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U.S. Must Fess Up to CIA Kidnapping on Italian Soil

It is time for the White House to exhibit something more than ‘arrogant or embarrassed silence,’ and explain why the CIA violated the sovereignty of Italy, one of America’s closest friends and allies.

By Gianni Riotta

July 3, 2005

Original Article (English)    

At traditional summer round tables, in weighty academic journals, and in the bitter recollections of aging pioneers of the genre, it is customary to lament the passing of classic investigative journalism. In the view of many, this thinning of the fourth estate’s blood has weakened media credibility. It is therefore a genuine pleasure to salute the work of Guido Olimpo and Paolo Biondani, two newshounds whose meticulous investigation revealed the American Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine operation to abduct and secretly transfer to Egypt Imam Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, better known as Abu Omar, suspected of organizing fundamentalist terrorist cells.

—NPR NEWS AUDIO: Italy Says CIA Agents Guilty of Abduction, Left Much Evidence, June 25, 00:03:27

The victim was tailed on a Milan street, immobilized with a chemical spray, kidnapped, sent secretly to the U.S. air base at Aviano, and from there to the fastnesses of the Mubarak regime [Egypt], with no legal protections whatsoever. Now the Abu Omar case threatens to widen the split between the United States and Italy, following the regrettable aftermath of the Sgrena case and the death of Nicola Calipari.

Abu Omar’s abduction took place on the territory of a friendly sovereign country and an ally of Washington that has courageously supported the postwar peace process in Iraq by sending troops to Nassiriya, thus exposing itself to Madrid-style terrorist reprisals.

—NPR NEWS AUDIO: Germans Insist U.S. Explain'Renditions', After German Citizen Is Kidnapped, June 29, 00:03:53

The fact that the CIA, while dallying in luxury hotels and expenses even James Bond would have baulked at, chose to act without informing Italian authorities, confirms that the U.S. administration has yet to grasp the scale of the damage wrought on America’s image by the chains at Guantanamo, the photos of Abu Ghraib, and the covert actions of the CIA, the strategic aims of which were explained yesterday to Corriere della Sera by Robert Baer, a former member of the CIA Directorate of Operations.

What’s the point of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s forthright speech urging America’s Egyptian and Saudi allies to at last open their societies to democracy, if the CIA then sends Abu Omar, illegally abducted in Italy, to Cairo, to be unceremoniously interrogated without lawyers, transparency, or legal process, all considered by Washington hardliners as superfluous luxuries in a time of war?

The finest moments in American history, from Lincoln to Roosevelt, show that despite all the grey areas, it is possible to defend democracy by force without distorting its spirit. Biondani and Olimpio’s investigation reaffirms that in a free country, a free press has a vigorous, fruitful role to play if it steers clear of Byzantine plottings and power games, and goes straight for the facts. The Corriere della Sera’s feature poses serious questions about responsibilities. Was this an unauthorized operation by the CIA? Did the White House know? Was the Pentagon informed? How far up did that knowledge filter? Did the Italian authorities give the green light? Or was the light yellow? Did any Italians attend the notification briefings, and if they did, why did they approve?

Professor Peter Spiro of Georgetown University has few doubts, and claims that the Americans would never collaborate on an operation like this. That may be true, but the Abu Omar case has been picked up by The New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, other leading American newspapers, ABC and CNN television networks, and hundreds of other papers all over the world, from Britain’s Belfast Telegraph and Independent, Canada’s Calgary Sun, to Australia’s Gold Coast Bulletin.

The global outcry will be hard to face down. In fact, it has already been mentioned in the official White House bulletin, hitherto entrenched behind a wall of “no comments.” Soon, arrogant or embarrassed silence will no longer be enough. What is needed is the truth - the whole truth - about an iniquitous violation of Italy’s sovereignty.  


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