CIA renditions are
about to go on trial
The American Spark
CIA Operatives Indicted By Milan Court
By Cliff Montgomery - Mar. 1st, 2007
On Feb. 16th, an Italian judge gave approval for what will be the first overseas criminal trial of CIA officers
involved in a covert counterterrorism operation. A court in Milan has indicted more than two dozen Americans
on charges of kidnapping a radical Muslim cleric four years ago, according to the Washington Post.
After a two-month judicial hearing, the court handed down indictments against 25 CIA operatives, a U.S. Air
Force lieutenant colonel and five Italian spies on suspicion of grabbing an imam, Osama Mustafa Hassan
Nasr, off the street and stuffing him into a white van as he walked to noonday prayers Feb. 17, 2003. Nasr was
taken from Milan to a prison in his native Egypt, where he claims to have been tortured for more than three years.
The trial is scheduled to open June 8th, and will question the legality of a long-standing CIA practice known as
"extraordinary rendition"--a covert action in which terrorism suspects are abducted and taken to other
countries for interrogation. Many of these countries practice torture on their suspects.
Not one of the American defendants is in custody, nor are any expected to appear in court. Prosecutors are
adamant they will be tried in absentia.
Italian courts issued arrest warrants for the CIA operatives in 2005. A judge approved the recent indictments after
the judicial hearing and a long criminal investigation which retraced in minute detail how the CIA planned the
The CIA and the State Department declined any comments.
"This is an issue that is before the judiciary in Italy," State Department spokesman Tom Casey told the Post.
This is not the first time that CIA officers have faced criminal charges for illegally abducting a terrorism suspect. In
January, German prosecutors issued arrest warrants for 13 CIA operatives suspected of kidnapping a Lebanese
German man, Khaled el-Masri, in the Balkans in December 2003 and transporting him to Afghanistan.
Masri was released five months later--after the CIA realized they'd grabbed the wrong man.
Investigating magistrate Armando Spataro, along with his Milan prosecution team, has asked the Italian
government to file a request with the U.S. Justice Department for extradition of the American defendants. A
previous request was refused, by Roberto Castelli, then Italy's justice minister; but it is being reconsidered by a
new Italian government which came to power last year.
The indictment published the aliases of the 25 CIA operatives, which include the CIA's former Rome station chief
Jeffrey Castelli and former Milan substation chief Robert Seldon Lady. The operatives are accused of conspiring
with the Italian military intelligence agency, known as Sismi.
Most of the CIA operatives named in the indictments are known only by their undercover aliases. Prosecutors
said they do not know the operatives' true identities, and admit it is unlikely any will be found or brought to Italy to
A former Sismi director, Gen. Nicolo Pollari, also has been charged.
Arianna Barbazza, a Milan lawyer who has been appointed to represent several of the U.S. defendants, admitted
it was highly unlikely that the Bush Administration would respond to an extradition request, even if the Italian
government decided to make one.
Barbazza added the trial will probably reveal more about the Italian spies and their agency, "because it will
attempt to verify whether Sismi was aware beforehand of the kidnapping."
Matilde Sansalone, who represents the CIA's former Rome station chief and two other Americans, told the Post
that the CIA operatives' apparent decision not to hire their own lawyers "demonstrates a specific choice to not
participate in the proceedings."
Sansalone said she and other defense lawyers would not contest Nasr's abduction, but would argue that there is
insufficient evidence to find individual defendants guilty.
While we're certainly not legal experts here, we at the Spark wonder if this tactic may backfire. If it's admitted that
Nasr was abducted by CIA operatives and rendition to countries which torture their prisoners is ever found to be
a war crime, the Italian courts may then demand from the agency the names of these operatives to issue formal
If the cases do go that far, they could be a strike against the Bush Administration's call for absolute power during
its self-proclaimed "war on terror."