Italy 1, CIA Torturers 0
Forza Italia! After years of appeals, Italy's highest court has upheld the conviction of 23 Americans involved in a CIA kidnapping of a man off the street in Milan, whom the CIA shipped to Egypt to be brutally tortured. This ruling could result in Italy demanding their extradition. For, you see, the 23 are living comfortably in the United States. They look just like decent people. They blend in. I don't advise Italy to kidnap (or "rendition") these Americans just because President Obama says that's legal. But I do encourage Italy to demand extradition. And I hope that one or another of them will be so good as to seek sanctuary in an Ecuadorean Embassy, just to see how many heads explode in Washington as people try to determine what they're supposed to think of that.
For background on this case, sadly still relevant, here's something I wrote on November 6, 2010:
One Place to Cut Spending: Kidnapping and Torture
By David Swanson
I know it seems like more of a noble sacrifice to cut spending on things people less fortunate than ourselves need, but can somebody explain to me why it wouldn't be at least that noble to eliminate the budget of the CIA, which serves no one?
The Washington Post and the Obama administration have been busy telling us that it's legal to kidnap people and send them to countries that torture. They may call it "renditioning" to nations that use "enhanced interrogation techniques," but a new book details what this means in English.
A man was walking near his home in Milano, Italy, and was stopped and questioned by a policeman. When they had been engaged in conversation for some minutes, the side door of a van parked behind the man crashed open with a thunderous sound, two extremely large and strong men grabbed the civilian and hauled him inside, and the door slammed shut three seconds after it had opened, as the van accelerated and the two men hit and kicked their victim repeatedly in the dark of the van's interior, pounding his head, chest, stomach, and legs. They stopped. They stuffed a gag in his mouth and put a hood over his head, as they cinched cords tight around his wrists and ankles. Hours later they threw him into another vehicle. An hour later they took him out, stood him up, cut his clothes off, shoved something hard up his anus, stuck a diaper and pajamas on him, wrapped his head almost entirely with duct tape, and tossed him in an airplane.
The torture he received when he got where he was going left him nearly dead, prematurely aged, and barely able to walk. It was US-sponsored and Egyptian administered. And it is described in all of its almost unbearable detail in Steve Hendricks' "A Kidnapping in Milan: The CIA on Trial."
Believe it or not, most of this book is enjoyable. Hendricks knows the United States and Italy and how to write about one for readers in the other. His remarks on Italian culture are outdone only by his background on Muslim terrorism, his account of who this kidnapping victim was, and the inclusion of dialogue picked up by Italian wiretaps of terrorism suspects' private conversations. But just as terrific reading are Hendricks' histories of the practice of rendition, of the use of torture, of U.S.-Italian relations, of domestic Italian terrorism, and of modern Egypt.
Not to ruin the punch line -- and this has long been public knowledge -- the kidnapping, transporting, imprisoning, and torturing of this man and many others is paid for with U.S. tax dollars. I'm sure it all sounds very important and rational given how demonically evil Muslims are supposed to be. But how do you justify the dozens of CIA agents living it up in Italy's most luxurious hotels while plotting this operation? And how do you rationalize the damage done to U.S. relations with Italy? Of course, Italians quickly discovered that the CIA was behind this crime. It would have been harder to track them if they'd worn neon signs on their chests. They used cell phones and frequent flyer accounts that were easily identified, not to mention names and addresses similar to their real ones. Hendricks describes their methods as Keystone Kommandoism.
No doubt some of these CIA bunglers and butchers were outsourced and untrained, but they also believed they were above the law. They thought they had immunity. Italian law enforcement thought otherwise. For decades during the Cold War, the CIA kept an army and caches of weapons in Italy to be used if communists were ever able to gain significant political power. A long list of abuses has come to light and no one ever been held accountable. Magistrate Armando Spataro, like many Italians, adored the United States. When reporters asked him why he had indicted two dozen CIA agents, Spataro said he was opposing lawlessness, not his beloved United States. He warned of following the path of Mussolini. He pointed out that Italy had defeated domestic terrorists with the rule of law. He showed that the new U.S. lawlessness was just encouraging terror. His record of prosecuting leftist terrorists and his indictment for terrorism of the victim himself of the U.S. kidnapping made claims of bias difficult to pin on Spataro. The approach resorted to by the U.S. media was -- to the extent possible -- to ignore the whole thing, especially when Spataro won convictions of the agents tried in absentia.
The Italian legal system is one thing, its government in Rome quite another. The latter will never ask the United States to extradite the convicts unless the U.S. president requests it first, just as the United States would never kidnap a man in Italy without telling the Italian president and the Italian spy service first. So, none of the culprits are behind bars, but they are unable to live in or travel to Europe. And a strong signal has been sent about the likelihood of Italy tolerating more such crimes. This is the sort of message Nancy Pelosi would have sent by impeaching Bush even if the Senate had not convicted him.
Hendricks tracked down most of the scofflaws. They're spread around the United States engaged in a variety of work, most of them completely unknown to the public. The man chiefly responsible, on the other hand, is undergoing a public rehabilitation and it about to open a presidential library, while the man responsible for the continued practice and for the freedom of his predecessor has two more years in the White House.