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Thursday, November 05, 2009
A tale of three kidnappings

An interesting trial concluded recently.
Twenty-three Americans were [recently] convicted of kidnapping by an Italian court at the end of the first trial anywhere in the world involving the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" programme for abducting terrorist suspects.

The former head of the CIA in Milan Robert Lady was given an eight-year jail sentence for his part in the seizure of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, known as Abu Omar, who claimed that he was subsequently tortured in Egypt. Lady's superior, Jeff Castelli, the then head of the CIA in Italy, and two other Americans were acquitted on the grounds that they enjoyed diplomatic immunity.

But another 21 alleged CIA operatives and a US air force officer were each sentenced to five years in jail. All were tried in absentia and those who were convicted will be regarded as fugitives under Italian law.
Two cheers for Italy! Those who kidnap people, whether they are working with the sanction of their government or not, deserve the full force and opprobrium of the law. However, I am reminded of another, earlier kidnapping that took place in Italy where the outcome has been even less satisfactory.

Do you remember the case of Mordechai Vanunu?

He was an Israeli nuclear worker who decided to alert the World to Israel's atomic weapons programme. In 1986, he flew to the UK with photographs and other evidence of Israel's nuclear status. He presented his evidence to the Sunday Times who took an inordinate amount of time to decide on publication, so he went also to the Sunday Mirror whose proprietor – the late and sorely missed Robert Maxwell - promptly and secretly ratted on him.

This gave Mossad time to mount a form of 'honey trap':
Masquerading as an American tourist called "Cindy", Israeli Mossad agent Cheryl Bentov befriended Vanunu, and on 30 September persuaded him to fly to Rome with her on a holiday. Once in Rome, Mossad agents drugged him and carried him to Israel on a freighter, beginning what was to be more than a decade of solitary confinement in Israeli prisons.
Eventually, the Sunday Times published the story, verified additionally by the kidnapping so it was perhaps counterproductive, except in punishing Vanunu. One wonders what the Italian authorities thought at the time and, indeed, what they now think. Did they file charges against the Mossad agents and/or given their success in getting convictions against the CIA agents recently, could they now chase Vanunu's kidnappers once more?

The final kidnapping story concerns an attempt at apprehending the fugitive Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs.
In 1981, some 18 years after he took part in the Great Train Robbery, "the Houdini of the criminal world" was still living [a]t large in Rio, earning a nice living signing autographs and glad-handing visitors from around the globe. There was a kidnap attempt on Biggs, by a group of former military men led by ambitious security expert Patrick King… …in a thoroughly British farce.
King and his gang took Biggs to Barbados, expecting a reward from the British police but, because Barbados had no extradition treaty with the United Kingdom Biggs was sent back to Brazil.

So, here we have three kidnappings with different results. The stories serve to illustrate the way in which Israel and the US are cavalier in their behaviour towards suspects and host countries while British privateers are only capable of making a hash of things. The US & Israeli governments were clearly culpable. One wonders what would have happened had King and Co been able to get Biggs to British territory or somewhere with a suitable extradition treaty with Britain. One is tempted to hope that, unlike the US and Israel, the British authorities would have returned Biggs to Brazil on the grounds that the kidnapping was illegal. But that is simply speculation…

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