The Gray Line of Terrorism

Over ten years ago the news-services were full of stories about the American teenager Michael Fay, sentenced to be caned in Singapore for spray-painting cars. In the American and European media the outrage was huge, “too severe”, “barbaric”, “uncivilized” were some of the adjectives used. Now, in a brave new post-9/11 world, it is not the Singapore government that supports extreme justice but the American government using extreme rendition not to punish but to extract information.

The Chicago Times had a story yesterday about the start of the Italian trial over the rendition, or to stop using newspeak, kidnapping, of Abu Omar, an Egyptian-born Islamic cleric with Italian citizenship.

In a kidnapping case against 26 Americans and five Italian intelligence operatives, including the one-time CIA chief in Rome and Italy’s former top spymaster, Nasr, better known as Abu Omar, will speak to the court through his letter, telling his story for the first time in his own words.

According to Abu Omar’s written account, obtained by the Tribune, he was walking to his mosque in Milan on Feb. 17, 2003, when he was stopped on the street by a man who identified himself as a police officer. The cleric wrote that he was pulled into a van, beaten and taken by plane to Egypt.

This is an interesting case for many reasons. First, no one really disputes the fact that the Islamic cleric Abu Omar is an extremist. He was trying to get people to go to Iraq to fight, what was then, the immanent American invasion. He is self admittedly no friend of either America nor Israel seeing both as a threat to his culture. It still is unclear whether his actions in trying to recruit “foreign fighters” at that time violated Italian anti-terrorism laws.

But that isn’t the point. It has long been established in western cultures that breaking the law to catch criminals isn’t halal – um… kosher – um… legal. But that is what is on trial here. In what the Chicago Times considers to be surprising, the prosecution has produced a 6500 word letter from Abu Omar detailing his kidnapping and imprisonment in Egypt. Before he describes what happened, he feels he must describe his situation,

I record my testimony from within my tomb and gravesite: and my body has weakened and my mind has become distracted and my illnesses have increased and the signs of my death and termination have appeared.

I record my testimony from within my tomb and gravesite: and my facial features have been altered by the screams of the tortured and the sounds of the whips and the hell of the jail cells.

I record my testimony from within my tomb and gravesite: and I am powerless to do anything other than give the highest thanks and loyalty and appreciation to all who have lit a candle light of hope on the road leading to the uncovering of the mystery of my kidnapping from Italy and my imprisonment and torture in Egypt.

He goes on to detail his kidnapping, imprisonment and torture. Among the things he endured were being hung upside down, beatings, electric shocks and rape. This was all done with after an American kidnapping. George W. Bush has so famously claimed, “We do not condone torture, I have never ordered torture. I will never order torture. The values of this country are such that torture is not a part of our soul and our being.” Attorney General Gonzales later clarified the American position. He explained that the condition for refusing rendition was not absolute but whether the suspect was “more likely than not” to be tortured.

None of those involved have accepted responsibility for what has been done. According to one of Abu Omars wives, she has been offered $2 million to let the story drop. All that was necessary was to claim that the kidnapping never took place. He had gone for a walk and *poof* landed in an Egyptian cell of his own free will. At least she should make a story sound something like that. Oddly she demurred.

One of the more interesting ramifications of the case for the 26 Americans likely to be tried in absentia is international travel, at least in Europe. Should these gentlemen be convicted, European law would require them to be arrested and deported to Italy should they arrive at any EU airport. No vacations in the south of France for them!

More seriously, this does have ramifications on how the world, not just the Islamic world, views the American conflict and the American techniques. The tolerance level that was so high following 9/11 has been reduced to zero. There is no more slack; the get out of jail free card has been played; even in former members of the Iraqi collation.

For Michael Fay, he was found guilty, the sentence was eventually reduced from 6 lashes to 4 partially due to American pressure and, on May 5, 1994, he was caned. He later returned to the US to live a rather unlucky life and caning became a staple in World Wide Wrestling matches. There was little doubt that Fay had committed the vandalism he was convicted of, it was the sentence that western pundits found objectionable – too brutal, uncivilized. His mother claimed it was torture.

In the case of Abu Omar, it is likely he would have tried to help fight any American intervention in Iraq. He might have even cheered the day the Twin Towers fell. The later, while scandalous, is not illegal. The former, while possibly illegal, has never been clearly proven. There is no question of the fact that Abu Omar has been tortured, he however has never been found legally guilty. Omar is still in custody.

The scandal is the American involvement in his torture; America the country that cries foul when other countries enforce their laws.

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