US ‘disappointed’ at Italian verdict on CIA kidnap
The United States said it was “disappointed” with the convictions in Italy on Wednesday of 23 Americans – most of whom were CIA agents – for the 2003 kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric from a Milan street.
Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was seized from a street in Milan by the CIA with the assistance of Italian military intelligence officers, a judge found.
He was then smuggled out of the country under the covert “extraordinary rendition” programme. He was transferred to US bases in Italy and Germany and then moved to Egypt, where he claims to have been tortured. He was released after four years in prison without being charged.
The Americans, all but one identified as CIA agents by prosecutors, were tried in absentia as subsequent Italian governments refused or ignored prosecutors’ extradition requests. They were immediately sentenced to five years in prison at the end of the three-year trial.
The trial was the first by any government to scrutinise the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, which human rights advocates say was the agency’s way to outsource the torture of prisoners to countries where it is practised. A US State Department spokesman said: “We are disappointed by the verdicts against the Americans and Italians charged in Milan.”
The Milan station chief at the time, Robert Seldon Lady, received an eight-year sentence. Three other Americans were acquitted due to diplomatic immunity and five Italians due to lack of evidence after the Italian government cited state security, the judge said.
During the trial, the CIA refused to comment on the case or appoint lawyers on behalf of the accused. However, lawyers appointed in Italy on their behalf entered pleas of not guilty.
Lady broke the silence last summer, telling an Italian newspaper that he was “only following orders”.
The former bureau chief, who has now retired, was quoted by Il Giornale as saying: “I am not guilty. I am only responsible for following an order I received from my superiors. It was not a criminal act. It was a state affair.”
The Milan proceedings have been a source of tension in US-Italian relations.
The viability of the trial had been cast into doubt after Italy’s Constitutional Court ruled earlier this year that evidence pertaining to the alleged kidnapping was considered classified and therefore inadmissible.
But Judge Oscar Magi ruled that the politically charged case could go ahead even without the evidence.
By Malcolm Moore
I was tortured in cell after kidnap by CIA, says Muslim cleric
A Muslim cleric has claimed to have been tortured with electric shocks, left in a cell where rats crawled on him and threatened with rape after he was allegedly kidnapped from a Milan street by CIA agents three years ago.
The claims of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, appeared in an affidavit provided to Milan prosecutors investigating his alleged abduction in February 2003, the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported yesterday.
Prosecutors say that the cleric, who was formerly suspected of links to terrorism, was driven to the Aviano military air base and flown via Germany to his native Egypt before being secretly interrogated for six months.
His 11-page, hand-written prison diary, reported to be the basis of his affidavit, includes a series of claims which if true would reveal an extraordinary insight into the “rendition” process practised by intelligence services.
In the diary, Abu Omar tells of how he was grabbed by two Italians and bundled into a van in daylight. Subsequently he says he was flown to Egypt, thrown in a cell and tortured.
He wrote: “Here, they told me, the flies don’t even come. When I asked for the toilet, they told me to go in my cell. There was an incredible stench. I remained there for six and a half months, at Amn El Dawla. The cell was without air, cockroaches and rats crawled over me. When the guard entered, I had to be on my knees or he would jolt me with an electric cattle prod.”
Abu Omar is currently being held at a police station in Alexandria, Egypt. His allegations were reportedly smuggled out of the Egyptian prison and given to Milan prosecutors by an Egyptian contact in Milan. They contradict the version of events presented in the Rome parliament by the Italian military intelligence chief, Nicolo Pollari, who said the kidnapping had been “faked”.
The diary will be used as evidence in a court hearing involving 35 spies, including 26 CIA agents, all believed to have since left Italy, who are accused by prosecutors of participating in the kidnapping by Italian prosecutors of kidnapping.
State investigators have also opened a separate inquiry into claims that Abu Omar was offered money on his return to Italy to keep quiet about his alleged ordeal.
The diary paints a vivid picture of the various forms of torture he claims to have suffered, resulted in him losing his hearing in one ear and his hair and beard turning white. “I write this testimony from the inside of this tomb. I am skinny, my illnesses are worse, I am in a critical condition.,” he wrote. “To eat there was only stale bread, which was covered in sand which hurt the teeth.
“At the beginning, the guards stripped me nude and give me shocks with their cattle prods. One grabbed my private parts and mashed them when I would not talk. They stretched me over an iron gate, kicked me, attached electric wires to me and threw cold water over me.”
By Henry Samuel
CIA’s ‘secret prisons in Europe’
The CIA ran secret prisons in Poland and Romania to interrogate and even torture some detainees in its “war on terror” under a programme authorised by the countries’ presidents, an official European inquiry concluded yesterday.
Swiss senator Dick Marty said Poland housed some of the CIA’s most sensitive prisoners – so-called “high value” detainees – including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-professed mastermind of the September 11 attacks in America that killed almost 3,000 people.
“There is now enough evidence to state that secret detention facilities run by the CIA did exist in Europe from 2003-2005, in particular in Poland and Romania,” Mr Marty said in a report for the Council of Europe human rights watchdog – the culmination of a 19-month investigation.
The European Commission yesterday called on both countries to hold urgent, independent investigations into the allegations and compensate any victims.
According to the report, Poland’s then-president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, the head of the National Security Bureau, Marek Siwiec, the defence minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski and military intelligence chief Marek Dukaczewski knew about and could be held accountable for the secret prison operation in Poland.
The Council of Europe report was mainly based on the cross-referenced testimonies of more than 30 serving and former members of intelligence services in the US and Europe, and on the analysis of international flights.
Mr Marty said the evidence would stand up in court, but that his sources had spoken on condition of anonymity.
The prisons were part of a “global spider’s web” of detentions and illegal transfers – known as “extraordinary renditions” – spun out around the world by America and its allies, the report said.
The report also said that it had received “concurring confirmations” that American agencies had used the British-administered island of Diego Garcia as a so-called “black site” – a discreet place to “process” high-value detainees.
It said it had information “sufficiently serious to demand further investigation” and criticised the British government for accepting American “assurances” that it had not used the site without launching its own independent inquiries.