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After the European Parliament issued a report indicating that more than a dozen European governments were involved in the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s covert program for capturing terror suspects, an Italian court indicted 26 Americans last week, most of them CIA officers.
Five Italians were also indicted, including Italy’s former top spy.
The case involves a radical Egyptian cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, who “disappeared” near his mosque in Milan in February 2003. He has recently been released from an Egyptian jail, where he says he was tortured. He also stated that he will be suing former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi for damages.
However, the indictment marks a turning point in Europe, where anger is running high at the American program referred to as “extraordinary renditions,” in which suspected terrorists were seized on foreign soil and interrogated at secret locations in a third country.
The Italian case is the first being forced to trial. Last month, a German court issued an arrest warrant for 13 suspected CIA agents thought to have been involved in the Macedonia kidnapping of a German citizen of Lebanese descent.
There are also investigations into extraordinary renditions in Portugal and Spain.
The Swiss government has initiated an investigation into the CIA flight of Abu Omar from Germany to Egypt, through Swiss air space.
In November 2006, Germany’s top prosecutor received documents seeking a criminal investigation and prosecution of former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, along with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former CIA director George Tenet and other senior U.S. civilian and military officers for their alleged involvement in abuse in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.
Scheduled for June, the Italian criminal case will likely proceed without the Americans present. While Milan prosecutors have called for their government to request the extradition of the CIA agents, the former government of Mr. Berlusconi refused, and current Premier Romano Prodi’s center-left government has remained elusive on the issue.
These cases shed light on the growing gulf between Europe and the United States. There was a time when most European countries would stand “shoulder to shoulder” with America in any initiative to remove terror suspects from action. In addition, albeit under another government, Italy was in fact a significant ally in the “war on terror.”
Times have changed since 9/11, and how fast has been this change. Will this trend grow worse? If so, how bad can it get? Until recently, none could have imagined such a “court” ruling possible. Yet, looking back, will we say the once unthinkable is now the norm?