An Italian judge convicted 23 former agents of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in the first trial testing the legality of so-called “extraordinary rendition” or government-sponsored kidnapping in which terror suspects were picked up by U.S. agents operating secretly on foreign soil and transported to interrogation sites. The Americans were tried in absentia. The CIA’s Milan station chief Robert Seldon was sentenced to an eight-year prison term, and the other 22 defendants received five-year terms. The U.S. refuses to extradite the former agents.
Abu Omar, under surveillance by Italian police at the time of his abduction on suspicion of recruiting militants for Iraq, was secretly flown from Aviano airbase in northeast Italy via Ramstein base in Germany to Egypt, where he says he was tortured and held until 2007 without charge.
In a December 2007 interview, Abu Omar told Human Rights Watch that he was violently abused upon his arrival in Egypt. “You cannot imagine,” he said. “I was hung up like a slaughtered sheep and given electrical shocks.”
“I was brutally tortured,” he continued, “and I could hear the screams of others who were tortured too.” While in one prison in Egypt, Abu Omar wrote an 11-page letter that described his torture in graphic detail. He was finally released from prison without charge in February 2007.
It is the first case to contest the practice of “extraordinary rendition” under the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush, in which terrorism suspects were captured in one country and taken for questioning in another, where interrogation techniques were tougher.
One of the “secret” rendition air strips is at the Johnston County airport in Smithfield, North Carolina. The renditions were subcontracted from the CIA to Aero Contractors. An innovative group of citizen PlaneSpotters has tracked rendition flights.
On November 18, 2005, forty members of Stop Torture Now delivered a “peoples’ indictment” to Aero Contractors’ headquarters in Smithfield. Fourteen members of the group were arrested for second degree, misdemeanor trespass, and the event was widely covered by the media, including the Raleigh News & Observer (see here).
Citizens’ Indictments, written by The Center for Theology and Social Analysis in St. Louis, were delivered to Johnston County officials.
Currently, the faith-based and citizens’ group Stop Torture Now is attempting to ban Aero Contractors from use of their county airport.
Maybe if the Italian courts and the U.S. citizens’ groups upholding the law against torture join forces, we can wrestle our national soul back toward righteousness.