- The Washington Times - Friday, July 1, 2005

ROME — Italy strongly denied yesterday it was aware of the purported CIA kidnapping of a radical Egyptian cleric and called the U.S. ambassador to explain the affair.

Carlo Giovanardi, the Italian minister for relations with parliament, made the denial in a report to the Chamber of Deputies, the first reaction by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government since Milan magistrates accused 13 CIA officials of abducting Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, known as Abu Omar, in the northern city Feb. 17, 2003, and flying him to Egypt, where he reportedly was tortured.

“Somebody has already staged a trial and issued the verdict,” Mr. Giovanardi said. “There are those who want to make people believe that the Italian government was an accomplice, but that was not the case.”

The minister said Mr. Berlusconi had summoned U.S. Ambassador Mel Sembler to the prime minister’s office, but that since the envoy was in the United States the meeting would not happen before today.

“I believe we are talking about responsible behavior by a responsible government,” the minister said, describing as “false” a Washington Post report that the CIA had cleared the operation with senior officials of Italy’s SISMI military intelligence service before the kidnapping.

Opposition officials, public opinion and even officials from the Northern League, the maverick member of the government coalition alliance, however, evidently remained unconvinced by the minister’s remarks.

Luciano Violante, the head of the opposition former Communist Democratic Left party, said Mr. Giovanardi was the wrong person to explain the government’s position.

Mr. Violante said it was unconvincing that U.S. officials had advised governments in Sweden and Germany of similar “renditions” but had stopped short of doing the same in Italy.

“We are totally against the use of practices that damage human rights because this means putting ourselves on the same level as the terrorists,” he said.

Mr. Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party continued to try to play down the affair.

“If confirmed by magistrates, the kidnapping of Abu Omar by CIA agents would be a degrading episode but not something that could disrupt cooperation between Italy and the U.S.A. against terrorism,” said Antonio Leone, a party spokesman.

Italy’s semiofficial news agency ANSA commented that Mr. Sembler’s term as ambassador in Rome was “ending with a series of shivers.”

In March, the diplomat was called to explain the death of Italian intelligence agent Nicola Calipari, who was fatally shot at a U.S. checkpoint in Baghdad after helping free Italian hostage Giuliana Sgrena.

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