- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 18, 2007

For the first time, there will be a court trial of the CIA’s “extraordinary renditions” on kidnapping suspected terrorists and sending them to have information extracted in countries known for their expertise in those techniques. Defendants in this trial in Italy are 25 CIA agents charged with snatching Muslim cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Asir from Milan on Feb. 17, 2001, and flying him to Egypt, where he was tortured.

As revealed in Stephen Grey’s heavily documented book on CIA renditions, “Ghost Plane,” one of the Egyptian interrogation techniques was to “hang Nasr upside down and apply live wires to apply electric shocks to the sensitive parts of his body, including his genitals.” On Feb. 11 of this year, Egypt released Mr. Nasr, saying that his four-year detention had been “unfounded.”

The CIA abductors left extensive evidence of their involvement while executing the rendition in Italy: credit cards for hotel stays, the numbers of their unsecured cell phones, etc. The Bush administration says flatly, however, that if convicted, these Americans will not be extradited to Italy for sentencing. Aside from that, the administration has nothing more to say about Mr. Nasr’s case.

But, as reported Feb. 28 by the Associated Press, John Bellinger, legal adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, did have something to say. He is concerned that these inquiries may weaken U.S. and European cooperation on intelligence gathering. He urged European governments “to challenge the suggestions that Europeans need to be concerned about CIA secret flights.” It’s only the streets they live on.

However, as is evident in the European press, citizens of countries visited by CIA “ghost planes” increasingly are concerned and angry. Says Kathalijne Buitenweg, a Dutch member of the European Parliament unconvinced by Mr. Bellinger: “People are being imprisoned without being tried first. That is unacceptable.” But even Mr. Bellinger has not gone as far as the lead editorial in the Feb. 26 Wall Street Journal (“The Italian Job”): “No one seriously claims … that the CIA agents were in Italy without the explicit knowledge and participation of Italy’s security services. This is the crucial point and explains whey the indictments are a hostile act against the U.S.” (Didn’t the United States commit a hostile act against Italian laws?)

Part of the demands of European citizens for more exposure of the CIA’s violations of international treaties these sovereign nations have signed are indeed strong indications of collusion between CIA kidnappers and certain countries’ intelligence services. But to call the Italian government’s insistence on redeeming its own rule of law “a hostile act against the U.S.” appears to say that to defeat the viciously ruthless lawless terrorist enemy is to become lawless ourselves.

And on our end, the CIA renditions are lawless, despite the unilateral “special powers” the president has given the CIA to conduct renditions and to operate its own secret prisons. (The continuation of this skewering of our rule of law is permitted by the Military Commissions Act of 2006, signed into law by George W. Bush.)

A 1998 U.S. statute, part of the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act, states: “It shall be the policy of the United States not to expel, extradite or otherwise effect the involuntary removal of any person to a country in which there are substantial grounds for believing the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture.” I have heard administration semanticists maintain that this law applies only to prisoners we hold in our own jurisdiction, not to suspects kidnapped off the streets of another country. I sometimes think there may be courses for officials of this administration in how to conjugate what George Orwell called “newspeak” words and meanings turned inside out.

Consider what our Secretary of State said in the Feb. 5, 2005, London Daily Telegraph: “There cannot be an absence of moral content in American foreign policy. Europeans giggle at this, but we are not European, we are American, and we have different principles.” Not only Europeans have ceased extolling at our claiming moral and legal principles despite the CIA’s “extraordinary renditions,” our treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo and the CIA’s own “black sites.”

So it was that when, on Feb. 6, nations signed an international treaty protecting terrorism suspects from being forced to disappear from any country’s streets and kept in secret detention, the United States was not among the signers. There were no giggles at that evasion of our past pledges to the world.

Will the June trial in Italy of the CIA kidnappers at last motivate Congress to conduct a truly bipartisan investigation of these CIA renditions, which are self-inflicted wounds in our war against barbarous enemies who want to kill us? As John McCain said before he shelved his principles and voted for the Military Commissions Act of 2006, we must remember we are Americans.

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