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Profile: Joseph L. Romano III

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Joseph L. Romano III was a participant or observer in the following events:

A group of CIA officers arrives at Aviano Air Force Base, north of Venice, Italy, with Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar), an Islamist extremist they kidnapped in Milan five hours previously (see Noon February 17, 2003). Some English-speaking interrogators strip Omar’s clothes, putting him in blue overalls, and photograph him. They ask him some questions about his connections to al-Qaeda, his sending of recruits to fight in Iraq, and his relationship with Islamist radicals in Albania (see August 27, 1995 and Shortly After). However, Nasr says nothing. The interrogators punch him in the stomach and slap him across the face. Then they wrap his head in a sticky bandage, cut some breathing holes into it, and put him on a plane that arrives in Cairo seven hours later. [GQ, 3/2007 pdf file] Twenty-six US officials will later be charged in Italy with the kidnap. One of them is Joseph Romano, a US Air Force officer whose role is to help the kidnappers at the air base in Aviano. [Congressional Quarterly, 9/23/2009]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph L. Romano III, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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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