BERLIN: For two years, European investigators probing alleged CIA abuses in the war on terrorism have been searching for a smoking gun and someone to put in the dock. With Wednesday s arrest of two Italian intelligence officials suspected of involvement in the alleged CIA kidnap of a terrorism suspect, they have set out on a new and significant track that could embarrass both Rome and Washington. The two men appear to be the first to be arrested anywhere in the world in connection with CIA operations known as extraordinary renditions, where suspects were delivered in secret to third countries and allege that they suffered torture. An Italian judge also raised to 26 the number of Americans, most believed to be CIA agents, who are suspected of carrying out the 2003 kidnapping of a Muslim cleric and his transfer from Milan to Egypt. But whereas there is zero chance of the United States handing over the Americans, the Italian officials arrests, if followed by charges, create the possibility of defendants appearing in court for the first time. Any proof of Italian involvement would confirm one of the chief accusations leveled by Council of Europe investigator Dick Marty in a report last month, that European governments colluded with the United States in secret prisoner transfers. The Americans have always said that they had not violated Italian sovereignty. We ll have to see. Maybe they were not completely wrong, Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D Alema told Corriere della Sera newspaper in an interview.
In Strasbourg, the European Parliament backed up the Council of Europe s accusations in a resolution adopted on Thursday. It said it was implausible … that certain European governments were not aware of the activities linked to extraordinary rendition taking place on their territory. It was also implausible that the Milan abduction could have been carried out by CIA officials without the Italian authorities or security services being aware of it, the resolution said.
While proof of an Italian role would absolve the CIA of the charge that it trampled on the sovereignty of a friendly country, a court case that laid bare the workings of such an operation would certainly embarrass Washington. Until now, the United States and European governments have brushed off Marty s charges as mere allegations, a line that would be unsustainable if they stood up in a court of law. Developments in an unrelated French case this week also cast an awkward light on European cooperation with the United States in a sensitive area of the war on terrorism. The trial of six terrorism suspects in Paris was thrown into turmoil by a newspaper report that French agents had secretly interviewed them during their detention at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. prison camp in Cuba. A top French court has already ruled that the detention of suspects there was illegal. Defense lawyers claimed a violation of their clients rights, saying the prosecution evidence was largely based on information from the secret interviews. The French foreign ministry said the visits were of an administrative nature , to identify French citizens held at Guantanamo and gather information for counter-terrorism. Similar controversy has raged in Germany over the questioning of terrorist suspects by German security officials in 2002, both in Guantanamo Bay and in Syria. Critics charge that this amounts to collusion with abusive practices or torture, and the episodes are due to come under scrutiny from a parliamentary panel investigating the German security services.