23 US Officials: Rendered Guilty in Italy

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Jeff Stein who was one of the 44 editorial employees canned by CQ-Roll Call in late September is now blogging at Huffington Post. He currently has a piece in Foreign Policy on the recent conviction of 23 US officials in Italy (FP | Rendered Guilty | November 4, 2009). Excerpts:

The implications of the ruling range from banal to the profound. The CIA operatives and an Air Force officer can forget about spending the summer in Provence, or any European Union country for that matter. But more fundamentally, the case raises questions about diplomatic immunity and the ability of foreign courts to try U.S. officials in cases of supposed human rights and other abuses.
Another CIA operative sentenced in the case was Sabrina DeSousa, who at the time was listed as a U.S. consular official in Milan. DeSousa, 53, has maintained all along that she was a U.S. Foreign Service officer who deserved diplomatic immunity, despite voluminous records gathered by the Italian prosecutor, Armando Spataro, showing her to be a CIA officer with responsibility for liaising with Italian intelligence on the operation. The State Department does not confer diplomatic immunity on consular officials as it does embassy officials. Regardless, DeSousa also maintains that because she was on a Swiss skiing holiday at the time of the abduction, she is innocent of the kidnapping charges laid against her.

DeSousa’s case raised particular questions after she persuaded the U.S. government to pay her legal expenses last summer. She, like Robert Lady, was never granted diplomatic immunity from the kidnapping charges even as the mastermind of the operation, former Italy CIA station chief Jeffrey Castelli, was. Castelli’s documentation shows him as a State Department official in the Rome embassy, granting him immunity.
Indeed, the case sends CIA operatives a reminder that they’re on their own if they take the field without a cloak of full diplomatic immunity.

Read the whole thing here.

International law requires that the host country extend certain privileges and immunities to members of foreign diplomatic missions and consular posts. The purpose of diplomatic and consular immunities is to ensure the efficient and effective performance of the official missions on behalf of their governments. Both types of immunities extend essential protections to diplomats, consuls, their families and their staffs by limiting the ability of host countries to detain, subpoena, arrest or prosecute them.

US Diplomacy has an excellent overview on diplomatic and consular immunity here: The levels of protection vary according to an employee’s role as a diplomatic agent, an administrative and support employee or a consular officer. On consular immunity: Consular immunity offers protections similar to diplomatic immunity, but these protections are not as extensive, given the functional differences between consular and diplomatic officers.

At the DPB in Foggy Bottom on November 5:

QUESTION: Did the State Department invoke diplomatic immunity for the three Americans acquitted in Italy of the 2003 kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric from Milan? What is the current status of the lawsuit brought against the Department by the woman who sought diplomatic immunity in this case but was not granted that status by State?

ANSWER: The Department has been following the proceedings closely in coordination with the Department of Justice and other agencies. We have raised our concerns about the case on numerous occasions with Italian officials, and supported the Italian Government’s challenge of the prosecution before the Italian Constitutional Court. The Department will continue to follow this matter in consultation with the Italian Government. Immunity defenses were raised before the Italian trial court by the lawyers for the defendants. For the status of the civil suit brought against the U.S. Government by Ms. De Sousa, I would refer you to the Department of Justice.

Now talking of the banal — in popular fiction, diplomatic immunity was most famously portrayed in the 1989 action movie, Lethal Weapon 2. The testosterone filled movie has Mel Gibson and Danny Glover on the trail of South African diplomats who are using their immunity to engage in criminal activities:

Arjen Rudd
: [holds up his wallet] Diplomatic immunity!
[Roger slowly rolls his head on his neck, takes aim, and fires – his bullet goes through Rudd’s wallet, and then his head]
Roger Murtaugh: It’s just been revoked!

Life is not always slow-mo as reading a script. Read more here on diplomatic immunity.

Related Item:
Diplomatic and Consular Privileges and Immunities From Criminal Jurisdiction
Summary of Law Enforcement Aspects | from State.gov | PDF | HTML

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