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Context of 'March 2003: CIA Falsely Claims Kidnapped Imam Is in Bosnia'

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Nicolo Pollari, former head of the Italian military intelligence service SISMI, asks for former US national security adviser and current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to testify in his defense in a kidnap case. The case concerns the 2003 rendition from Italy to Egypt of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (see Noon February 17, 2003). SISMI and the CIA worked together on the abduction and several operatives of both organizations are now on trial for it. Rice approved the operation shortly before it was carried out (see Between February 10, 2003 and February 16, 2003). The value of Rice’s testimony is unclear. According to reporter Jeff Stein, one observer of the case says that at best Rice could only say that the US wanted to kidnap Nasr. However, as the US is not co-operating with the Italian investigation, Rice does not go to Italy to testify. [Congressional Quarterly, 9/24/2008]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Nicolo Pollari

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The US State Department cancels the official diplomatic passport of Sabina De Sousa, a CIA officer who helped prepare the rendition of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar—see Noon February 17, 2003) in 2003. De Sousa was working under State Department cover at the time. The move is the result of De Sousa being named as a CIA officer in an Italian trial against her and dozens of others involved in the abduction. Reporter Jeff Stein will say that the cancellation is a “professional death knell” for De Sousa, as she cannot get another position abroad without it, and that it leaves her “even more vulnerable to arrest and extradition by Italian authorities should she travel abroad.” In addition, the State Department tells De Sousa she cannot travel to India to visit her sick mother, and that she will be dismissed if she does. De Sousa quits her job in response. [Congressional Quarterly, 5/15/2009]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of State, Sabrina De Sousa

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Italy’s Constitutional Court bars the prosecution at the trial over the 2003 rendition of Islamist radical Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar—see Noon February 17, 2003) from using some evidence. That evidence, barred on state secrecy grounds, includes phone taps and testimony from agents with the Italian military intelligence service SISMI. At least partially because of this ruling, five of seven SISMI agents charged with involvement in the rendition will not be convicted (see November 4, 2009). [Reuters, 11/4/2009]

Entity Tags: SISMI

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Following the release of a set of Bush administration memos about torture (see April 16, 2009) and the discovery that militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida was waterboarded 83 times in one month (see April 18, 2009), some commentators recall comments made by former CIA officer John Kiriakou.
Kiriakou's Media Blitz - In late 2007, shortly after the CIA admitted destroying videos of Zubaida (see November 2005 and December 6, 2007), Kiriakou toured media outlets, saying that Zubaida had only been waterboarded once (see December 10, 2007 and December 11, 2007). New York Times reporter Brian Stelter writes the most comprehensive treatment of Kiriakou’s “media blitz,” in an article entitled “How ‘07 ABC Interview Tilted a Torture Debate.” He points out that Kiriakou’s claim of only one waterboarding was “repeated by dozens of broadcasts, blogs, and newspapers” and “quickly ricocheted around the media.” This despite the fact that Kiriakou was not present at the black site where Zubaida was interrogated, and only learned of his treatment from reading accounts from the field. This injected the claim of one waterboarding into the public debate without the CIA having to make it itself. When asked about the false claim, CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano replies: “This agency did not publicly disclose the frequency with which the waterboard was used, noting only that it was employed with three detainees. If reporters got that wrong, they weren’t misled from here.”
Waterboarding Was Necessary - In addition, Kiriakou said that at the time it did produce results and he had thought it was necessary then, statements that were repeated and amplified around the media. The net effect of his interjection in the debate was to make the torture seem much less harsh than it really was, diverting criticism away from the CIA. [New York Times, 4/28/2009]
CIA Media Plant? - Numerous other commentators will make similar points. For example, in a piece entitled “John Kiriakou: CIA Media Plant?” Foreign Policy magazine commentator Annie Lowery says: “It all seems a bit strange to me, and leads to one obvious possibility: John Kiriakou—telegenic and well-spoken John Kiriakou, who never went to jail for blasting state secrets on television—was told the story to tell and released onto an unsuspecting public. It’s an impression the CIA will have difficulty dulling now.” [Foreign Policy, 4/28/2009]
Kiriakou Admits He Was Wrong - In 2010, Kiriakou will publish a book and in it he will mention in passing that his earlier claims were wrong. He did not take part in Zubaida’s interrogation and he was wrong about Zubaida being only waterboarded one time, and about him freely confessing afterwards. He will claim that he was a dupe used by the CIA to promote disinformation, writing, “In retrospect, it was a valuable lesson in how the CIA uses the fine arts of deception even among its own.” [Foreign Policy, 1/26/2010]

Entity Tags: John Kiriakou, Paul Gimigliano, Brian Stelter, Central Intelligence Agency, Annie Lowery

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Sabrina De Sousa, a CIA officer involved in the abduction of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar—see Noon February 17, 2003), files a legal action against the US government. The filing results from De Sousa’s displeasure at how her case is being handled by the government. De Sousa has been named as a CIA officer in Italy and accused by prosecutors in Milan of helping the rendition. However, the US government is not helping her defense, or the defense of the other 24 CIA officers accused of the kidnapping. In the suit, De Sousa attempts to force the State Department to invoke diplomatic immunity, halt the Italian prosecution, provide her with legal counsel in Italy, and pay her legal bills and other costs associated with the case. The action follows three years of fruitless private talks. [Congressional Quarterly, 8/28/2009] De Sousa will say she knows of no other such suits by former US officials in a similar position. [Congressional Quarterly, 5/15/2009] Her request will be partially granted just before the trial ends (see August 26, 2009).

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Sabrina De Sousa

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Robert Seldon Lady, one of the more senior CIA figures charged in Italy over the kidnap of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar—see Noon February 17, 2003), breaks his silence in a rare interview with the Italian daily Il Giornale. Lady acknowledges a role in the abduction, but says the plan was not his idea: “I’m not guilty. I’m only responsible for carrying out orders that I received from my superiors.” He adds that he committed no crime because the kidnapping was a “state matter,” and, “I console myself by reminding myself that I was a soldier, that I was in a war against terrorism, that I couldn’t discuss orders given to me.” He also says, “I wasn’t at the scene and I didn’t organize the thing, the rendition, the arrest, the kidnapping, however we want to call it.” He claims only one Italian, a police officer who has already confessed, was at the scene. Lady also comments on why the operation was so sloppy that Italian prosecutors could uncover it: “How could we have been so unprofessional? The answer I’ve given is that there were too many people involved. In these operations, there should be few.” [Reuters, 6/30/2009]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Robert Seldon Lady

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The Department of Justice agrees to pay the legal fees of Sabrina De Sousa, a former CIA officer on trial in absentia in Italy over the kidnapping of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar—see Noon February 17, 2003). However, the decision comes shortly before the verdict in the trial is to be announced. De Sousa will comment: “Unbelievable! The United States Department of Justice just ‘approved’ an attorney to defend me, a month after the trial ended, knowing full well that an attorney at this stage will make little or no difference to the outcome or verdict.” Although DeSousa has been suing the government over the expenses since May (see May 13, 2009), the move appears to be related to a general decision by CIA Director Leon Panetta to pay the legal costs of officers caught up in investigations of post-9/11 CIA programs. However, it is unclear whether the other 24 CIA defendants in the case are having their expenses paid, although the 26th US defendant, an Air Force officer, is. De Sousa denies involvement in the rendition, but will not comment on her employment by the CIA. “I had hoped that the Obama leadership in the Departments of Justice and State would step in to do the right thing and ensure I was provided the immunity to which I was entitled rather than sacrifice me to protect the high-level officials who presumably sanctioned the incident,” she adds. “This sends a terrible message to those in our military and diplomatic corps who risk their lives overseas to protect the interests of our country.” [Congressional Quarterly, 8/28/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Sabrina De Sousa

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Jeff Castelli, a former CIA Rome station chief involved in the blown rendition of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr in Milan (see Noon February 17, 2003), joins a Los Angeles-based marketing analysis company called PhaseOne Communications. Castelli had left the agency the previous year over the fallout from the rendition’s exposure. His role at PhaseOne, owned by former CIA officer Reynold Stelloh, is unknown. However, although most of the company’s clients are commercial, a source familiar with the business will say that his main responsibility will probably be generating government contracts. Reporter Jeff Stein will comment that a 2004 description of the company in a trade journal “suggests its work may be applicable to managing the effectiveness of US government propaganda operations.” The journal said, “The formulas and systems used by PhaseOne were originally derived during World War II as elements of classified work of US and British intelligence analysts, who developed the science of content analysis to a point where it was able to successfully predict enemy behavior based on public communications.” Stein will add, “Knowledgeable observers said they would not be surprised if PhaseOne were contracted by the government to analyze the effectiveness of terrorist propaganda against the United States, and vice-versa.” [Congressional Quarterly, 9/17/2009]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, PhaseOne Communications, Jeff Castelli

Timeline Tags: Misc Entries

A lawyer acting for the US Air Force writes to Italian authorities telling them they do not have jurisdiction over Colonel Joseph L. Romano III, a military officer involved in the rendition from Italy to Egypt of Islamist radical Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (see Noon February 17, 2003). Romano is one of 26 Americans being tried in absentia in Italy over the kidnap; the rest are CIA officers. His role in the abduction was to facilitate Nasr’s transfer to an aircraft at Aviano Air Force Base. The letter sent by the lawyer, Colonel Roger M. Welsh, says that Italy’s lack of jurisdiction is the result of a NATO status of forces agreement signed by all its members in 1951. “Colonel Romano is subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and the offenses alleged at the Tribunale of Milan are offenses that may be charged under various articles of the [code],” Welsh writes. “Therefore, the United States asserts its primary right to exercise jurisdiction over Colonel Joseph L. Romano III.” The letter is approved by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. According to Mark Zaid, an attorney for co-defendant Sabrina De Sousa, “The immunity decision was approved by the White House (yes, President Obama himself, as well as other cabinet members and the [National Security Council]) at the personal urging of Secretary of Defense Gates.” The prosecution of Romano and the other 25 began over three years ago and the verdict in the trial will soon be issued, so the move is what reporter Jeff Stein describes as a “Hail Mary pass.” “This action is being taken now because the trial is winding down and heading towards a verdict,” says Defense Department spokesman Bob Mehal. “All other efforts at diplomatic or legal solutions appear to have failed. There is no choice left but to assert at this point.” Zaid will say that Gates is properly trying to protect his subordinate, but complain that his client has been abandoned. “If the [US government] is willing to pay for Ms. De Sousa’s Italian legal defense, thereby essentially admitting that she was acting in the scope of her official employment while in Italy, why has the [US government] refused to invoke diplomatic immunity?” Zaid says. “What rationale exists to enable the Department of Defense to now invoke immunity for one alleged American conspirator but permit the [US government] to intentionally abandon another?” [Congressional Quarterly, 9/23/2009]

Entity Tags: Roger M. Welsh, Joseph L. Romano III, Robert M. Gates, Mark Zaid, US Department of Defense, Robert Mehal

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Most of the defendants are found guilty at a trial of dozens of US and Italian officials over the rendition of Islamist radical Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar—see Noon February 17, 2003). Twenty-three US officials are convicted, the most high-profile being former CIA officers Robert Seldon Lady and Sabrina de Sousa, as well as Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Romano. [Reuters, 11/4/2009] Lady gets the heaviest sentence, eight years, whereas de Sousa, Romano, and the other Americans—Monica Adler, Gregory Asherleigh, Lorenza Carrera, Drew Channing, John Duffin, Vincent Faldo, Raymond Harbaough, James Harbison, Ben Amar Harty, Cynthia Logan, George Purvis, Pilar Rueda, Joseph Sofin, Michalis Vasiluou, Eliana Castaldo, Victor Castellano, John Gurley, Brenda Ibanez, Anne Lidia Jenkins, and James Kirkland—get five years. [Reuters, 11/4/2009; International Commission of Jurists, 11/24/2009 pdf file] Judge Oscar Magi finds three US officials not guilty as they have diplomatic immunity. They are the CIA’s former Rome station chief Jeff Castelli, whose “brainchild” the abduction was (see Before February 17, 2003), former first secretary at the US embassy in Rome Ralph Russomando, and former second secretary Betnie Medero. Prosecutor Armando Spataro says he may appeal the decision to grant them diplomatic immunity. Five agents of the Italian military intelligence service SISMI are also not convicted. The officials, including former SISMI head Nicolo Pollari, get off because evidence against them is suppressed on state secrecy grounds (see March 2009). However, two junior SISMI agents are convicted and sentenced to three years in prison as accomplices. [Reuters, 11/4/2009]

Entity Tags: Nicolo Pollari, Monica Adler, Oscar Magi, Michalis Vasiluou, Pilar Rueda, SISMI, Raymond Harbaough, Vincent Faldo, Ralph Russomando, Victor Castellano, Robert Seldon Lady, Sabrina De Sousa, Joseph Sofin, Lorenza Carrera, John Gurley, Brenda Ibanez, Joseph L. Romano III, Ben Amar Harty, Armando Spataro, Anne Lidia Jenkins, Central Intelligence Agency, Cynthia Logan, Betnie Medero, Eliana Castaldo, Jeff Castelli, John Duffin, James Kirkland, Drew Channing, Gregory Asherleigh, George Purvis, James Harbison

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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