Following the vote in the the EU Parliament which saw the approval of the MEPs report into CIA abductions and renditions, Italy, which came in for heavy criticism (as did Britain), is taking some action.
An Italian judge has ordered 26 US citizens – most of them CIA agents – to stand trial over the kidnap of an Egyptian cleric in Milan in 2003.
Osama Mustafa Hassan was allegedly seized by the CIA and flown to Egypt, where he says he was tortured.
Seven Italians were also indicted, including Italy’s ex-military intelligence chief, Nicolo Pollari.
The case would be the first criminal trial over the secret US practice known as “extraordinary rendition”.
Not only will this be the first trial over rendition, it will also be the biggest ever trial of US intelligence agents in an allied country. The trial is due to begin on June 8 and the American suspects are likely to be tried in absentia as they are believed to have fled the country including Robert Seldon Lady, the former station chief of CIA operations in Milan, who has abandoned his Italian villa and says he was over-ruled in his opposition to the Kidnap. He also says (through his lawyer) that he does not recognise the court.
One Italian policeman has already been jailed for 21 months for stopping the cleric in order for the CIA to abduct him. His reduced sentence was part of a plea-bargain. According to him, the CIA said that they were trying to recruit Omar and that the operation had the approval of the US and Italian governments. Nicolo Pollari is trying to hide behind the Italian state secrets act and so is not co-operating with the court apart from insisting that Italian military intelligence did nothing wrong. The Italian government has yet to seek the extradition of the US citizens and it will be interesting to see if it does and what reaction it will get from the US authorities who, as we know, are always keen to uphold the rule of law. Somehow I doubt it will happen. Osama Mustafa Hassan however, despite risking prosecution for terrorism charges, wants to return to Italy as a refugee and testify against Berlusconi and his administration. He was released from Egyptian custody when the authorities there decided they had no reason to hold him.
What is interesting about this case is that it looks like being the first of many prosecutions around Europe. Germany, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland and Romania are all conducting investigations. Unsurprisingly, the UK is not conducting any investigation, but then Tony Blair has yet to acknowledge that there is any such thing as extraordinary rendition.