Thursday, July 06, 2006

Update: Render Unto CIA That Which Is ...

If Italian prosecutors have anything to say about it, the issue of C.I.A. "renditions," particularly the egregious example of "Abu Omar," snatched off the streets of Milan in 2003, is not going to go away. We wrote about the case extensively last year, and even shot a little video from the scene of the alleged crime, in "The Road to Rendition." Then came a follow-up, "Bourne Again," about the lives and loves of the CIA team that allegedly took part in the abduction. (As the headlines suggest, there's something vaguely B-movie about the whole affair.) A Shadowland column in December about the role of "plane-spotters" in tracking down the rendition flights suggests just how extensive they were, and how hard it is to keep secrets in the Internet age.

A few weeks ago, on June 7, Swiss lawmaker Dick Marty, on behalf of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, issued a lengthy report. He didn't have many resources, but concluded -- largely on the basis of press reports and the cooperation he did or did not receive for his inquiries -- that about 14 European governments had cooperated with the American rendition program. The result was what his report called a "'spider's web' of secret detentions and unlawful inter-state transfers." But, bad luck for Marty, his headlines were obliterated by the annoucement next day that the infamous Jordanian terrorist Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi had been blown away in Iraq. The rendition issue looked as if it might be buried, too.

Nope. Yesterday news broke in Italy that prosecutors, led by the redoubtable anti-Mafia and anti-terror magistrate Armando Spataro, had issued warrants against two of the top officials in the Italian overseas intelligence service, SISMI. The organization has seen its share of troubles over the last two years -- not least the killing of its second highest-ranking officer, Nicola Calipari, by American troops manning a checkpoint in Iraq. (We wrote about this in two columns: "Reality Checkpoints," and "Body Counts," which I believe remains the most-read Shadowland column to date.) But Berlusconi was not inclined to hold Americans accountable, whether they were C.I.A. kidnappers or checkpoint gunners.

What's changed now, of course, is the government in Italy. Silvio Berlusconi is out, Romano Prodi and his leftist coalition are in. Spataro was isolated under the earlier regime, a charter member of the Coalition of the Willing. Berlusconi's justice minister, for instance, refused to pursue extradition requests for 22 Americans allegedly implicated in the Abu Omar case. Now, Spataro and other prosecutors seem to be getting more support.

This is not good news for the Bush administration. Even as prosecutors try to nail the top Italians involved in the Abu Omar kidnapping -- a trail that could lead to Berlusconi himself -- they are likely to renew those extradition requests. At the same time, they're looking at prosecution of the American soldier in Iraq who killedCalipari moments after he succeeded in freeing left-wing Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena from hostage-takers in Baghdad. Sgrena was seriously wounded.

We'll keep you posted in the Shadowland column, in Newsweek, and on this blog. Meanwhile, a couple of recent clips:

One from The New York Daily News last month, when Sgrena visited the United States:

Italian seeks G.I. shooter

Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena (above) was shot and key Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari was killed when Spec. Mario Lozano (below) fired at their car.

Italian journalist and former Iraq war hostage Giuliana Sgrena offered yesterday to meet face-to-face with Spec. Mario Lozano, the New York City National Guardsman who shot her in a friendly fire mistake on a deserted road to the Baghdad airport last year.

"I think that it would be useful for him and for me to have an exchange of opinion," Sgrena said during her first visit to the United States since the shooting.

The shooting, which killed Nicola Calipari, the Italian government's second-ranking intelligence officer, just minutes after Calipari had secured Sgrena's release from Iraqi guerrillas, sparked a public furor in Italy.

That uproar grew worse after a Pentagon report last year cleared the U.S. soldiers involved. Italian prosecutors, after conducting their own probe, announced plans this week to charge Lozano, a member of New York's legendary Fighting 69th, with murder and attempted murder.

But Sgrena, who is still recovering from a gunshot wound that collapsed her lung, doesn't want Lozano to be made a "scapegoat."

And this from the BBC:

Wednesday, 5 July 2006, 12:56 GMT 13:56 UK

Italians held over 'CIA kidnap'

US military base in Aviano, northern Italy Two Italian intelligence officers have been arrested over the alleged CIA kidnapping of a terror suspect from Milan in 2003, city prosecutors say.

Unconfirmed Italian reports named one as Marco Mancini, a senior official at the Sismi intelligence agency.

Arrest warrants for four Americans were also issued, adding to 22 earlier ones.

Italy's previous government denied any role in the seizing of Egyptian Muslim cleric Osama Mustafa Hassan, who says he was taken to Egypt and tortured.

The two arrested men are the first Italians to be linked to the investigation. One is said to be in custody; the other under house arrest.

Mr Mancini is a former head of the anti-terrorist division of the Italian secret service. He has taken part in negotiations to free Italian hostages kidnapped in Iraq.

Kidnap claims

Mr Hassan, also known as Abu Omar, is believed to have been abducted from a Milan street on 17 February 2003, and flown out of the country from Aviano air base north of Venice.

The cleric, who had been granted refugee status in Italy, was already under investigation by Italian officers as part of a terrorism inquiry.

Milan prosecutors probing the kidnap case believe Mr Hassan was snatched by the CIA and taken to Aviano for interrogation, before being flown on to Cairo via Ramstein air base in Germany.

He is still being held in a jail in Egypt, but did make contact with his family and friends during a brief release. A friend who spoke to him said he had suffered electric shocks and other severe torture.

Wanted Americans

The Milan prosecutors' office statement said three of the Americans involved in the fresh arrest warrants were CIA agents, while the fourth worked at the Aviano base....

Today's New York Times goes into somewhat more depth, but tells essentially the same story.

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