2015 Archives

A Radical Imam, His Alleged CIA Kidnapper, and Their 10-Year Hunt for Justice


The following is from the June 22,2015, edition of Vice News, an international news organization. Chris Jenks, director of the Criminal Justice Clinic and an assistant law professor in SMU's Dedman School of Law, provided expertise for this story.

June 23, 2015

By Jason Leopold

When the European Court of Human Rights holds a long-awaited hearing Tuesday concerning the abduction and torture of a radical cleric known as Abu Omar, two people in particular will be hoping to see results from their many years of effort to hold the CIA and Italy accountable.

One is Abu Omar himself.

The other is a former CIA officer who was convicted of kidnapping him.

The hearing, scheduled to take place in Strasbourg, France, involves one of the CIA's most infamous "extraordinary rendition" cases, a highly controversial post-9/11 counterterrorism program in which suspected terrorists were secretly captured in one country and sent to another to be harshly interrogated.

Lawyers for Omar, whose real name is Osama Mustapha Hassan Nasr, will press judges to find Italy culpable for a wide range of violations under the European Convention of Human Rights in connection with Omar's disappearance off a Milan street 12 years ago at the hands of the CIA and Italian Military Intelligence and Security Service (SISMI). Terrorism suspects who were held at CIA black site prisons in Europe — where they say they were tortured — have frequently used the human rights court to seek accountability against European governments they allege were complicit. . . 

Chris Jenks, a law professor at SMU Dedman School of Law in Dallas, Texas, says Abu Omar is seeking to embarrass Italy:

"Increased media attention and judicial scrutiny also make it less likely that Italy, or any European country, would cooperate with the US on an intelligence operation within the territory of a European country again." . . . 

Jenks, the law professor, noted that the Italian government never asked for the US to extradite the CIA officers, a point he thinks Abu Omar's attorneys will raise at the hearing next week.

"Omar may be seeking to have the European Court try to order the Italian government to ask for the US to surrender the agents," Jenks said. "To do that he would argue that Italy, in not forwarding the indictments and in not requesting the US surrender the CIA agents, has failed to take all the measures available to Italy to ensure respect for Omar's rights under the European convention."

Jenks also noted that in absentia trials are deemed to be human rights abuses in their own right under the European Convention of Human Rights.

"The Italian trial blatantly disregarded international law and treaty obligations, and the conduct of the in absentia proceedings simply followed one alleged human rights abuse with another," he and his colleague Eric Talbot Jensen wrote in a 2010 Harvard law review article about the case. "The flawed in absentia trials of the CIA agents in the Abu Omar case constitute yet another violation of the European Convention…. While Italy may have spoken out against extraordinary rendition, the price for doing so was Italy's own commitment to the rule of law and human rights."

Read the full story.

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