An Italian judge has convicted 23 Americans ? all but one of them CIA agents ? and two Italian secret agents for the 2003 kidnap of a Muslim cleric. The agents were accused of abducting Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar (pictured), from Milan and sending him to Egypt, where he was allegedly tortured. Marco Werman talks with John Radsan, who served as the CIA's assistant general counsel from 2002 to 2004.
MARCO WERMAN: Twenty-three Americans were sentenced to prison today in Italy. All but one of them work for the CIA and all were convicted of kidnapping. The case involves the abduction of an Egyptian-born Muslim cleric who was snatched off a street in Milan in 2003 and flown to Egypt for interrogation. The cleric says he was tortured there. Though the Americans received prison terms they're not likely to do any time. John Radsan served as a CIA's assistant general counsel from 2002 to 2004. He now teaches at the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul. Now the case relates to the seizure and then extraordinary rendition of a Muslim cleric. Tell us who this man was ? this cleric ? and where is he now?
JOHN RADSAN: Based on the public record we believe that he was recruiting people to go and fight in Iraq against American forces. That he was a radical preacher in Milan. He's of Egyptian origin. And he was stirring up people to fight against Americans and against western interests around the world. He's not in prison right now. At the end of his rendition he was released and as I understand he's in Egypt at this time.
WERMAN: And when he was extraordinarily rendered how actively do you think the US government actually participated in that?
RADSAN: From the public record it seems clear that the US was involved in his snatch in Italy. I don't think there's much doubt about that. And that he was transferred. One of the questions was whether the Italian government knew about this. Was this a unilateral operation or was it a bilateral operation in Italy. I think it stands to reason that the CIA would not do something that is completely unilateral in Italy. That would make it very dangerous for the CIA officers. It would complicate the intelligence relationship between the CIA and the various Italian services. It would be bad at a political level. Of course if the CIA notifies its counterparts in Italy, they're taking it on some sort of faith that the Italian authorities will in turn notify the political leaders in Italy. And it's one of the questions we had in the trial and we still don't know the level of Italian involvement and we don't know the level of American involvement. But I don't think any of these defendants has said that this did not take place ? that the abduction did not take place. The defendants say that this was an authorized operation by the United States government.
WERMAN: And at the time what was the legal opinion relating to these kinds of operations in 2003? You were assistant general counsel for the CIA at the time.
RADSAN: I was assistant general counsel. I didn't advice on this program. But I can speculate what the advice was. We comply with American law. We have to make sure that we comply with the American constitution, with the various statutes that apply to the CIA. When we do espionage in covert action we accept, as an unfortunate consequence, that in many situations we're going to be violating international law and we may in many situations be violating the laws of other countries.
WERMAN: And for these 23 individual Americans who were sentenced today, are they going to have to be careful where they travel now? I mean would they want to avoid going on vacation in Italy for example?
RADSAN: That's for sure. They're not going to be going to Italy. They'll also have to be careful about other countries that they go to. They'll probably get legal advice. If they don't they should to figure out what sort of extradition arrangements may exist between France and Italy, Singapore and Italy. I suspect that most of these people will be limiting their travel to within the United States. They're not going to take the risk. We have examples of other people that have fallen in the international target. Henry Kissinger was careful about his travel because of various allegations. So these defendants will be in a similar category.
WERMAN: So what next? Will the US try to appeal this in any way?
RADSAN: I think the lawyers that are representing these people, they will appeal. At the end even if these convictions stand I don't think we're going to have American officers serving sentences there. In that sense the sentences are symbolic. I think it's possible the Italians will ask for the extradition but I think it's next to impossible that the Americans will extradite CIA officers ? these are people that were serving their country ? back to Italy to serve prison sentences. There's an irony in this case. And that is that the prosecutor, Armando Spataro, was one of our important colleagues in counterterrorism and continues to be. He might have been coordinating with other parts of the American government beyond the CIA but he is the one that has been leading the charge and getting over these hurdles to bring this case. So in that sense it's one part of the counterterrorism community indicting and convicting another part of the international counterterrorism community.
WERMAN: That's interesting. I mean briefly, if these sentences are symbolic as you say, what do you think is the one-line message from them?
RADSAN: The CIA got in trouble for arguably violating Italian law and the CIA lives in a murky world of having to violate the laws of other countries to do espionage and conduct covert action.
WERMAN: Well John Radsan, former assistant general counsel for the CIA. Thanks very much.
RADSAN: Thank you.
WERMAN: And the State Department said today it's disappointed by the Italian court's decision.