U.S. Won't Send CIA Defendants To Italy

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 1, 2007

BERLIN, Feb. 28 -- The State Department's top lawyer said Wednesday that the United States would refuse to extradite CIA officers who face kidnapping charges in Italy, warning that European criminal prosecutions of U.S. agents were harming transatlantic counterterrorism efforts.

An Italian court issued indictments against 25 CIA operatives and a U.S. Air Force officer Feb. 16, charging them with kidnapping a radical Muslim cleric in Milan four years ago. Although the Italian government has not made a final decision on whether to ask the United States to extradite the defendants, John B. Bellinger III, legal adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said the request would be rejected regardless.

"If we got an extradition request from Italy, we would not extradite U.S. officials to Italy," Bellinger told reporters in Brussels, where he was meeting with European Union officials.

Bellinger's statement was the first time that a U.S. government official has directly addressed the Italian criminal investigation, which is expected to produce the first overseas trial of CIA officers involved in a covert counterterrorism operation.

The trial is scheduled to open June 8 in Milan. Italian prosecutors say they will try the American defendants in absentia, if necessary. Five Italian spies, including the former head of military intelligence, have also been charged.

In a separate case, a German court issued arrest warrants Jan. 31 for 13 CIA operatives accused of kidnapping a German citizen in Macedonia in December 2003. German authorities have said they are unlikely to make a formal extradition request to the U.S. government or go to trial. But the ongoing European criminal investigations and other probes into CIA activity on the Continent have soured relations with the Bush administration.

"I do think these continuing investigations can harm intelligence cooperation -- that's simply a fact of life," Bellinger said Wednesday. He also criticized a recent investigation by the European Parliament into CIA counterterrorism operations, calling the legislature's findings "unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair."

Many European lawmakers and human rights groups have accused the CIA of violating European sovereignty and international law by covertly apprehending and detaining terrorism suspects on the Continent. They have also criticized European intelligence services for taking part in the operations or failing to stop them.

"Instead of stonewalling investigations into its and other governments' illegal renditions activities, the United States should support its allies' efforts to bring perpetrators to justice," Jumana Musa, Amnesty International's U.S. advocacy director for domestic human rights and international justice, said in a statement. "The United States must recognize that it has obligations under U.S. and international law to seek accountability for agents who participated in activities that led to torture."

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