We should not kidnap people

Friday, November 10, 2006

According to the Associated Press, a Muslim cleric from Egypt was snatched off the streets of an Italian city and whisked off to his homeland in 2003.

The abduction of Osama Hassan Mustafa Nasr, known as Abu Omar, is one of the few known cases of "extraordinary rendition" - the secret CIA program of apprehending foreign terror suspects and sending them to third countries, including those that practice torture, for interrogation without court approval.

The Bush administration went public earlier this fall about other aspects of the war on terror. The United States has remained largely silent on "renditions," leaving the program shrouded in secrecy. Egypt also has said little about Abu Omar's seizure.

What's known has come, instead, from an investigation by an Italian prosecutor in Milan who is seeking the arrest of 26 Americans in the case. The prosecutor said last week that he would decide soon whether to also indict Italy's spy chief for allegedly collaborating with the Americans.

Some think a trial in the abduction could uncover high-level collusion between the Italian government of Silvio Berlusconi, then in power, and the U.S. administration.

Italian prosecutors say the kidnapping on Feb. 17, 2003, was conducted by CIA agents with help from Italian agents, calling it a breach of Italian sovereignty. But Berlusconi denied his government and Italy's secret services were informed or took part; the question of whether Italy was told of plans to seize Abu Omar has been described as an Italian state secret.

According to Italian officials, the 43-year-old cleric fought in Afghanistan and Bosnia and was suspected of recruiting fighters for radical Islamic causes. But his Egyptian lawyer, Montasser al-Zayat, said Abu Omar had only traveled to Jordan, Yemen, Albania and Germany before entering Italy illegally in 1997.

Either way, he has become one of the few public faces of the secret program.

At this point it is difficult to call the well-publicized program a secret. That's the problem with secret operations, they eventually become publicly known policy decisions. That's also the problem with making exceptions to the rules the government has imposed upon itself from the founding of the United States, the exceptions will become the rule if we let it.

Let's try to understand some basics of what it means to be an American investigative or law enforcement entity, what it has meant for meant for over 200 years. People are not imprisoned without due process of law. People are not tortured.

Some federal investigators and law enforcement agents over the last two centuries have strayed from the rules and many more have felt frustrated but the rules have, until recently, been widely accepted as necessary to distinguish ourselves from tyrannies.