Saturday, June 25, 2005

MORE ON THE RENDITIONS case in which 13 C.I.A. agents were arrested by Italian authorities for kidnapping an Egyptian cleric and taking him to Egypt, where he was tortured. The Los Angeles Times describes these agents as being brazen and stunningly unconcerned about being discovered -- talking freely on cell phones in public places, handing out frequent flyer mile information, passports, drivers licenses, and credit cards when buying airline tickets or renting cars, staying in 5-star hotels, and treating themselves to expensive vacations. The LA Times article also informs us that after the kidnapped cleric, Abu Omar, had been handed over to Egyptian authorities to be tortured, several of the agents celebrated the successful rendition at a luxurious hotel in Venice. Another group of agents relaxed and soaked up the sun at a Caribbean resort north of Tuscany.

The Milan crew seemed to have made little effort to keep a low profile. Although much of the information they provided might have been false, they seemed to have left a trail worthy of Hansel and Gretel.

Arriving individually or in pairs during the weeks leading up to the abduction in February of 2003, they checked into some of Milan's finest hotels: the $450-a-night Prince of Savoy on Milan's grand Piazza della Repubblica, the Westin Palace, the Milan Hilton. They ate at good restaurants and rented cell phones and cars. They offered up their frequent-flier account numbers, as well as their passports, VISA and Diner's Club credit cards and drivers licenses.

Many of the names, home U.S. addresses and telephone numbers contained in the indictment appear to be false or have been changed.

In hotel bills alone, the group ran up a tab of $150,000, the documents indicate.

One of the agents involved in the rendition is the former C.I.A. station chief in Milan. Italian authorities think that he might have been present while Abu Omar was interrogated, which of course raises the possibility that this agent, an American born in Honduras, witnessed Omar being tortured.

The kidnapping also interfered with an anti-terrorism investigation being conducted by the Italian government.

Italian judicial officials are perhaps most angry with the American operation because it ruined their own efforts to crack the cell and arrest numerous terror suspects in Italy.

"Not only was Abu Omar's kidnapping illegal in having seriously violated Italian sovereignty, but it was also an inauspicious act that has contaminated the overall fight against terrorism," Judge Guido Salvini said in issuing a separate indictment on the Egyptian-born cleric.

But will any of these agents see the inside of a courtroom? Don't hold your breath.

Armando Spataro, the lead prosecutor on the case, has said he would like to seek the extradition of the suspects, and the warrants have been forwarded to European police agencies, meaning the named men and women could be arrested anywhere in Europe.

But Italian judicial officials acknowledge that it is unlikely that a single CIA agent ever will be brought to trial. The U.S. government publicly has refused to comment on or even acknowledge the warrants.

Once again, the United States, and Americans representing the United States, are above the law. It's thought to be a very dangerous and undesirable precedent for an American to be held responsible for violating the laws of other countries.

It strikes me as being kinda like the pre-civil rights South -- or the pre-civil rights North, for that matter. You would never see a white person being convicted for assaulting, terrorizing, raping, or killing a black person. Even though the same laws nominally applied to both whites and blacks, in practice, convicting a white man or woman for a crime committed against a black man or woman would be establishing the dangerous precedent of treating blacks as though they had a value equal to that of whites.

Today, the U.S. is to the rest of the world as white Americans were to black Americans before 1965.


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