No Comment — November 6, 2009, 11:38 am

More on the Verdict in Milan

I discuss an Italian court’s recent conviction of 23 American officials on kidnapping and assault charges stemming from a 2003 extraordinary rendition operation with DemocracyNow’s Amy Goodman and the Italian prosecutor, Armando Spataro, below:

In responding to Amy Goodman’s question about Interpol, Spataro gives a long answer that will be confusing to those who don’t understand the rather complex law in this area. He says that no arrest request (technically called a “red notice”) has been issued within Interpol, but that he is able to issue at will a European Arrest Warrant. This is because the Italian government, which sought to block the prosecution, has not supported arrest by forwarding the appropriate paperwork to Interpol. Whether the Italian government will hold to this position after a conviction remains to be seen. If they do, they will appear to be undermining the administration of the law. For the 27 nations in the European arrest system, however, Spataro can personally direct the arrest, and no government cooperation is necessary. Outside of the EU, it’s a matter of hit and miss whether local officials would cooperate on a request from the Italian prosecutors without going through the Interpol formalities. Certainly quite a few would do so.

It’s interesting to note the reaction in America to the verdicts in Italy. Telling is the editorial in the Los Angeles Times today: Italy got this right. No fake outrage or indignation, just simple recognition that Italy was applying the law, as we expect of a sister democracy.

A few further observations, largely based on my discussions yesterday with people who are following this matter in Washington:

First, this case helps us understand why the CIA is so vehemently opposed to probes of its operations. In this case almost two dozen covert intelligence operatives have had their cover blown and are now fugitives from justice. Sophisticated law enforcement techniques, many pioneered by the United States, are now being employed to track their movements. While a number of commentators claim this has no serious consequences, no one I have spoken with in the intelligence community feels that. The future utility of these agents is seriously compromised, and they face arrest every time they leave the country.

Second, Spataro makes clear that he took this case as far as the evidence at hand permitted. If he had evidence that higher-level officials at the CIA or NSC or other government agencies were involved, he would likely bring charges against them. I learned in earlier probes that Italian criminal investigators, collaborating with other European partners, have been actively seeking this information. They believe that those who oversaw the extraordinary renditions program should be prosecuted. In fact, Spataro asked for a 13-year sentence for Jeff Castelli, the head of the Rome station, because of his role in the Milan kidnapping. It’s reasonable to infer that he would seek an equally harsh sentence against other kingpins in the conspiracy. The New York Times notes that Stephen R. Kappes, who is said to have played a planning role, is now the number two in the CIA.

Third, this case is engendering a lot of discussion among scholars of the law of diplomacy about the selective decision taken by the United States to invoke diplomatic immunity. Some view diplomatic immunity as a simple process: if the paperwork is done and the diplomat is credentialed and recognized by the foreign ministry of the host country, he has immunity. Others say that if the person really isn’t a diplomat, and this is pure cover for a spy, the assertion is more doubtful, especially when the operative becomes enmeshed in a serious crime. In this case, the State Department pushed diplomatic immunity only for a handful of the defendants, including one (Jeff Castelli) who most obviously was not a diplomat. They scored some success. But the Italian prosecutors also think these claims are vulnerable. Prosecutor Spataro says he will appeal this decision. He is convinced that Castelli’s claim of diplomatic status is so obviously bogus, and his role in the crime is so clear, that the claim should be cast aside. How this plays out may significantly affect the practice of sending intelligence agents overseas under diplomatic cover. The posture taken by the United States suggests a sense of vulnerability about the claims made.

Finally, this case is a monument to the power and lasting influence of American advocacy. In 1946-48, the United States advanced for the first time the view that seizing individuals, holding them for prolonged period without recourse to law, and subjecting them to torture or humiliating treatment was a particularly serious crime–a crime against humanity. United States prosecutors, many of them from the Justice Department, brought charges against government officials who had done this, and secured convictions. Europeans were at first skeptical of these American views, but over time they came to embrace and support them. Today, the view is firmly held around the world that “disappearings” are a crime against humanity and thus not subject to statutes of limitation or capable of being ignored. The CIA just ran into this wall, and this should be a lesson for the Obama Administration: it shows what can happen when the United States fails to abide by the values it espouses.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

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

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

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

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

March 2016

Save Our Public Universities

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Rogue Agency

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Mad Magazines

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Killer Bunny in the Sky

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Bird in a Cage

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Hidden Rivers of Brooklyn

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Save Our Public Universities·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Whether and how we educate people is still a direct reflection of the degree of freedom we expect them to have, or want them to have.”
Photograph (crop) by Thomas Allen
Article
New Movies·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Force Awakens criticizes American imperialism while also celebrating the revolutionary spirit that founded this country. When the movie needs to bridge the two points of view, it shifts to aerial combat, a default setting that mirrors the war on terror all too well.”
Still © Lucasfilm
Article
Isn’t It Romantic?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“He had paid for much of her schooling, something he cannot help but mention, since the aftermath of any failed relationship brings an ungenerous and impossible impulse to claw back one’s misspent resources.”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
The Trouble with Iowa·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It seems to defy reason that this anachronistic farm state — a demographic outlier, with no major cities and just 3 million people, nine out of ten of them white — should play such an outsized role in American politics.”
Photograph (detail) © Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Article
Rule, Britannica·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“This is the strange magic of an arrangement of all the world’s knowledge in alphabetical order: any search for anything passes through things that have nothing in common with it but an initial letter.”
Artwork by Brian Dettmer. Courtesy the artist and P.P.O.W., New York City.

Number of people who attended the World Grits Festival, held in St. George, South Carolina, last spring:

60,000

The brown bears of Greece continued chewing through telephone poles.

In Peru, a 51-year-old activist became the first former sex worker to run for the national legislature. “I’m going to put order,” she said, “in that big brothel which is Congress.”

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Two Christmas Mornings of the Great War

By

Civilization masks us with a screen, from ourselves and from one another, with thin depth of unreality. We habitually live — do we not? — in a world self-created, half established, of false values arbitrarily upheld, largely inspired by misconception, misapprehension, wrong perspective, and defective proportion, misapplication.

Subscribe Today