Milan Court Indicts 26 Americans In Abduction


Richard Moore

Original source URLs:

Milan Court Indicts 26 Americans In Abduction
CIA Operatives May Be Tried in Absentia
By Sarah Delaney and Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, February 17, 2007; A01

ROME, Feb. 16 -- An Italian judge gave approval Friday for what will be the 
first overseas criminal trial of CIA officers involved in a covert 
counterterrorism operation, as a court in Milan indicted more than two dozen 
Americans on charges of kidnapping a radical Muslim cleric four years ago.

After a judicial hearing that lasted two months, the court handed down 
indictments against 25 CIA operatives, a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and 
five Italian spies who are accused 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 his native Egypt, where he 
claims he was tortured in prison for more than three years.

The trial is scheduled to open June 8 and will challenge the legality of a 
long-standing CIA practice known as "extraordinary rendition," in which 
terrorism suspects are secretly abducted and taken to other countries for 
interrogation. None of the American defendants is in custody, nor are they 
expected to appear in court. Prosecutors said they will be tried in absentia.

Arrest warrants against the CIA operatives were obtained in 2005. A judge 
approved the indictments Friday after the judicial hearing and a lengthy 
criminal investigation that retraced in minute detail how the CIA put together 
the kidnapping plot.

The CIA and the State Department declined to comment on the indictments. "This 
is an issue that is before the judiciary in Italy," State Department spokesman 
Tom Casey said.

It is the second case in which criminal charges have been filed against CIA 
officers for illegally abducting a terrorism suspect. German prosecutors in 
Munich issued arrest warrants last month for 13 CIA operatives suspected of 
kidnapping a Lebanese German man, Khaled el-Masri, in the Balkans in December 
2003 and taking him to Afghanistan. He was released five months later after the 
CIA realized they had grabbed the wrong man.

In addition, the Swiss government announced this week that it had approved a 
criminal investigation into the use of Switzerland's airspace to fly Nasr from 
Italy to a U.S. military base in Germany after his abduction.

He was put on another CIA-chartered plane to Cairo soon afterward.

The Milan prosecution team, headed by investigating magistrate Armando Spataro, 
has asked the Italian government to file a request with the U.S. Justice 
Department for extradition of the 26 American defendants. The request has 
already been refused once, by Roberto Castelli, then Italy's justice minister. 
But it is being reconsidered by a new Italian government that came to power last

The indictment publishes the names of the 25 CIA operatives, including the CIA's
former Rome station chief Jeffrey Castelli and former Milan substation chief 
Robert Seldon Lady, who are accused of conspiring with the Italian military 
intelligence agency, known as Sismi.

Most of the CIA operatives named in the indictments had been using undercover 
aliases; prosecutors said they do not know the operatives' true identities and 
acknowledged that it is unlikely they will be found or brought to Italy to stand

A former Sismi director, Gen. Nicolo Pollari, has also been charged.

Arianna Barbazza, a Milan lawyer who has been appointed to represent several of 
the U.S. defendants, said she and other defense attorneys in the case had been 
unable to contact their clients. She said it was highly unlikely that the United
States would respond to an extradition request, even if the Italian government 
decided to make one.

Barbazza said 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, said the apparent decision by the CIA operatives not to hire 
their own lawyers "demonstrates a specific choice to not participate in the 

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.

Nasr was released this week by an Egyptian court after spending nearly four 
years in prison. He is staying with his family in Alexandria, Egypt, and is 
considering filing a civil lawsuit against the Italian and U.S. governments, 
according to a Cairo lawyer, Montasser al-Zayat, who has worked on his behalf.

Attorneys involved in the case said it was unlikely Nasr would return to Milan 
to testify in the trial; he faces arrest in Italy on terrorism-related charges 
that were filed after his abduction. Sansalone said the outcome of the trial 
could change if Nasr does testify, however.

This week the Italian government also asked the country's constitutional court 
to determine whether investigators overstepped their legal authority by ordering
wiretaps of the Italian spies' telephone calls. A ruling in the government's 
favor could be a setback to the prosecutor's case.

Whitlock reported from Berlin.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company

Escaping the Matrix website
cyberjournal website     
Community Democracy Framework:
subscribe cyberjournal list        mailto:•••@••.•••
Posting archives