An appeals court in Italy has just sentenced two former Italian officials, Nicolo Pollari and Marco Mancini, to 10 years and 9 years in jail. Pollari served as head of Italian military intelligence and Mancini was head of counterintelligence.
Their crime? They conspired with the CIA to kidnap a man named Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr off the streets of Milan and rendition him to Egypt to be tortured.
What’s wrong with that? you ask. Well, nothing in the minds of U.S. officials. As everyone knows, ever since 9/11 the U.S. military and the CIA have claimed the authority to kidnap, rendition, torture, kill, and assassinate anyone they want, so long as it’s done as part of the “war on terrorism” and in the name of “national security.”
What about the laws of other nations — laws that make it a criminal offense for people to kidnap people, torture them, murder them, or assassinate them? Oh, they still count for everyone except U.S. military officials and CIA agents. After 9/11, U.S. officials made it clear to the world that the criminal laws of every country on earth would now be subordinate to the actions of the U.S. military and the CIA. The “war on terrorism” now trumped the laws of foreign jurisdictions. Don’t forget, after all, that in the “war on terrorism” the entire world is the battlefield, or so U.S. officials tell us.
That’s why the CIA felt that it could go into Italy, kidnap a man it suspected of being a terrorist, and forcibly transport him against his will to Egypt to be tortured. In the minds of U.S. national-security state officials, their war on terrorism trumped Italian laws that made kidnapping and torture criminal offenses.
I’ve written previously about this case:
CIA Illegality in Italy by Jacob G. Hornberger (2009)
Imperial Terrorism in Italy by Jacob G. Hornberger (2010)
Also, for a very detailed account of the case, see Glenn Greenwald’s article in yesterday’s Guardian.
As those articles point out, Italian courts, to their everlasting credit, refused to put up with this war-on-terrorism, national-security nonsense and, despite heavy pressure from the U.S. government, steadfastly enforced Italy’s criminal laws, refusing to subordinate them to the U.S. national-security state and its much-vaunted “global war on terrorism.”
Since the CIA agents who did the kidnapping were scared to face Italian justice, where they could have made their ridiculous legal arguments to an Italian judge, they decided that discretion was the better part of valor and skedaddled out of the country, never to return. Nonetheless, the Italian courts prosecuted those CIA kidnappers and torture conspirators in absentia, convicted most of them, and sentenced them to several years in jail.
Needless to say, however, the position of both the Bush and Obama administrations is to continue harboring these convicted felons on the ground that they are official members of the U.S. national-security state who were just following orders as part of waging the war on terrorism, defending our rights and freedoms, and protecting national security.
Also needless to say, none of the CIA agents is voluntarily returning to Italy to face justice, all of them preferring to remain safely ensconced here in the United States.
There’s another important aspect to this. As Greenwald points out in his article, the kidnap-torture victim, Nasr, turned out to be innocent. That’s right — after the most unimaginably brutal torture, which Greenwald details in his article, which has left Nasr a broken man, the Egyptian authorities released him without charges.
Nasr’s experience is the type of situation I addressed last month in my article “What About the Torture of Innocents?” in which I pointed out that under a regime founded on torture, innocent people oftentimes end up getting brutally tortured for a long period of time. Why is that? Because U.S. officials are convinced they’re guilty. So, when the innocent person claims to have no information to divulge, U.S. officials are convinced he’s lying and instruct their torturers to continue the torture until the guy talks. The more the victim fails to provide the desired information, the more he must be tortured. Nasr’s incarceration and torture, after the U.S. national-security state kidnapped him and transported him to Egypt, lasted 4 years. Yes, four long years of torturing an innocent man.
Another glaring aspect of this sordid horror story is the U.S. national-security state’s longtime love of Egypt’s military dictatorship. While U.S. officials belatedly jumped on the anti-Mubarak bandwagon, the fact is that they have long embraced and supported the military dictatorship that he headed. That’s, in fact, why they have plied Egypt’s military regime with millions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer monies over the decades — to fortify and reinforce it, so that it could continue to maintain “order and stability” within the country, through such devices as torture, indefinite detention, and extra-judicial execution.
Good for the Italian judicial system. It helps to remind us that in a civilized society, public officials are not above the law, not even those who work for the U.S. national-security state.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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