Italy indicts 25 CIA agents

Having last year arrested two of its own intelligence agents in the “rendition” scandal, Italy now indicts 25 CIA men. Extraordinary indeed. From AKI, Feb. 16:

MILAN – A judge in Milan ordered on Friday the former head of Italy’s military intelligence to stand trial along with six Italian agents and 26 US citizens – most of them CIA agents – over the alleged abduction of an Egyptian Muslim extremist in Milan in 2003 in a US practice known as ‘extraordinary rendition’. The case will be the first criminal trial over the secret transfer by Washington of terror suspects to detention centers around the world. The trial is scheduled to begin on 8 June and the US citizens are expected to be tried in absentia.

Osama Mustafa Hassan, also known as Abu Omar, was allegedly seized by CIA and Italian officials in Milan in February 2003 and flown to Egypt, where he says he was tortured.

The Muslim cleric was freed this month from the Torah prison in Cairo. Local reports said he had to sign a statement in which he vowed not to leave his country to testify in Italy at the trial in exchange for his release.

Abu Omar also reportedly promised not to speak to journalists on the issue, nor sue, as he had promised, Italian government officials.

However his lawyer Montasser al Zayat said this week his client wanted to testify in Milan and meant to sue Italian opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi, who was premier when Abu Omar was kidnapped, and ask for 10 million dollars in compensation.

The seven Italians indicted on Friday include the former head of Italy’s military intelligence SISMI, Nicolo Pollari.

Pollari, who stepped down as head of SISMI in November last year over the affair, is the highest official implicated in the case. He has always denied any involvement or knowledge by Italian agents in the kidnapping of Abu Omar.

Two Italian military intelligence officials, including Pollari’s deputy, were arrested in July in connection with the case. Prosecutors have issued arrest warrants for the 26 Americans, including the former head of CIA operations in Italy, Jeff Castelli, believed to have been involved in the abduction.

The case has fuelled allegations that Italy was among the European countries which allegedly aided ‘renditions’.

According to investigators, Abu Omar was taken by the CIA to the joint US-Italian Aviano air base, flown to Germany and then to Egypt.

The abduction occurred when conservative leader Berlusconi, a staunch US ally, was premier. Berlusconi has maintained that his government and the Italian secret services were not informed in the operation. His government declared documents on the case classified information – a position confirmed by its center-left successor led by Romano Prodi, who won national elections in April last year.

See our last posts on the torture and detainment scandal and on Italy.

  1. A glimmer of hope
    From AP, Feb. 2:

    Defense official resigns over remarks

    WASHINGTON –A senior Pentagon official resigned Friday over controversial remarks in which he criticized lawyers who represent terrorism suspects, the Defense Department said.

    Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said Charles “Cully” Stimson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, told him on Friday that he had made his own decision to resign and was not asked to leave by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

    Stimson said he was leaving because of the controversy over a radio interview in which he said he found it shocking that lawyers at many of the nation’s top law firms represent detainees held at the U.S. military prison in Cuba.

    “He believed it hampered his ability to be effective in this position,” Whitman said of the backlash to Stimson’s comments.

    Stimson drew outrage from the legal community — and a disavowal from the Defense Department — for his Jan. 11 comments, in which he also suggested some attorneys were being untruthful about doing the work free of charge and instead were “receiving moneys from who knows where.”

    He also said companies might want to consider taking their legal business to other firms that do not represent suspected terrorists.

    “I think, quite honestly, when corporate CEOs see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those CEOs are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms,” Stimson told Federal News Radio.

    Stimson publicly apologized several days after the radio interview, saying his comments did not reflect his values and that he firmly believes in the principles of the U.S. legal system.

    But it didn’t completely quiet critics.

    The Bar Association of San Francisco last week asked the California State Bar to investigate whether Stimson violated legal ethics by suggesting a boycott of law firms that represent Guantanamo Bay detainees.