Indictments sought in alleged CIA kidnapping
Wednesday, December 6, 2006
MILAN, Italy -- An Italian prosecutor on Tuesday requested the indictment of 26 Americans and five Italian secret service officials in the 2003 kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric in Milan -- a case that continues to be an irritant to U.S.-Italian relations. Prosecutor Armando Spataro said the indictment request is aimed at CIA agents and the former head of Italian military intelligence, Nicolo Pollari, for alleged involvement in the kidnapping. Prosecutors have identified all but one of the Americans as CIA agents, including former station chiefs in Rome and Milan, and the 26th as a U.S. Air Force officer stationed at the time at Aviano air base near Venice.
Last month, Spataro asked the center-left government of Romano Prodi to request the Americans' extradition; he has not received a response.
The operation was believed to be part of an alleged CIA "extraordinary rendition" program in which terrorism suspects are transferred to third countries where some allegedly are tortured. It is the first known prosecution of alleged participants in such operations, which have come under growing criticism by America's allies in Europe.
The United States and Italy have an extradition treaty, although it was not likely that CIA agents would be turned over for trial abroad. In some instances, only the aliases of the agents are known.
The previous government of conservative Silvio Berlusconi had refused to request the Americans' extradition, and contended his government and Italian secret services were not informed about the operation and did not take part.
Berlusconi, one of the United States' staunchest allies in the war against terrorism and the invasion of Iraq, expressed support for Pollari.
"Gen. Pollari was one of the few to fight terrorism in the front lines, with the result that he came under the scrutiny of all Italians. Let's ask the government how it intends to protect those like Pollari who go up against terrorists, and the good name of our intelligence and Italy's reputation abroad," Berlusconi said.
Pollari was replaced last month as part of a purge that also included the heads of the civilian secret service agencies. Pollari, 63, had long resisted calls for his resignation that only intensified with the abduction case. He took over SISMI, the Italian military intelligence agency, in 2001 after holding key posts with Italy's financial police and civilian secret service agency.
Besides Pollari, the request also names his former deputy Marco Mancini, and three other secret service officials.
Pollari has insisted in questioning before parliamentary committees that Italian intelligence had no role in the cleric's disappearance, while Mancini, who was arrested this summer, is said by his lawyers to be cooperating with prosecutors in implicating his boss.
Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, an Egyptian cleric and terrorist suspect, also known as Abu Omar, was allegedly abducted from a Milan street in February 2003 and flown out of Italy from Aviano.
Among the Americans named in the request are Robert Seldon Lady, a former station chief in Milan, and Jeffrey Castelli, identified as a former CIA chief in Rome.
Spataro also is seeking indictments on charges of aiding and abetting against two other secret service officials and the deputy director of the newspaper Libero, Renato Farina. Four others -- three secret service officials and a reporter for Libero -- were dropped from the investigation.
From the outset, U.S. officials have declined comment. A lawyer for Lady, the only American who was living in Italy when arrest warrants were issued, said she was surprised by the indictment request.
"Even the documents of the prosecution show that he was not an organizer. If anything, he was someone who obeyed orders," lawyer Daria Pesce said.
Lady left the country before the warrant was served. Pesce said he lives in the United States, but declined to say where.
Prosecutors raided Lady's home near Turin last year, collecting a central piece of evidence -- a picture of Nasr taken in January 2003 on the street where he was allegedly abducted a month later.
In another case, lawmakers from an Italian communist party demanded Tuesday that the government take action in the case of Abou Elkassim Britel, a Moroccan-born Italian citizen whose family and lawyer say was seized during a 2002 trip to Pakistan, tortured and interrogated by U.S. intelligence and local officials, then put on a CIA flight to Morocco, where he is serving a nine-year prison sentence on terrorism charges.
A report issued last week by the European Parliament committee investigating alleged CIA kidnappings and prisons in Europe condemned Britel's extraordinary rendition and said documents presented by lawyer Francesca Longhi show the Italian Interior Ministry cooperated with the foreign secret services who seized him.
Longhi and the lawmakers told reporters in Rome that Britel was sentenced in Morocco on the basis of a 2001 Italian terror investigation that has since been closed without any charges being brought.
The AP's bureau chief in Italy, Victor Simpson, and AP writer Ariel David contributed to this report from Rome.