Ah, the rule of law. How often we hear our government leaders angrily demand that the rest of the world adhere to this sacred stricture, most recently as it demands that countries — even countries with which the US has signed no extradition treaty like Russia or China — honor the US charges leveled against National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and send him to the US for trial.
But the rule of law, in truth, means little to the US, which routinely thumbs its nose at the whole notion.
Take the case of Robert Lady, the former CIA station chief in Rome Italy. Lady, along with 21 other CIA operatives, was charged years ago with the illegal 2003 kidnapping off a street in Milan of a man that the US claimed was a suspected terrorist. Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr was thrown into a van and then secretly renditioned first to a secret CIA “black site,” and later to Egyptian police, who, he says, tortured him for the US. Four years later, Nasr was released after an Egyptian court ruled that he was not guilty of anything.
Italy indicted 22 Americans in Nasr’s illegal kidnapping, and sought their presence for a trial. The US, ignoring the rule of law, refused to send its agents to Italy, a country with which the US has a long-established extradition treaty, and which is a long-standing member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), so they were tried in absentia in Italy. Lady, as station chief and chief architect of the kidnapping, was found guilty along with 13 others (eight men were acquitted) and was sentenced, also in absentia, to nine years in prison.
Subsequently, Italy sought to have him extradited by the US to accept his punishment, but the US refused.
Now Lady, who had disappeared from view, has been arrested on an international fugitive warrant in Panama, and Italy is seeking his extradition from that country.
It will be interesting to see how the US responds to this situation. In 2010, documents were leaked from the US Department of Defense (sic) showing that Defense Secretary Robert Gates had worked behind the scenes with then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, to have the CIA agents’ case dropped, with Berlusconi promising to “do what he could,” and complaining that the Italian courts were run by “a bunch of leftists.” (Berlusconi has himself subsequently been tried and convicted of corruption, in a tax evasion case that ended with him sentenced to four years in prison. More recently, he was also tried and convicted of sex with an underage girl, and was sentenced to seven years in prison.
The US, since Snowden went public with his expose that the NSA is spying on the electronic communications of all Americans, as well as on hundreds of millions of other people around the world, including in nations supposedly allied with the US, the Obama administration has been leaning heavily on countries of Europe, Asia and especially Latin America, to keep them from granting him asylum. Even Russia, where Snowden is currently trapped because the US has publicly announced the cancellation of his US passport, has been subjected to threats and pressure in an effort to keep that country from granting him even temporary asylum.
As Snowden and the human rights attorneys who are working with him have pointed out, it is a grave violation of international law to deny anyone the right of humanitarian asylum. That doesn’t matter to the US, though, which is brazenly warning all countries that those who offer Snowden asylum, or even safe passage, will “pay a price” not just immediately but “for years to come.”
It seems likely that Panama will now feel this same intense US pressure to release CIA spook and kidnapper Lady and to refuse to send him back to Italy to face his punishment.
The rule of law, as far as the US is clearly considered by the Obama administration, like the Bush/Cheney administration before it, to be only for the weak and the poor. Washington makes it clear that international law doesn’t apply to the US.
DAVE LINDORFF is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).