Da The New York Times del 24/10/2006
Originale su http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/24/world/europe/24italy.html?_r=2&o...

Italy’s Top Spy Is Expected to Be Indicted in Abduction Case

di Ian Fisher, Elisabetta Povoledo

ROME, Oct. 23 — Italy’s top spy is expected to be replaced in the coming days, as prosecutors seek his indictment on charges connected to the abduction of a militant Egyptian cleric in Milan by American intelligence agents in 2003.

The expected indictment of the spy, Nicolò Pollari, is part of a sprawling investigation here, the first in which government officials have essentially been charged with cooperating with Washington to violate the laws of their own government. If Mr. Pollari is indicted, he would be by far the most prominent official charged in relation to the scores of abductions of suspected terrorists around the world since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The case’s impact on the American practice of rendition, in which terrorist suspects have been seized and turned over for interrogation to other countries, including several known to engage routinely in torture, is not clear. Some experts say the program was already languishing, after disclosures last year that some abductees ended up in secret prisons run by the Central Intelligence Agency.

But any trial, especially one involving a prominent official like Mr. Pollari, could shed uncomfortable light on how American allies cooperated in one of the most controversial tactics in the Bush administration’s fight against terrorism.

Twenty-five operatives for the C.I.A. are named in the case, and documents filed by prosecutors here are full of specific information: phone and credit card numbers, tapped phone calls and surveillance photographs.

Perhaps most difficult for Italy, a trial would raise the possibility of showing collusion at the highest levels of government under the prime minister at the time, Silvio Berlusconi. Intelligence experts say it is highly unlikely that Italy did not give explicit approval of the operation, especially since the kidnapping took place right before the invasion of Iraq — and Italy was one of only a few European governments to support the war.

“The idea that either the director of central intelligence or the White House — and this would have had to go to the president — would have agreed to conduct the operation unless they were absolutely sure the Italian government was behind it is laughable,” Michael Scheuer, a former senior American intelligence analyst, said in an interview. “It’s not even in the realm of possibility.”

Earlier this month, Armando Spataro, one of the chief prosecutors in the case, told members of the European Parliament in a briefing that “at this point” he had “no evidence” of anyone higher than Mr. Pollari being involved. Mr. Berlusconi and other top officials of his government have repeatedly denied any knowledge of the kidnapping.

Prosecutors made their case public last year, and officially closed the investigation earlier this month. Lawyers for the defendants have at least until the end of the month to examine the evidence. After that, the prosecutors said they intended to ask for indictments.

Mr. Pollari has consistently denied any role in the kidnapping, and his lawyers say he has been unable to defend himself fully because of Italian secrecy laws, though prosecutors contend they do not apply.

One of his lawyers, Titta Madia, said Mr. Pollari’s actions must be seen within a “larger picture” in which he must maintain secrecy. “It’s a delicate theme because it pertains to international relations and national security in a tragic political moment,” he said.

In February 2003, the Egyptian cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar, disappeared from a street in Milan. While the Italian news media reported it as a kidnapping, the case was officially unsolved.

But in June 2005, prosecutors in Milan ordered the arrest of 13 C.I.A. operatives. Since then, the case has slowly expanded to include other American operatives in Italy at the time — all have since left the country — and top Italian intelligence officers, including Mr. Pollari himself, who has been the head of military intelligence since 2001.

Prosecutors allege that Mr. Pollari, one of 39 defendants, cooperated with the C.I.A. in “promoting and organizing” the abduction by issuing orders to an Italian intelligence agent to assist in the planning of the kidnapping. In his briefing to the European Parliament, Mr. Spataro said he was not alleging that Italian intelligence agents took part in the actual kidnapping. All 39, many of them Americans, are subject to indictment.

The prosecution’s evidence rests in some 28 closely held boxes of material, much of it detailing interrogations of suspects, telephone records and transcripts of intercepted telephone conversations. In one of the potentially most damaging transcripts, made in June, two of the nation’s top spies — one of them dying of cancer, the other secretly recording the conversation to absolve himself — discussed whether it was the C.I.A. or Mr. Pollari who had given one of them a list of names of people, including Abu Omar, who were to be “taken away.”

“The director, the director,” said one of the spies, Gen. Gustavo Pignero, referring to Mr. Pollari. “The director gave me the envelope.” General Pignero, who died in September, was one of Mr. Pollari’s top deputies.

But in the court documents, Mr. Pollari comes off as unhappy about any possible abductions. According to testimony General Pignero gave to prosecutors, the C.I.A.’s former station chief in Italy gave Mr. Pollari a list of people, including Abu Omar, whom he said the C.I.A. was interested in abducting.

“It was clear it was a project of aggressive search, which foresaw the capture of the terrorists and Abu Omar in particular, with procedures which were outside the law,” General Pignero testified in July.

“Pollari agreed with me that we could not certainly enter into the kidnapping plot,” he testified. “He said we could find a point of balance consistent with carrying out the verifications to track down” Abu Omar “and tell the Americans without being involved in the operation.”

Prosecutors allege that Mr. Pollari and others knew that the C.I.A. planned to abduct Abu Omar and that they had been asked to track him down in Milan, an action that would violate Italian law by abetting a kidnapping.

The case also has implications for Italy’s long and generally friendly relations with the United States. Prosecutors are asking for the extradition of 26 Americans charged in the case, though neither Mr. Berlusconi’s government nor that of the current prime minister, Romano Prodi, have done so.

Some experts also see implications for Europe’s cooperation with Americans in possible terrorist cases, at a time when many Europeans are wary about abductions and secret prisons as violations not only of law but also of human rights.

“I think that the leaders of European governments should cooperate with the United States, but within the law,” Terry Davis, the secretary general of the Council of Europe, said in an interview. “There is no small print in the European Convention on Human Rights to the effect that human rights do not apply if you are cooperating with the United States of America.”
Annotazioni − Ian Fisher reported from Rome, and Elisabetta Povoledo from Milan.

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