I represent Robert Seldon Lady, a former CIA officer who faces a 6-year Italian prison sentence in connection with the 2003 extraordinary rendition of an Egyptian terrorist suspect, Abu Omar, in Milan, Italy.
In 2007, Lady was tried in absentia in an Italian court, along with 23 other American defendants, and convicted of helping abduct Abu Omar.
The case is a travesty of justice targeting Lady and others who have devoted their lives to protecting Americans as well as Italians and others from radical Islamic terrorism.
Some background: Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was a member of al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, an anti-government organization that has been linked to the murder of Anwar Sadat in 1981 and the 1997 Luxor massacre that cost the lives of 62 people in Egypt, mostly tourists.
The cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman is the spiritual leader of the movement. He was accused of participating in the 1993 World Trade Center bombings and is serving a life sentence in the United States.
After Egypt declared the movement illegal, Abu Omar sought asylum in Italy.
The Italian Magistrate Judge in Milan alleged that on Feb. 7, 2003, Omar was abducted by CIA agents in Milan and later transported to a prison in Egypt. In a 2004 phone call to his family, Omar said he had been tortured in Egypt.
Italian authorities maintained in court that Lady, who they said had served as CIA station chief in Milan, had helped kidnap Omar. Then in November 2005, an Italian judge rejected Lady's claim of diplomatic immunity, saying he had forfeited his immunity when he retired from the CIA and that the alleged abduction was a crime serious enough to disqualify him from immunity.
On Feb. 16, 2007, Italian authorities issued an arrest warrant for Lady. He was convicted of kidnapping in November 2009 along with 22 CIA agents, a U.S. Air Force colonel, and two Italian secret agents, including the Chief of the Italian Secret Service. Along with his prison sentence, Lady was ordered to pay 1 million Euros to Omar and 500,000 Euros to his wife.
The Lady prosecution was an easy one, because he was forbidden by state secrets laws from testifying in the case, submitting classified information in his defense, calling any witnesses, or attending the trial. He was also forbidden by law from revealing the Italian state secrets to which he had access.
So a loyal 24-year U.S. government employee, following orders from the highest American officials, was thrown under the bus by Italy, the very country he had fought to protect. In fact, as a Consular official in Milan, Lady had brought millions of dollars of U.S. resources, intelligence contacts, confidential sources, and manpower to help protect the Italian people he loved from the vicious, growing terrorist cells in Milan. Apparently, no one in the Bush Administration could do a thing to avoid the prosecution.
It was predictable that the usual keyboard warriors in the press, who have no access to the true facts, would salivate over the thought of Lady’s imprisonment. Yet these are the same folks who justifiably weep over the graves and hospital beds of the Boston Marathon bombing victims — and then criticize the FBI for not "connecting the dots." Lady had connected the Milan dots over many years, dots that led — yes, to the neighborhoods of America.
We Americans and Italians need to decide whether we want to weep and run or stand and fight these terrorists. For a while, we had the terrorists on the run, thanks to patriots like Bob Lady and the many others who are still in the shadows. Now it is clear that we are running — in circles.
We cannot prosecute ourselves out of this nightmare. We cannot evacuate every embassy and shopping mall on earth. And we should not turn on the very people we send into the field of battle.
Rank and file intelligence personnel in Italy and the United States are furious about the plight of the Milan defendants. Tomorrow it could be them on the Interpol wanted poster. What is especially perverse to the troops is that the politicians who issued the orders, resulting in these prison sentences, have arranged, through Chardonnay diplomacy, to avoid the noose.
And in the face of all this, how do we recruit the young people we need to take up the battle? Can we assure them that when we send them secretly into the dangerous alleys of war on the orders of the latest political appointee management, we can and will completely indemnify them? Apparently not.
Bob Lady worked for decades in dangerous places on dangerous assignments for us. He has never revealed our secrets. Unlike Mr. Edward Snowden, he has kept his oath. The very least Americans and Italians owe him is tranquility.
Lady had planned to retire in Italy and had bought a house and land in the country, but the properties were seized by the Italian government.
Then last month, he was detained in Panama on an arrest warrant issued by the Italians. Incredibly, from its comfortable New York offices, close to the 9/11 tragedy, Amnesty International demanded that Lady be returned in shackles to Milan. Legions of Internet journalists joined in vicious attacks. Thankfully, due to a legal paperwork snafu, the Panamanians had the good sense to allow Bob to return to America.
President Giorgio Napolitano pardoned Air Force Colonel Joseph Romano, one of the Milan defendants, in April. Now he should do the right thing and finish the job. This has always been a political case, without a legal defense. President Napolitano should commute the sentences of all of these government employees. We have a war to fight.
Thomas R. Spencer is a Miami-based attorney with more than 40 years of legal experience. He has appeared before the Federal Courts and the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as the International Court of Arbitration in Paris. As a Life Member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, he regularly represents officers of the National Clandestine Service and other agencies.
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