Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Italy demonstrates to United States how to handle government wrongdoing

The democracy wasting disease that was the Bush administration until this year got its latest comeuppance on Wednesday when a court in Italy sentenced 23 U.S. residents, including at least 22 CIA agents, to prison terms of at least five years each for abducting a Muslim cleric in 2003 and secreting him to Egypt for interrogation. The case, which has been ongoing since 2007, is the first judicial reckoning of the practice of extraordinary rendition, a constitutional perversion under which U.S. agents abducted suspects in other countries and took them to a third country that permitted harsh interrogations, according to the Reuters international news service. The U.S. citizens were tried in absentia because Washington refused to allow them to be extradited to Italy to face trial. Two members of Italy's spy service, Sisma, were sentenced to three-year prison terms for participating in the renditions, suggesting that Italy was aware of the U.S. operation that took the cleric, Abu Omar, off a street in Milan and flew him to Ramstein Air Base in Germany and then to Egypt. Abu Omar claimed he was held without charge and mistreated in Egyptian custody until his release in 2007. U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said today that the Obama administration was "disappointed" in the convictions and would probably appeal, but refused to comment further. But human rights groups opposed to the practices of the Bush administration showed no such reluctance. Joan Sunderland of Human Rights Watch called the verdict "historic," Reuters said. Amnesty International admonished the United States for having gone to court at all. "The United States shouldn't need a foreign court to distinguish right from wrong," the group said in a statement. "The Obama administration must repudiate the unlawful practice of extraordinary rendition -- and hold accountable those responsible for having put the system in place -- or his administration will end up as tarnished as his predecessor's." The United States has never acknowledged any rendition flights from Italy, Reuters said.

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