejected the idea that they could escape accountability for a serious crime altogether.

The most telling difference focuses on the rights of the torture victim. The New York court concluded that the victim’s claims were overwhelmed by the government’s interest in protecting political actors against embarrassment. The Italian court insisted not only on the punishment of the perpetrators but also on the compensation of the torture victim. The Milan court sentenced the defendants to pay compensation to Abu Omar and his wife of €1.5 million ($2.3 million).

The American State Department stated that it was “disappointed” by the decision.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

July 2016

The Ideology of Isolation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

American Idle

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

My Holy Land Vacation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The City That Bleeds

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

El Bloqueo

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Vladivostok Station

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
"We all know in France that as soon as a politician starts saying that some problem will be solved at the European level, that means no one is going to do anything."
Photograph (detail) by Stefan Boness
Post
Tom Bissell on touring Israel with Christian Zionists, Joy Gordon on the Cuban embargo, Lawrence Jackson on Freddie Gray and the makings of an American uprising, a story by Paul Yoon, and more

Freddie Gray’s relatives arrived for the trial in the afternoon, after the prep-school kids had left. By their dress, they seemed to have just gotten off work in the medical and clerical fields. The family did not appear at ease in the courtroom. They winced and dropped their heads as William Porter and his fellow officer Zachary Novak testified to opening the doors of their police van last April and finding Freddie paralyzed, unresponsive, with mucus pooling at his mouth and nose. Four women and one man mournfully listened as the officers described needing to get gloves before they could touch him.

The first of six Baltimore police officers to be brought before the court for their treatment of Freddie Gray, a black twenty-five-year-old whose death in their custody was the immediate cause of the city’s uprising last spring, William Porter is young, black, and on trial. Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing.

Artwork: Camels, Jerusalem (detail) copyright Martin Parr/Magnum Photos
[Report]
How to Make Your Own AR-15·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Even if federal gun-control advocates got everything they wanted, they couldn’t prevent America’s most popular rifle from being made, sold, and used. Understanding why this is true requires an examination of how the firearm is made.
Illustration by Jeremy Traum
Article
My Holy Land Vacation·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"I wanted to more fully understand why conservative politics had become synonymous with no-questions-asked support of Israel."
Illustration (detail) by Matthew Richardson
Article
The City That Bleeds·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing."
Photograph (detail) © Wil Sands/Fractures Collective

Average speed of Heinz ketchup, from the mouth of an upended bottle, in miles per year:

25

After studying the fall of 64,000 individual raindrops, scientists found that some small raindrops fall faster than they ought to.

The Playboy mansion in California was bought by the heir to the Twinkie fortune, and a New Mexico man set fire to his apartment to protest his neighbors’ loud lovemaking.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today