On February 4th, an appeals court in Milan vacated the acquittals of three Americans who were convicted of abducting and torturing a suspected Egyptian terrorist. The Egyptian man claimed that he was abducted in Italy before being transferred to Germany, then Egypt, where he was allegedly tortured. All three men were part of a group of twenty-six Americans, mostly CIA members, that were charged with the crime. One of the three Americans is a former station chief for the CIA, and was sentenced to seven years while the other two men were sentenced to six. This ruling overturns the lower court’s holding that they received diplomatic immunity, which set them apart from the other twenty-six Americans.
The other twenty-three men already had their convictions upheld last year by Italy’s highest court, meaning all of the accused Americans have now been convicted. Interestingly enough, this is the first time that CIA agents have ever been convicted of crimes involving torture. However, five Italians allegedly involved in the incident have been acquitted, partly due to “state secrets” limiting the evidence against them that was allowed in the trial.
The Italian courts tried all twenty-six Americans in absentia, with none of them ever appearing in court, let alone Italian custody. Moreover, only two have attempted to contact their lawyers, and the United States has remained officially silent on the case. Of course, global politics come into play here. There is a 2006 amnesty that reduces everyone’s sentences in this matter by three years. Moreover, because of a decree from 2000, Italy cannot extradite convicted men and women unless their sentence exceeds four years. With both rules in effect, only one of the twenty-six Americans convicted faces potential extradition. Due to the upcoming Italian elections, whether or not that one American will actually be extradited remains to be seen. Nonetheless, all twenty-seven Americans risk the possibility of arrest if they enter Europe.
The appeals court in Milan is now reviewing the “state secrets” acquittal of the five involved Italians. Will their fate be the same as the Americans who were initially granted diplomatic immunity? Also, do the convictions really mean much if they cannot be enforced?
Source: Associated Press
To answer Rich’s question, I think the convictions are meaningful. Even though none of the American agents involved have appeared in Italy’s courts or been taken into custody, the agents do risk arrest if they travel to Europe. More importantly, this demonstrates to all intelligence agents that they are not above the law. The original trial, for example, involved the conviction of former Milan CIA station chief, Robert Seldon Lady. Italy’s high court increased his sentence from seven to nine years. As Rich mentioned, Lady’s sentencing could fall under the 2006 amnesty, thereby reducing Lady’s jail time to six years. Nonetheless, he’ll do time. The other 22 agents saw their sentences increase from five to seven years. Italy’s courts are trying to send a message. Having let this situation drag on for years, Italy is ready to take command. Even our allies are not afraid to let us know how they feel about our inhumane practices of extraordinary rendition. The indicted agents have President Bush to thank for their shameful reputations. Our military and its deceptive operations which occurred during Bush’s eight years in office, are gradually being exposed.
The world, especially America, needs to know what our military has been up to. While it would serve justice to see these agents do their time, the exposure of their crimes is meaningful in and of itself.