Today, an Italian court convicted 23 Americans for the “extraordinary rendition” of a Muslim cleric who was kidnapped in Milan in 2003. The case is the first of its kind to hold Americans accountable for the rendition of terrorism suspects overseas.
The three-year trial in Milan ended in the conviction of Americans — mostly CIA agents — in the kidnapping of Hassan Moustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar. Omar was seized on the streets of Milan in 2003 and held in U.S. military bases in Italy and Germany, before being transferred to Egypt, where he claimed he was tortured. After four years in detention, he was released without charge.
According to media reports, the Americans were tried in absentia, and all but one was given a five-year sentence. Former Milan CIA station chief, Robert Seldon Lady, was sentenced to eight years in prison. Three other Americans were given diplomatic immunity and acquitted. Two Italians were convicted as accomplices to kidnapping.
In contrast, earlier this week, a rendition lawsuit brought against U.S. government officials on behalf of Canadian citizen Maher Arar was dismissed by a U.S. Court of Appeals because it raised foreign policy and secrecy issues. And, last week a federal appeals court announced that it will hear the government’s appeal of an earlier ruling that allowed an ACLU lawsuit to go forward against a Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen DataPlan Inc., for its role in the “extraordinary rendition” program.
In a press release that we sent out today, ACLU Human Rights Program attorney Steven Watt stated:
The decision in Italy underscores the need for the United States to hold its own officials accountable for crimes committed under the “extraordinary rendition” program. It is shameful that the first convictions of this kind came from a foreign justice system, where those convicted are not likely to serve their time. The U.S. judicial system must provide similar measures of accountability to hold those who committed crimes in the names of the American people responsible for their actions and provide victims of torture with access to justice.
The ACLU has been calling on the Justice Department to hold accountable those involved in the illegal rendition and torture of detainees in the Bush administration’s “war on terror.” Join us in asking Attorney General Holder to launch a full and thorough investigation of the abuse and torture of detainees in U.S. custody.