Did the CIA lie to Italian police to cover up rendition?

And is this what Condoleezza Rice means when she talks about respecting the sovereignty of other nations?

By Tim Grieve
Published December 6, 2005 1:41PM (EST)

As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice left for Europe yesterday, she delivered a statement in which she defended Americans' actions in the war on terror -- the renditions, the secret prisons and the like -- by saying that the United States "has respected and continues to respect the sovereignty" of other countries involved.

Is this what she means?

The Washington Post this morning reports on charges that the CIA deliberately lied to Italian anti-terrorism authorities in March 2003 to keep them from discovering that the CIA had abducted an Islamic cleric and shipped him to Egypt for questioning.

According to court documents and interviews, the Post says, the CIA delivered an "urgent message" to Italian authorities in March 2003: Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (aka Abu Omar), an Egyptian refugee who was the target of an Italian investigation, had apparently fled to the Balkans. In fact, the Post says, the cleric had been seized in Milan, Italy, by a team of CIA operatives who took him to two different U.S. military bases and then sent him to Egypt, where he was interrogated and allegedly tortured by Egyptian authorities.

Italian authorities have issued arrest warrants charging 21 alleged CIA operatives with kidnapping and other offenses, the Post says, and they believe that the CIA's station chief in Rome and officials at the U.S. embassy there also played a role in Nasr's abduction and rendition.

CIA officials have apparently told their supervisors that they had cleared their plans for Nasr with the Italian intelligence agency, which in turn cleared them with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. But the Post says there's no documentation to show anything of the sort, and the Italian prosecutor handling the case doesn't seem impressed. "The kidnapping of Abu Omar was not only a serious crime against Italian sovereignty and human rights, but it also seriously damaged counterterrorism efforts in Italy and Europe," prosecutor Armando Spataro told the Post. "In fact, if Abu Omar had not been kidnapped, he would now be in prison, subject to a regular trial, and we would have probably identified his other accomplices."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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