Extraordinary rendition is illegal under Article 3 of the United States Convention Against Torture, which the United States signed and ratified. In October, 2004, Alberto Gonzales, then the White House counsel [now attorney general], wrote in a letter to The Washington Post that “the United States does not expel, return or extradite individuals to countries where the United States believes it is likely that they will be tortured.” Matthew Evangelista, professor of government at Cornell University, in a letter to The New York Times, June 26
This was not the kind of kidnapping you’d have seen on cable or broadcast television, but the more dependable print media are giving it detailed coverage, including whether the kidnappers—CIA agents—will ever be punished, either at the scene of the crime or where they are employed, here in the U.S.A.
From combined reports by The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Associated Press, and The Guardian in the U.K., here is how the snatch went down:
On February 17, 2003, Hus-san Mustafa Osama Nasr was walking down the Via Guerzoni in Milan to attend daily prayers in a mosque. A radical imam, Nasr had been under surveillance by Italian prosecutors and police for ties to Al Qaeda. But Italian agents were not told that the CIA was about to kidnap him.
Eight CIA agents stopped Nasr just after noon, sprayed his face with chemicals, shoved him into the back of a white van, took him to Aviano Air Base, an American-Italian military installation, and flew him to Ramstein Air Base in Germany and then to Cairo on a Gulfstream IV executive jet (a favorite CIA kidnapping vehicle).
In Egypt, Nasr was tortured—administered electric shock treatments, hung upside down, subjected to extreme temperatures, and so assaulted by loud noise that his hearing was impaired. When he was briefly released after 14 months, he could hardly walk. Quickly rearrested, he has disappeared somewhere in Egyptian custody—a victim of what the CIA, with presidential approval, refers to as “an extraordinary rendition.”
These international crimes , which are also violations of American law, have resulted in more than 100 terrorism suspects being shanghaied by the CIA to torture cells in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Jordan, Syria, Morocco, and other countries. None of the CIA operatives involved—or their superiors in Washington—have been charged with any crime.
But now, for the first time in any country where these kidnappers have plucked people off the street, 13 CIA agents involved in the abduction of Nasr (to his native Egypt) have been indicted in Italy, and 240-page arrest warrants have been issued to pick them up. All 13, however, have left—or rather, escaped from—Italy. Porter Goss, head of the CIA, must know where they are, but I do not believe he will turn them in.
Democratic congressman Edward Markey of Massachusetts, who has been the leader in Congress to shut down these lawless “extraordinary renditions,” said on June 24:
“This is an outrageous practice. The United States cannot stand for torture. This Administration’s rogue kidnapping efforts are now being questioned by some of our closest allies in the war on terror. [Sweden and Canada have protested CIA kidnapping in their countries.] This practice of rendition will only impede our fight against terrorism and alienate our allies.
“President Bush needs to put an end to the practice of outsourcing of torture, his defense of this illegal practice jeopardizes U.S. officials who are now caught in the middle of an international kidnapping.”
Earlier, on May 25, Ed Markey, addressing his colleagues in the House, detailing the CIA’s brazen violations of American treaty commitments under the International Convention Against Torture, asked, “Where is the outrage in this chamber?”
There was no answer. There is no answer now in Congress or, to any meaningful extent, in this nation. And George W. Bush continues to speak of the “transparency” of this constitutional democracy’s rule of law.
In Italy, how were these CIA kidnappers tracked—for two years—by Italian police and prosecutors, with whom some of these abductors had previously been working? In the June 26 Washington Post, Craig Whitlock explains:
“While most of the operatives apparently used false identities, they left a long trail of paper and electronic records.” These tyro spooks could well have worn CIA badges for all their skill at disguise. Whitlock adds, “[They] gave their frequent traveler account numbers to desk clerks and made dozens of calls from insecure phones in their rooms.” (Emphasis added.)
Was this just swaggering incompetence or do CIA agents, knowing they can operate under “special rules”—to which Alberto Gonzales testified during his confirmation hearings for attorney general—believe they need answer to no law anywhere?
In a June 12 editorial, The Washington Post pointed to another chronic CIA contempt for law—calling for the imposing of “legality and outside control on the most shameful part of the [U.S.] detention system—which is not Guantánamo Bay but the secret network of detention facilities maintained by the CIA. The dozens (at least) of prisoners in this network, including the most important terrorist leaders, are being held without any legal process, outside review, family notification, or monitoring by the International Red Cross. Moreover, the administration has declared that such prisoners may be subjected to ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,’ such as mock executions and simulated drowning, even though the United States has ratified an international treaty prohibiting such practices. It also insists on the right to transport prisoners to countries where torture is practiced, again in contravention of international law.”
Where is the outrage? Ask Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid, Howard Dean, and Hillary Clinton.
Next week: Will Congress or Alberto Gonzales’s Justice Department hold these kidnappers to account?