Osama Hassan Mustafa Nasr, abu omar
Amr Nabil/AP
Osama Hassan Mustafa Nasr

Examining Extraordinary Rendition and Its Use by the US

November 05, 2009 04:00 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Italy became the first country to convict U.S. government agents for employing extraordinary rendition, the practice of transferring terror suspects from one foreign country to another for incarceration and interrogation.

CIA Agents Convicted in Italy

On Wednesday, an Italian court convicted 23 American CIA agents in absentia for capturing terrorist suspect Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr off a street in Milan in 2003 and transferring him to Egypt for interrogation. It is the first time that a foreign government has convicted Americans for extraordinary rendition, a controversial practice that has faced opposition from human rights activists and many European countries.

What Is Rendition?

Rendition refers to the transfer of a criminal suspect from one country to another to face charges. Normally, suspects are transferred through extradition, a formal legal process. In dealing with terror suspects, the U.S. has often circumvented foreign judicial procedures to transfer suspects more quickly and covertly.

“The terms ‘irregular rendition’ and ‘extraordinary rendition’ have been used to refer to the extrajudicial transfer of a person from one State to another, generally for the purpose of arrest, detention, and/or interrogation by the receiving State,” explains the Congressional Research Service.

The use of extraordinary rendition has been highly controversial; critics have accused the U.S. of using it to allow for torture of terror suspects.

What Will Happen to the Convicted?

Twenty-two of the agents were given a five-year sentence, while Milan CIA chief Robert Seldon Lady got eight years. All are in the U.S. and will almost certainly not face prison time. The Italian government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has shown little desire to extradite the CIA agents, and it is unlikely that the U.S. would comply with such a request.

Armando Spataro, the prosecutor in Milan, told Foreign Policy that the agents would be arrested if they entered a European Union country. However, New York criminal defense attorney Joseph DiBenedetto commented to Time that European countries likely would not act in the matter. “I doubt that any country would step on the U.S.’s toes,” he said.

What Is President Obama’s Position on Rendition?

During the presidential campaign, Obama spoke out against the interrogation and detainment policies of the Bush administration. After assuming office, however, he signed an order that allowed for the practice of extraordinary rendition to continue.

One administration official, speaking anonymously, told the Los Angles Times, “Obviously you need to preserve some tools—you still have to go after the bad guys. … It is controversial in some circles and kicked up a big storm in Europe. But if done within certain parameters, it is an acceptable practice.”

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Wednesday that the administration was “disappointed about the verdicts” in Italy.

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