A 10-year sentence for the country’s head of military intelligence. Nine years for his deputy. And a million euros in damages for Abu Omar, an Egyptian cleric kidnapped off the streets of Milan in 2003, and shipped secretly to face torture in Egypt, in an operation orchestrated by the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency.
Lawyers for the two intelligence chiefs in the Abu Omar case have said they will take their appeal against the sentences, delivered by court in Milan, to Italy’s Supreme Court. But by their actions, the Milan courts and prosecutors have already set a standard for accountability for the abuses perpetrated by a global network of states that worked with the CIA to secretly detain and extraordinarily render terror suspects after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Prior to last week’s decision, the Milan courts had convicted 26 U.S. officials (23 CIA agents and three other Americans) and two other Italian officials for their roles in Omar’s abduction. The criminal trials of three additional Italian officials are pending. On top of the criminal prosecutions, Abu Omar and his wife, Nabila Ghali, have sought redress in an action against Italy before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
The ECHR has already issued one ruling related to the CIA’s clandestine program. In December 2012, the court awarded €60,000 against Macedonia in “just satisfaction” for Khaled El-Masri, a German national seized in Macedonia and detained first by Macedonian authorities, then by the CIA, before being transferred to secret CIA detention in Afghanistan. The court held that Macedonia was liable for his cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment at the hands of Macedonian authorities, and also that Macedonia was liable for the subsequent torture El-Masri endured in CIA custody and his secret detention in Afghanistan.
The Open Society Justice Initiative, which filed the case on El-Masri’s behalf, has also filed cases before the ECHR against Poland and Romania for their roles in the transfer, detention, and mistreatment of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri in black sites—secret CIA prisons outside the U.S. that employed “enhanced interrogation techniques”—on their territory. The Justice Initiative has also filed a case with the Human Rights Monitoring Institute against Lithuania for withholding documents relating to Lithuania’s complicity in the CIA extraordinary rendition and secret detention programs. Other cases that similarly hold governments accountable for facilitating CIA human rights violations are pending against Lithuania before the ECHR, against Djibouti before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and against domestic authorities in Egypt, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom.
The push for accountability has been underlined by our new “Globalizing Torture” report, released earlier this month, which provided an overview of the the vast number of countries that may have been involved in the CIA-led campaign. Many of the countries listed in the report remain vulnerable to lawsuits and their officials susceptible to criminal prosecution.
Some investigations have occurred, but have been limited in scope—such as the Justice Department’s investigation that only examined detainee abuse that exceeded what the Office of Legal Counsel had previously authorized. Others remain classified—such as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on CIA detention and interrogation. Still others missed the mark entirely, or never tried to hit it—such as Poland’s 2005 parliamentary inquiry which did not release its findings but claimed to have found nothing “untoward” despite public evidence of a CIA black site in Poland.
Ultimately, responsibility for providing a full account of what happened during the CIA’s rendition and torture campaign lies with the United States. Until that happens, the countries that supported the CIA’s network are left with a politically embarrassing skeleton in the closet, and unanswered questions over who approved what and when.
Abu Omar’s case, meanwhile, shows the working of what Dick Marty, an eminent European parliamentarian who led an investigation into the CIA rendition program, has called the “dynamics of truth.” That means, he said back in 2007, “that each drop of truth will lead forward to another drop of truth, and that a steady trickle will ultimately develop into an irreversible flow.”