Saturday, June 25, 2005

Power corrupts

Power corrupts in little unexpected ways.

An Italian judge has signed warrants to arrest 13 CIA agents, all American citizens, for the kidnapping of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr. Mr. Nasr was grabbed in Milan by the CIA, flown to Ramstein AFB in Germany, and then flown in the notorious torture Gulfstream to Egypt, where he was held and subjected to severe physical abuse. He was briefly released, but after he reported physical injuries in a phone call to his wife, he was disappeared again, and has not been heard from since.

This is a political embarrassment to the right wing government of Italy, which may very well have given unofficial permission for the CIA to do this.

There will probably be more fallout, as there certainly should be, but there was a small, telling item in the New York Times story that interested me. The CIA's kidnap crew operated pretty openly, and/or sloppily, and left an amazingly open trail of phone calls to CIA headquarters in Langley, hotel registrations, receipts, and the like.

They spent a lot of money. The CIA's torturers have a taste for luxury. Who would have thought? Specifically, in the week before the abduction, they spent $145,000 on hotel bills alone. Five star hotels. So $145,000 divided by 13, that's $11,154 per person for the week. Divided by seven, assuming seven nights--it may have been fewer--that's roughly $1,600 per night per agent.

Torture as paid for by the American taxpayer. After the abduction, according to the New York Times, "two of the officers took a few days' holiday at five-star hotels in Venice, Tuscany and South Tyrol," while the leader of the group apparently flew to Egypt to supervise the torture on-site.

The story mentions that some of the evidence was obtained from a villa in the Piedmont hills owned by one of the CIA agents. It is unclear whether this ownership was also financed by the American taxpayer.

I don't know why, but it was the high living that struck me as odd. But I guess it shouldn't. Torture corrupts. Power corrupts. Put them together, with an expense account and (by definition, with the CIA) total non-accountability, and you get--this.

One good thing, perhaps. The list of countries to which we outsource torture includes Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan. The worst of these, Uzbekistan, where they like to boil people to encourage them to cooperate, has no 5-star hotels in the surrounding region. Hence, it is unlikely to be a popular destination for the abduction crew.

Or so I am guessing.

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