Creative Destruction

February 18, 2007

U.S. Agents on Trial in Italy

Filed under: Current Events,International Politics — Brutus @ 12:55 pm

This article in the NY Times reports that 26 Americans, mostly CIA agents, are to stand trial in Italy for kidnapping a terrorism suspect in Milan in 2003, transporting him to Egypt, and torturing him. That the torture apparently happened prior to enacting the Torture Act (sorry, that’s just what I’m gonna call it, because that’s what it is) would see to me to invalidate any defensive claim that agents were just following orders. Even today, I think agents should probably refuse to follow that sort of order, but that’s just me.

So we’re finally being told, by a foreign power no less, that no, it’s not OK to kidnap and torture. We could learn that lesson from most 8-year-olds. Why do I have the sense that the message will be lost of most of the people in the U.S. — both citizenry and government officials? We seem to have this apocalyptic vision of ourselves as the underdog victims in a global conspiracy to destroy us and that the only way to combat bad men intent on bad deeds is to become bad men ourselves, or badder men as the case may be. That’s just dumb.

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26 Comments »

  1. It’s not the “foreign power”; it’s the left-wing judiciary thereof. Italy has refused to forward the extradition requests to the United States, and the agents will not be standing trial, unless it is in absentia.

    Comment by Robert — February 18, 2007 @ 1:02 pm | Reply

  2. Actually, although the previous Italian government refused to forward the extradiction requests, the current government (according to news reports I’ve read) has not yet issued its decision.

    Several Italian intelligence agensts and spies have been charged with cooperating or aiding the American kidnappers. One Italian cop has taken a plea bargain, which includes prison time, for his role.

    From the above-linked article:

    Switzerland this week ordered an investigation of the use of its airspace to transport Abu Omar. Germany recently ordered the arrest of 13 Americans and others in another suspected CIA abduction; Portugal and Spain are investigating the use of their territory for stopovers by CIA flights involved in renditions; and Canada last month apologized to a Syrian-born citizen it allowed the U.S. to transport to Syria, where he says he was tortured.

    Aside from the obvious moral problems with kidnapping possibly innocent people and torturing them, it’s also clear that one outcome of this is going to be enormous pressure on many European intelligence services to cooperate less with their US counterparts. This means that the US intelligence agencies will be less effective; that genuine terrorists have less to fear; and that citizens will be less safe. Good going, Bush administration.

    Oh, and by the way, is anyone else nausiated by the cowardice and lying of the Bush administration saying that they did approve kidnapping suspects and having them taken to Egypt and Syria for questioning, but claiming to have no idea that they would be tortured there? They have the guts necessary to order other people kidnapped and tortured without trial; but they don’t have the guts to admit that this is their policy. What worms.

    Comment by Ampersand — February 18, 2007 @ 5:18 pm | Reply

  3. Amp –

    please. Comparing the Bush administration to worms is a gross insult. I know a lot of worms who are deeply offended by the comparison.

    Comment by Glaivester — February 18, 2007 @ 6:30 pm | Reply

  4. Ampersand wrote:

    one outcome of this is going to be enormous pressure on many European intelligence services to cooperate less with their US counterparts. This means that the US intelligence agencies will be less effective; that genuine terrorists have less to fear; and that citizens will be less safe. Good going, Bush administration.

    Are you saying that our legitimate (read: legal) antiterrorist intelligence efforts will be hampered, or the ones where we kidnap and torture?

    Comment by Brutus — February 18, 2007 @ 8:00 pm | Reply

  5. Brutus, IMO both legal and illegal antiterrorist intelligent efforts will be impaired.

    Comment by Ampersand — February 18, 2007 @ 11:10 pm | Reply

  6. Amp, I’m sure you’re correct, all efforts will be impaired. I guess what I’m getting at, though, is whether you have a problem with kidnapping, torturing, and disappearing people as part of our antiterrorist efforts. I definitely condemn those actions and do not want to keep them as perogatives by smoothing over things with Italy or others.

    Comment by Brutus — February 19, 2007 @ 12:25 am | Reply

  7. I guess what I’m getting at, though, is whether you have a problem with kidnapping, torturing, and disappearing people as part of our antiterrorist efforts.

    I can imagine circumstances under kidnapping would strike me as a legitimate lesser-evil course (although only if it was followed by a fair trial).

    I’m unambiguously opposed to torture and to disappearing.

    Comment by Ampersand — February 19, 2007 @ 5:31 am | Reply

  8. The difference between kidnapping and an arrest is what legal authority you have and what you do with the person after you have them.

    Arrests are promptly followed by public detention in a jail supervised by a legitimate court. Kidnappings are not.

    It is one thing to abduct people from a situation, say Somolia, where there is no functioning local governmental alternative, or Taliban Afghanistan, where there is a pro-terrorist government in place.

    It is another thing to abduct people from a situation where there is an extradition treaty in place, and a functional government concerned about terrorism in its own right.

    Comment by ohwilleke — February 19, 2007 @ 6:00 pm | Reply

  9. Ohwilleke,
    There may be a legal difference between Somalia and Italy, but there certainly isn’t a moral difference in kidnapping people. This is just one of the hundreds of ways this administration uses to get around human rights protections. It reminds me of the term enemy combatants–a way to get around the Geneva Conventions.

    This should be a huge story; instead we’re talking about Britney Spears shaving her head.

    Comment by Rachel — February 21, 2007 @ 12:43 am | Reply

  10. I agree with Rachel that splitting hairs with how things are defined tends to obfuscate what is a significant abdication of moral authority. I’ve made several posts on the topic, which have definitely attracted far less attention that the celebrity junk and feminism focus this group blog tends to have. I can only infer that many of us simply don’t regard it as a very important issue.

    Comment by Brutus — February 21, 2007 @ 1:53 am | Reply

  11. I can only infer that many of us simply don’t regard it as a very important issue.

    Or perhaps its not a controversial issue in the sense that nobody’s arguing that its a good thing.

    Comment by Daran — February 21, 2007 @ 3:04 am | Reply

  12. It is one thing to abduct people from a situation, say Somolia, where there is no functioning local governmental alternative, or Taliban Afghanistan, where there is a pro-terrorist government in place.

    So would it be ok for representatives of a government that did not have an extradition treaty with the US and considered the US (or British or pick-your-first-world-country) government to be a pro-terrorist government to kidnap people from the US (etc) as long as the kidnapping victims were then subjected to a trial that was fair by local standards and were set free in the unlikely event that they were judged to be innocent?

    Comment by Dianne — February 21, 2007 @ 5:45 am | Reply

  13. Daran wrote:

    Or perhaps its not a controversial issue in the sense that nobody’s arguing that its a good thing.

    If we agree on this, we would likely pay more attention, not less. Similarly, if we agreed that rollbacks on civil liberties are important, we would alert everyone to those illegal actions our government is takng against us. Or if we agreed that Bush deserves impeachment (and there were some mechanism to avoid the presidency going to Cheney), we would be writing about that, rather than letting sleeping dogs lie.

    To answer Dianne’s question, no, it wouldn’t be OK. The U.S. clearly has a double standard right now that it can act unilaterally and with impunity but other countries cannot use the same tactics. What we need is a Duchy of Grand Fenwick (from the novel/movie The Mouse That Roared) to challenge us and show us for the fools we are.

    Comment by Brutus — February 21, 2007 @ 12:39 pm | Reply

  14. So would it be ok for representatives of a government that did not have an extradition treaty with the US and considered the US (or British or pick-your-first-world-country) government to be a pro-terrorist government to kidnap people from the US (etc) as long as the kidnapping victims were then subjected to a trial that was fair by local standards and were set free in the unlikely event that they were judged to be innocent?

    U.S. law as espoused by the U.S. Supreme Court, says this is O.K. even if you do have an extradition treaty in place with the country in question. And, other countries have done this to foreigners on U.S. soil with minimal repurcussions.

    There are two categories, of course. One is the no functional government situation. This is similar to the longstanding use of the military to stop piracy on the high seas where there is no government. The other is the pro-terrorist sovereign government — I’m not convinced that this would be proper at all times and places, but when there is an effectively declare war, as there was in the Afghan case, I think that it can be legitimate — even proportionate. Kidnapping followed by a trial under local standards is far superior to executive assassination something that Israel does often, that the U.S. has done occassionally, and the other nations have done on British and U.S. soil. Extradition is better, but kidnapping followed by trial sure beats kidnapping followed by torture or summary execution.

    Comment by ohwilleke — February 21, 2007 @ 1:19 pm | Reply

  15. If we agree on this, we would likely pay more attention, not less.

    I’m not sure that’s how it works for all bloggers. Certainly, it’s not how it works for me. I’m often infuriated by these issues, but at the same time I don’t feel like I have anything to say about them that’s interesting (“I’m so pissed off! This is so evil!” isn’t interesting — at least, not when I write it).

    There are a bunch of issues that I feel are probably objectively more important than the issues I typically write about, which I nonetheless don’t write about, because I don’t feel interesting enough or well-informed enough. I read other bloggers on these issues with great interest, and I greatly approve of them writing about it, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve got anything to say.

    (Edited to add “at least,not when I write it.”)

    Comment by Ampersand — February 21, 2007 @ 1:31 pm | Reply

  16. I agree with Amp’s point. I don’t do much political blogging (well if you define political as just related to US govt. policies), but I also think there is a sense in which people feel both powerless and detached from this issue.

    Plus, I think there is also a psychological issue going on here–I think people are too scared, too ignorant, or too confident in the US government. We simply don’t want to believe that the US government can be this terrible. Then, you have the people who are OK, with this as long as it is happening some place else to people who are not citizens of the US. Of course that is nonsense because if our laws are so great we should apply them around the world, not just to citizens. However, they don’t even care about citizens. Just look at the Jose Padilla case because he is getting terrible treatment, and he’s a US citizen.

    I’m ranting…….

    Oh one more thing, the democrats would do themselves some serious good to start talking about a right to privacy and “getting govt.” off our backs. They have a grand opportunity to steal that issue back from the Republicans. I think the vast majority of Americans would be upset about warrantless wiretapping, and the proposal’s to monitor our library books if they understood the seriousness of those issues. Although maybe I’m delusional, I’ve talked about this in my intro. sociology classes, and many of the students say I’m just paranoid.

    Comment by Rachel — February 24, 2007 @ 2:46 am | Reply

  17. PS- Didn’t Italy just get a new government since this post went up?

    Comment by Rachel — February 24, 2007 @ 2:48 am | Reply

  18. They have a grand opportunity to steal that issue back from the Republicans.

    Opportunity, yes. Credibility, no.

    Comment by Robert — February 24, 2007 @ 2:50 am | Reply

  19. And did you see this.

    I just read this blog post, but I think this is related.

    Comment by Rachel — February 24, 2007 @ 2:55 am | Reply

  20. Your link didn’t work.

    Comment by Daran — February 24, 2007 @ 6:46 am | Reply

  21. There is the link.

    Comment by Rachel — February 24, 2007 @ 12:14 pm | Reply

  22. I agree with Amp. I certainly don’t feel detatched from the issue. I just don’t think I have anything in particular to say about it that goes beyond “me too”.

    Thanks for the link, Rachel. I’d need to take a closer look at it before I could judge its soundness, but it’s hardly a surprising finding, is it. 😦

    Comment by Daran — February 24, 2007 @ 2:34 pm | Reply

  23. “26 Americans, mostly CIA agents, are to stand trial in Italy for kidnapping a terrorism suspect in Milan in 2003, transporting him to Egypt, and torturing him.”

    A little late here on my correction, but do you realize that the alleged torture was conducted by the Egyptian government, not the US?

    Look here for a little more insight:
    http://shieldofachilles.blogspot.com/2007/06/what-media-is-not-telling-you-about-cia.html

    Comment by John Rohan — June 19, 2007 @ 7:57 am | Reply

  24. What the Media is Not Telling You About the CIA Tr

    Of course, the irony here is that if the USA is a torturer, a rogue state, and the world’s biggest terrorist, as Andrew Sullivan, Noam Chomsky, Cindy Sheehan, Hugo Chavez, and many others claim, then taking prisoners anywhere else but the US would be…

    Trackback by The Shield of Achilles — June 19, 2007 @ 8:00 am | Reply

  25. This story crossed my path the one time and I never followed up on it. The summary posted June 18 at Shield of Achilles seems to me pretty good, though he has questions and emphases different from mine. As to Egypt’s role, it’s impossible for me to know whether Egyptian interrogators and torturers were acting at the behest of U.S. agents, but I’m suspicious they were. We delivered the bad guy. So the CIA agents being tried in absentia are culpable, too. That doesn’t let Egyptian security off the hook. Why doesn’t the media report about Egypt’s role, asks Shield of Achilles? Because it’s not nearly as big a player as the U.S. and not as great a concern. The other intrigue in this complex of events is simply international politics at work. Countries act to cover their tracks, obfuscate issues, and otherwise spin their responsibilities to the best of their ability. It’s weaselly but predictable. Only a fool would believe even half of the posturing.

    Comment by Brutus — June 19, 2007 @ 5:18 pm | Reply


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