Jun 8, 2007

Roman Holiday

The legal imbroglio over the Abu Omar rendition is not news. The exquisite timing of President Bush's arrival in Rome makes it worth a mention here.

The first trial involving the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" programme opened this morning in Milan just as President Bush prepared to arrive in Italy -- but none of the 26 American defendants accused of kidnapping an Egyptian terrorist suspect was in court.

The timing of the trial - one of several contentious issues between Washington and Italy - is seen as an embarrassment both to the Centre Left government of Romano Prodi and to President Bush, who arrives in Rome this evening from the G8 summit in Germany. ...

The Prodi Government has asked Italy's Constitutional Court to throw out the charges against the 26 Americans - all but one CIA officers - who are accused of abducting Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, known as Abu Omar, from a Milan street in February 2003, on the grounds that "state secrets" are involved and that the prosecution illegally bugged the telephones of senior officials.

The defence has asked the judge to postpone the trial until the Constitutional Court ruling, not expected until the autumn. However the opening of proceedings has highlighted the Bush Administration's policy of sanctioning the kidnapping of terror suspects and transporting them to third countries for interrogation, often under torture.

In addition to the Americans, seven Italians are being charged, including Nicolo Pollari, the former chief of military intelligence. Mr Pollari denies any involvement by Italian intelligence in the abduction. Mr Berlusconi has also said the Italian government did not sanction the kidnapping of Abu Omar. However the behaviour of the CIA agents, who used easily traceable mobile phone calls and stayed openly at expensive hotels, suggests to some that they believed they were acting with the sanction of high Italian authorities. ...

Lawyers for Mr Pollari have asked for Mr Berlusconi and Mr Prodi to appear as witnesses. Relations between Rome and Washington have been strained by another trial -- also in absentia -- of a US soldier accused of killing an Italian intelligence officer in Baghdad in 2005 while he was escorting a freed Italian hostage to safety. There is also tension over Italy's reluctance to send additional troops to Afghanistan, and by protests against the expansion of the US base at Vicenza.

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