Did Bush Quash Italy's Attempt to Extradite CIA Officials?
The White House Ducks Questions On Matter...
By Eric Brewer on 12/8/2005, 7:53pm PT  

Special to BRAD BLOG by BTC News White House Correspondent Eric Brewer

There have been some interesting recent developments in the CIA's Italian kidnapping caper...

The case came to light last June, when an Italian judge issued arrest warrants for 13 CIA agents for nabbing Egyptian Muslim cleric Hassan Nasr (aka 'Abu Omar') off a street in Milan on February 17, 2003, and shipping him, via an American airbase in Germany, to Egypt, where he was allegedly tortured. Egypt wanted Nasr, 42, because of his involvement in Jemaah Islamiah, an organization dedicated to establishing an Islamic government in Egypt. During a crackdown on Jemaah Islamiah in the early 1990s, Nasr fled Egypt and eventually received asylum in Italy in 1997.

After the initial arrest warrants were issued in June, Italian prosecutors brought charges against nine more CIA operatives allegedly involved in the case, and last month, on November 11, the prosecutors asked the Italian Justice Ministry to approve the extradition of the 22 agents from the United States. One amusing tidbit: this particular 'black op' did not appear to be particularly arduous for the operativesóthey ran up bills at five-star hotels in Milan and Venice totaling, according to the prosecutor's report, $144,984.

Two days ago, in a front page Washington Post story, Craig Whitlock revealed new details of an apparent rivalry between the U.S. and Italian intelligence services in their investigations of Nasr. According to Whitlock, Italian intelligence officials had also been on Nasr's trail, suspecting him of being involved in a terrorist recruiting network. A few weeks after Nasr's abduction, the CIA, in an apparent attempt to throw Italian investigators off Nasr's track, informed them that Nasr had fled to the Balkans. The Italians didn't learn the truth of what had become of Nasr for over a year. Armando Spataro, the lead prosecutor in Milan, claims that the CIA's interference not only violated Italian sovereignty, but also disrupted and damaged a major Italian investigation that might have been able to identify others in Nasr's network.

As for the Italian attempt to get revenge on the CIA, so far Italian Justice Minister Roberto Castelli has refused to approve the extradition request. Normally, such approval is a routine formality, but Castelli has balked for almost a month, and he recently accused prosecutor Spataro of being a leftist "militant." Interestingly, just before the formal request for extradition was made, Castelli traveled to Washington and met with U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Castelli later admitted that he had discussed extradition cases with Gonzales, but refused to specify whether the CIA kidnapping case was among them.

Meanwhile, leaks to the press from other CIA officers with knowledge of the Nasr abduction have indicated that SISMI, the Italian military intelligence agency suspected of being involved in the Iraq-Niger hoax, was briefed on the Nasr operation beforehand, and that it cleared the operation with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Which sucks for Berlusconi, since he's been fervently denying any Italian involvement for months, not wanting his government capsized by the recent wave of anti-American feeling in Europe over American human rights abuses.

That brings us to this exchange I had today with Scott McClellan in the White House briefing room:

Q Italian prosecutors are seeking the extradition from the United States of 22 CIA agents in connection with the kidnapping of a Muslim cleric in Milan, who was then flown to Egypt where he was allegedly tortured. Have the President or Secretary Rice or Attorney General Gonzales discussed the kidnapping charges with the Italian government? And will the United States honor the extradition request?

MR. McCLELLAN: I imagine there have been discussions through the appropriate channels, and you might want to check with the Justice Department or the State Department on what discussions have occurred.

Q So will the ---

MR. McCLELLAN: I think we've made our views very clear, and I'm not going to talk any further about them.

In claiming that "we've made our views very clear," Scott may have been referring to National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley's response of "I really can't," when he was asked to comment on the case way back in June. We at BTC News, seeing the opportunity to fill a dearth of clarity with speculation, offer up the following scenario: President Bush asked Berlusconi to quash the impending extradition request during their meeting on October 31. And then Gonzales and Castelli finalized the deal the following week.