Beyond the Alps lies Italy.
— Titus Livius, History, Prologue
Italy is not the United States. Here is how you can tell.
In early 2002 Italian police picked up 15 immigrants believing that they were involved in a plot to attack the American Embassy in Rome with chemical agents. One of the men arrested was Abdelmoname Ben Khalifa Mansour.
European newspapers were gleeful. One British newspaper headline said: “Al Qaeda attempt to poison Rome’s water supply foiled”. An Italian paper said: “The attack on the U.S. Embassy was just hours away”. Mr. Mansour and his colleagues went to trial slightly more than a year after their capture. The evidence showed that things were not as they had been reported. A map found among the belongings of one of those arrested that had a suspicious mark right in the vicinity of the American Embassy was the location of a restaurant the map’s owner visited. A red substance found and initially believed to be a cyanide compound turned out to be a common photographic chemical. At the trial’s end Mr. Mansour and his colleagues were acquitted.
Mr. Mansour was not happy with having been detained for 1-½ years before his acquittal. He sued the Italian government and was awarded $132,000 for wrongful detention. That will never happen in George Bush land. That’s because for many of those detained there will be no trials. Without trials there can be no acquittals. Without acquittals there can be no suit for wrongful imprisonment. Jose Padilla, as he is so often in these matters, serves as our guide to this approach.
When first arrested, Mr. Padilla was placed in a civilian jail as a “material witness”. After he had spent some time there it was decided a trial might have the kind of result the Italians had. So Mr. Padilla was redesignated. He went from “material witness” to “enemy combatant”. As an enemy combatant he lived in solitary confinement in a Navy brig instead of in an ordinary civilian jail. He lost the right to have a lawyer. That was not so bad, however, since as an enemy combatant he had no right to be tried and, therefore, had little need for a lawyer. Courts eventually contradicted Mr. Bush and Mr. Padilla did get a lawyer. When the lawyer went to the Supreme Court to see if Mr. Bush could hold him forever without indicting him, Mr. Bush panicked. He thought the answer might be no. So Mr. Padilla was indicted and charged with being part of a North American cell that supported Islamic extremist causes around the world.
Mr. Padilla won’t be suing anyone for false imprisonment. The federal judge who has tried him ruled that although the United States Constitution guarantees defendants the right to a speedy trial, the 3 ½ years Mr. Padilla spent being designated an “enemy combatant” didn’t count since enemy combatants don’t have the right to speedy trials even when they are U.S. citizens.
Some day there will be a trial. If Mr. Padilla is acquitted by a jury, Mr. Bush may once again designate him an “enemy combatant” and put him back in solitary confinement.
Here is another reason you can tell Italy is not the United States. An Italian judge has set June 8, 2007, as the date for beginning the trial of CIA agents engaged in “renditions”. “Renditions” were what the process was called when Mr. Bush shipped suspects off to countries that engage in torture for questioning. Italy has indicted 25 CIA agents for having kidnapped Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr off the streets of Milan and taken him to Egypt where he could be tortured while questioned. He was held in Egypt for four years where, among other things, he was permitted to hang upside down while electric shocks were administered to sensitive parts of his body. John Bellinger is Condoleeza Rice’s legal advisor. He thinks a trial of the CIA agents could weaken U.S. and European cooperation on intelligence gathering. According to the Associated Press, he told European governments “to challenge the suggestion that Europeans need to be concerned about CIA secret flights.” If Italy discloses the criminal conduct of the CIA, he seems to suggest, we may not let Italy participate in future illegal operations. It has not occurred to Mr. Bellinger that disclosing criminal activity undertaken by our government may not be an hostile act.
So long as George Bush is running the country there will be no trials of any CIA agent who broke the law. That’s because it would be impossible to know where to draw the line. If you begin trying CIA agents who broke the law, why not try other administration officials who have broken the law? If that happened all sorts of people from George Bush on down might find themselves facing charges. That won’t happen. Not in the United States of George Bush.