Not surprisingly, the mainstream press, including editorial boards and op-ed writers, has quickly jumped to the side of the CIA in the dispute over Shahram Amiri. The CIA claims that the Iranian scientist was a spy for the CIA and voluntarily defected to the United States before returning to Iran. For his part, Amiri claims that CIA operatives kidnapped him while he was on a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, drugged him, flew him back to the United States, incarcerated him, and tortured him for information regarding Iran's nuclear program, before finally releasing him to return to Iran.
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There is one big problem, however, with the hasty conclusion reached by the U.S. mainstream press: It relies entirely on unsworn statements of CIA officials, who so far have chosen to remain anonymous.
Why is that a problem? Because if CIA agents did, in fact, kidnap, torture, and falsely incarcerate Amiri, it would be expected that the CIA would lie about it and create a ruse to cover up what it had done.
Why would they do that? Because the CIA's actions would clearly constitute felony offenses under U.S. law, to wit: conspiracy to kidnap, kidnapping, torture, assault and battery, and false imprisonment. Since the offenses would have taken place in part on U.S. soil, U.S. courts would have criminal jurisdiction over them. Finally, since President Obama or other high U.S. officials would likely have played a role in the approval of such actions, the prospect of impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors would come into play.
Notwithstanding the nationalist fervor of the U.S. mainstream press, when it comes to kidnapping, torture, and false arrest, the CIA is not entitled to automatic belief.
The case of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, whom the CIA kidnapped, falsely incarcerated, and renditioned to Egypt for the purpose of torture, is pertinent. Consider this excerpt from a Washington Post story about the Nasr case:
In March 2003, the Italian national anti-terrorism police received an urgent message from the CIA about a radical Islamic cleric who had mysteriously vanished from Milan a few weeks before. The CIA reported that it had reliable information that the cleric, the target of an Italian criminal investigation, had fled to an unknown location in the Balkans.
In fact, according to Italian court documents and interviews with investigators, the CIA's tip was a deliberate lie, part of a ruse designed to stymie efforts by the Italian anti-terrorism police to track down the cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, an Egyptian refugee known as Abu Omar.
Did you catch the operative words and phrases in that excerpt: "deliberate lie" and "ruse"? In fact, the CIA knew that Nasr had gone to Egypt because that's where the CIA took him after they abducted him off a Milan street. In Egypt he was tortured, on the request of the CIA, into providing information.
Consider the "defense" of CIA Milan station chief Robert Seldon Lady, who was convicted by the Italian court and received an 8-year prison sentence: "When you work in intelligence, you do things in the country in which you work that are not legal. It's a life of illegality.... But state institutions in the whole world have professionals in my sector, and it's up to us to do our duty."
At the risk of belaboring the obvious, if the CIA lied about its criminal offenses in the Nasr kidnapping and created a ruse designed to cover them up, then it stands to reason that it might well do the same with the kidnapping of other people, especially when the illegality falls under the jurisdiction of U.S. criminal law.
Is it possible that the CIA is telling the truth in the Amiri case? Of course it is. But it's also possible that it's lying, especially since its statements on the case, the statements on which the mainstream press is relying, are unsworn and, therefore, not subject to perjury charges.
The only way to get to the truth is with the appointment of a special federal criminal prosecutor, much like the one that was appointed to investigate the Valerie Plame leak.
The Justice Department itself cannot be trusted to pursue an aggressive criminal investigation into the CIA's actions with Amiri given the influence that President Obama, who could be facing the prospect of impeachment if it turns out that he approved the commission of felony offenses on U.S. soil, would have on the Justice Department, and the ongoing close relationship between the Justice Department and the CIA in the war on terrorism.
A nation that purports to stand by the rule of law cannot have its public officials committing felony offenses with impunity, including the kidnapping, torture, and incarceration of foreign citizens on U.S. soil. Given that the CIA has admittedly engaged in similar acts in the past, lied about them, and covered them up makes it imperative that a complete criminal investigation be made into whether the CIA committed felony offenses in the Amiri case. If the CIA is innocent of the charges, as it claims, it should have nothing to fear from an independent criminal investigation, which only a special prosecutor can assure.
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.