CIA Agents Convicted of Torture

This country may be unwilling to prosecute torturers, but the Italians are not.  On Wednesday an Italian judge convicted 23 Americans for the abduction and torture of a Muslim cleric in Milan.  The case, the first ever to challenge the United States practice of rendition, has the possibility of creating real problems for the Obama administration.

The convicted Americans, all alleged CIA agents, did not appear for the trial.  Through their court-appointed lawyer they pled not guilty to charges that they, along with seven members of the Italian military intelligence agency, abducted Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr in broad daylight off the streets of Milan.  According to prosecutors the agents flew Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, from Italy to Germany, and then to Egypt, where he was tortured.  Nasr was eventually released and never charged with any crime.

At the time of his abduction Nasr was under surveillance by Italian authorities who suspected him of preaching jihadist violence in his sermons at a Milan mosque.  The Italians suspected Nasr of recruiting militants to send to Iraq in anticipation of the American invasion but never developed any evidence to warrant arrest. 

But while under surveillance Nasr disappeared.  He resurfaced a year later in Egypt where he called his wife in Italy and told her he’d been tortured.  She then contacted Italian authorities to report the contact and begin the process of getting her husband home.   Based on that phone call from Egypt Italian prosecutors were able to trace cellphone records to American agents.  Despite the fact that the agents used falsified identities they managed to leave a significant paper trial leading back to the US embassy in Rome.

Italian prosecutors were thrilled with the verdict and have suggested their next step is to seek an international arrest warrant for the agents, now considered fugitives of the law.

As much as this trial brought the beginnings of justice to the American practice of rendition, much remains unknown in the Nasr case.  For starters, it appears, though prosecutors were unable to prove, that the Italian government was complicit in the rendition.  While the Italian government has denied any involvement, Italian papers have published interviews with witnesses that claim Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi knew it was an illegal operation but agreed to participate as a show of support to American efforts in the War on Terror.

If an arrest warrant is issued then the Obama administration is stuck with nearly two dozen agent-fugitives on the run and an international criminal condemnation of its counter-terrorrism practices at at time when the administration is struggling to define its stance on Bush era practices.  With the House Judicial Committee in final mark-up its version of the PATRIOT Act, rendition, torture, and illegal surveillance will once again be in the public discourse.  While the administration can hope that the larger issues of health care reform, financial services regulation, and energy policy distract from issues of torture and privacy, at some point reckoning comes.  And thanks to the Italians, it looks as though that day may soon be upon us.

photo courtesy of Elanapaint via Flickr

55 comments

Lesa D
Past Member about a year ago

thank you Jessica...

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Mervi R.
Mervi R9 years ago

Torture is always torture and must always be condemned!

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Kai J.
Kai J9 years ago

It is plain that torture is illegal. It is also plain that a court of law must justify it's verdict. This case would be open to public scrutiny now. For those of you defending the any CIA agent blindly, you have to remember that to do this kind of work, you have to be pretty crazy to begin with. This has never been a 'clean life', and 'spies' are amongst the most unclean. They are mere puppets in the hands of the power-hungry. They have been duped willingly into believing a view of the world. Even if they secretly know it to be false, for reasons of their own, (status, money) they remain the servants and the agent-provocateurs of governments around the world. Why is that? Do they believe in 'security'? What is that? Security breeds insecurity. This is as obvious in a personal relationship as it is on the grand scale of nations. Jealousy breeds fear. Fear leads to all kinds of 'stupid' decision-making, whether personal or public, and 'the need' for agents-of-the-state in all countries around the world only goes to show that the underlying problem is global, or rather human: Fear breeds fear and always has, and clever men exploit this fear as they have done since 9/11, which was the last major 'military' example of false-flag terrorism. If you are not familiar with this term: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_flag
Civilian examples are 'The Bailout', 'The Swine-flu Pandemic', 'Global Warming/Climate Change', with worse to come: The Crash of the U.S. dollar & Third World W

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Gabi B.
Gabi B9 years ago

Where is the proof that he was tortured? Apparently the case is closed. So where is the documentation, photos, film? Where is the proof. A trial is by no means proof or guarantee of guilt.

I will reserve my judgement until I see the proof.

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Ch Hardy
Past Member 9 years ago

This man who was kidnapped and says he was tortured was also being watched by the Italians so he obviously had his hands into something. the Italians may be upset that he was taken right out from under them - who is to know.

Lionel says "It is also regarded internationally as a crime to give shelter to convicted criminals; they should be extradited." Ok but I bet you didnt think the film director that went and hid in France for the last 30 years should come back to the US for what he did to them a 12 year old girl? Criminals are criminals....

Jennifer - so what would you have them do? What is your resolution? Lets all shake hands and live in peace and harmony - history shows those in the Middle East dont know how to do that - they hate the Countries who live FREE and have Democracy - so please - tell me what would you like to see? We have Military for a reason - are they trained to kill, you bet they are - I live with one. Go off and live in your glass house - I'll stay in the real world.

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Jennifer Van Bergen

By the way, the excuse "I was just following orders" is what the Nazis said.

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Jennifer Van Bergen

Kidnapping and torture are forbidden under what is called customary international law -- long recognized by all civilized nations as plain wrong, no matter what. These are also forbidden under specific international treaties and domestic US laws. Engaging in these crimes does not protect us; they expose our servicemen and women to retaliation in kind.

A conviction in a court of law of a foreign civilized nation is worth some credence. We may not have the proof in front of us and if they were only accused of a crime, it would be wrong for us to say they were guilty. But these guys have been tried, evidence has been presented, they had opportunity to rebut that evidence, and they've been convicted. There is thus good reason to believe they are guilty.

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Lionel Mann
Lionel Mann9 years ago

Ch. Hardy,
A criminal is a criminal, whatever his nationality. It is also regarded internationally as a crime to give shelter to convicted criminals; they should be extradited.
Obedience to orders is no excuse; Nuremburg offers a precedent for that.

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Ch Hardy
Past Member 9 years ago

How can any American think this is great? Think about it - these CIA Agents did their job - followed orders given to them - YET you want to see them prosecuted or killed b/c of it? I am pretty sure those CIA Agents have families - if that was your father or hubby - would you feel the same - shame on those Americans who want to see these Agents prosecuted...how shameful.

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bilja c.
Past Member 9 years ago

Without going into details, for me is important that justice is
carried out by the law no mater who is in question.Hope that will be one day.

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