Thanks to the persistent efforts of Italian procurator Armando Spataro, the CIA agents responsible for abducting Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, better known as Abu Omar, have been prosecuted for their crime committed with the connivance of the Italian government of Berlusconi. Just a few days ago, the court in Milano found 23 American agents and two Italians guilty of the crime, sentencing them to long imprisonments, mostly in absentia.(1) The CIA station chief in Milano, Robert Lady, got eight years’ imprisonment, whereas most others received five years, including a US Airforce colonel.
The lawyers for the Americans have said they will appeal, and in any case it is not expected that this will have much practical effect. The United States will no more extradite its secret agents to a foreign country than any other power would, and at most it will mean Lady c.s. will not be able to enter any country that is party to the Schengen agreement, which might limit their utility or at most their vacation prospects.(2) Nonetheless, this is an important move against the culture of impunity surrounding the American activities, overt and covert, that are part of their ‘War on Terror’. This quasi-war seems in practice to be used by the American governments as an effective way to bind its allies further to it by involving them in their criminal enterprises while at the same time using hitherto unaccepted measures against all suspected of islamist sentiments or support for any kind of resistance in the greater Middle East.
The independent Italian judicial branch, so much maligned by the Bonapartist charlatan Berlusconi because of their sheer temerity in holding his highness to the law, has fantastically vindicated itself in this case. It has called a halt to the illegal and extrajudicial activities of the Americans against perceived enemies, real or imaginary, on the European continent. It has also called attention to the complicity of many European governments in this, not just in Italy but also in Poland, Romania, and Ireland, to name a few, by finding two of its domestic agents guilty of that charge. The power of law alone to restrain political power bent on aggrandizing itself is very limited indeed, especially when it becomes a clash of sovereignties. As Marx pointed out, “between equal rights, force decides”. Nevertheless this case constitutes a great moral victory for legality and opposition to the arbitrary power of mighty states and empires. With the foundation of the International Criminal Court, the successes of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, its counterpart regarding Rwanda in Arusha, and the continued functioning of the International Court of Justice, even the last few decades of great power struggles and post-imperial proxy wars have seen some significant progress. The decision in Milano is another step on that difficult road.
(1) “CIA agents guilty of Italy kidnap”. BBC News (Nov. 4, 2009).
(2) Michael Ratner, “Has Italy sent a message?”. Socialist Worker (Nov. 9, 2009).