Prosecutor on Rendition Case Kidnapping a 'Disgrace And Should Be Prosecuted'

A German prosecutor who investigated the CIA's kidnapping of Egyptian cleric Abu Omar in 2003 under the infamous rendition program tells SPIEGEL how he had to close the case due to a lack of information from US organizations. He says the kidnapping was a "disgrace" and that he would have filed indictments, if he had been able to.
A file photograph showing Egyptian Muslim cleric Abu Omar displaying a scar on his arm at a court house in Alexandria, Egypt, on 22 February 2007.

A file photograph showing Egyptian Muslim cleric Abu Omar displaying a scar on his arm at a court house in Alexandria, Egypt, on 22 February 2007.

Foto: A2800 epa/ dpa

Last Tuesday, an Italian court sentenced several former Italian intelligence agents to terms of up to 10 years for supporting the CIA in its 2003 kidnapping of Egyptian Muslim cleric Abu Omar. 

The CIA kidnapped Abu Omar in Italy and flew him first to the Ramstein air base in Germany and then to Egypt, where he says he was tortured.

Milan appeals court judges sentenced Niccolo Pollari, former head of the Sismi military intelligence agency, to 10 years and jailed his former deputy Marco Mancini for nine years.

The former head of the Rome CIA station and two other American officials were convicted in absentia and are unlikely to serve their sentences.

No charges were filed in Germany against CIA agents involved on German territory. The investigations conducted by prosecutor Eberhard Bayer, 62, were terminated because he was unable to determine which CIA operatives had been involved.

He spoke to SPIEGEL about his frustrations with the case.

SPIEGEL: The Italian justice system successfully investigated the role of people involved in Italy in the Abu Omar case. Did the German justice system fail here?

Bayer: We really tried everything but in the end we couldn't find out which CIA agents were in Ramstein. We knew which plane landed, we had a list of US pilots who fly this plane and even checked credit card payments and hotel bookings around the air base to find out who could have been there on Feb. 17, 2003. Nothing. And Abu Omar unfortunately couldn't identify any of his kidnappers.

SPIEGEL: The breakthrough in Italy came from checking the telephone calls made by the CIA people involved.

Bayer: In Germany we don't have access to such data from so far back. The abduction happened back in 2003.

SPIEGEL: How far did you get with your investigation in the US?

Bayer: We got in touch with the air base in Ramstein, which was cooperative at first but then informed us that no information would be coming from the US. And the German Justice Ministry told us it had no information that went beyond what it had read in the newspapers.

SPIEGEL: When the Secretary of State at the time, Condoleezza Rice, visited Berlin, you asked the German Foreign Ministry whether the matter was discussed. What was the German government's response?

Bayer: The Foreign Ministry only told us that there was no exchange of information on that whatsoever.

SPIEGEL: Didn't the German government want to help, or couldn't it?

Bayer: I don't want to venture a judgment on that.

SPIEGEL: Why didn't you investigate the CIA chief at the time, George Tenet, who was responsible for the operation?

Bayer: That option didn't exist. Judicially, I can only investigate people who were physically in Ramstein.

SPIEGEL: Do you regret that Abu Omar did not receive justice in Germany?

Bayer: Of course. What happened in Milan and Ramstein is a disgrace and should be prosecuted. If it had been possible, we would have filed indictments.

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