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Profile: Robert Mehal
Robert Mehal was a participant or observer in the following events:
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]
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