Faculty Journal Articles and Book Chapters


On November 4, 2009, an Italian court found a group of Italian military intelligence agents, operatives from the Central Intelligence Agency and a U.S. Air Force (USAF) officer guilty of the 2003 kidnapping of terror suspect Abu Omar. Thrown in a van on the streets of Milan, the abduction took Abu Omar from Italy to Egypt, where he was allegedly tortured and interrogated about his role in recruiting fighters for extremist Islamic causes, including the insurgency in Iraq.

This essay posits that lost amidst politically charged rhetoric about Bush administration impunity and the “war on terror” is that the Italian Court did not have jurisdiction over the USAF officer and violated the human rights of the other U.S. defendants. None of the U.S. defendants were at the proceedings. Although the Italian government refused to forward extradition requests from the Italian prosecutor to the U.S. government, Italian law allows for in absentia trials. Two Americans secured private counsel, the remaining U.S. defendants were solely represented by court-appointed Italian attorneys, none of whom ever spoke with their clients. Regardless of whether what happened to Abu Omar is considered an extraordinary rendition or state enabled kidnapping, the Italian proceedings should provide little comfort to those truly interested in the rule of law and human rights. Rather than supporting the rule of law, the Italian trial blatantly disregarded international law and treaty and the conduct of the in absentia proceedings simply followed one alleged human rights abuse with another.

This essay explains how the trial constituted a precedent setting breach by Italy of its international treaty obligations under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Status of Forces Agreement. The essay then details the flawed in absentia trials, flaws which amount to a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Ultimately this essay concludes that while Italy may have spoken out against extraordinary rendition, the price for doing so was Italy’s own commitment to the rule of law and human rights.

Publication Title

Harvard National Security Journal

Document Type

Book Chapter


Italy, CIA, Rendition, NATO, SOFA, Human Rights, Torture, Terrorism



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