Abu Omar Case Italian Court Delivers Damning Verdict on CIA Renditions

By Britta Sandberg in Milan

Part 2: Meticulous Research

For the CIA, it is quite clear how explosive the Italian case is for them. At the outset of the investigation, all Spataro had was a list of over 10,000 different cell phone calls. Using that as a basis, and with the help of meticulous research, he produced the entire indictment. At the beginning he believed that only the CIA was involved in the operation -- at the end seven Italian agents also stood in court.

The length of Spataro's final speech to the court alone showed just how extensive his investigations had been. The first part at the beginning of October lasted seven hours by itself, the second part almost nine. He described the course of the investigation to the court using an elaborate PowerPoint presentation. "Otherwise nobody would have understood it," he said.

Photo Gallery

12  Photos
Photo Gallery: The Case of Abu Omar

His opponents have repeatedly tried to stop him. Spataro also investigated the actions of his own government. During the trial, he revealed details of the cooperation between Italian and US intelligence. In March, the Italian Constitutional Court ruled, at the behest of Silvio Berlusconi's government, that all the documents which concerned relations between the intelligence services were state secrets. This was a serious blow for Spataro, as it meant he could no longer use much of the evidence relating to the involvement of Italian agents in the operation. That evidence included recorded phone calls and the testimony of several witnesses, including the former SISMI boss Gianfranco Battelli. Battelli had said that Jeff Castelli, the then-CIA station chief in Rome, had asked him in a conversation to cooperate with the kidnapping of terror suspects.

Evidence of Cooperation

Nevertheless, Spataro presented other evidence for cooperation between the intelligence services during the trial, for example a statement by the Italian Carabinieri police officer Luciano Pironi. He had stopped Abu Omar on the street and asked to see his identification papers before the US agents attacked the Islamist with irritant gas. Pironi testified that Robert Lady himself had asked whether he could help with the operation. Lady had told him that there was an agreement between the CIA and SISMI about the planned kidnapping, Pironi said. A former colonel from the Italian intelligence service also confirmed that SISMI was involved in planning the operation.

This raised a number of important questions for the Milan trial. Should the colonel's statement also be classified as secret? How far can the state secrecy law go? Which documents does it actually apply to? In his closing statement, Spataro gave a simple answer to those questions: "State secrets can not be used in a democracy as a pretext to conceal a criminal act."

The defense attorneys had attacked the prosecutor by saying his whole case was inadequate and was based on a permanent violation of state secrets. They had called for acquittals across the board.

In that respect, Judge Magi did not only decide on Wednesday about the guilt or innocence of the Italian and American agents and not only about the legality of kidnapping in the fight against terrorism. He also delivered a verdict as to whether a European government can use the pretext of state secrets to avoid being accountable before the law.


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