A Kidnapping in Milan: The CIA on Trial by Steve Hendricks
Published by W. W. Norton & Company
Extraordinary rendition. Not a phrase that many Americans heard before 9/11. The concept – kidnapping someone from one country and taking them to another country with, shall we say, a less firmly defined sense of what constitutes human rights abuses for the purpose of torture – is probably not one that occurred to many of us before then either. Evidence suggests that these renditions did happen before 9/11, but it was after that time that the phrase and the concept became a part of the national consciousness, perhaps because it is alleged that the CIA has extraordinarily rendered some 3,000 suspected terrorists since then.
In A Kidnapping in Milan, freelance reporter Steve Hendricks explores one such case of post-9/11 extraordinary rendition of a radical Egyptian imam living in Milan. Beginning with Abu Omar’s radicalization in Egypt, through his time in the Balkans and his re-creation as an imam in Milan, Hendricks relates the story of this rendition from the earliest logical point, through the bitter end. We do not simply learn of Abu Omar’s story either, also included is CIA and Italian history that greatly influenced both the rendition and the eventual prosecution in Italian courts of the men and women involved in the kidnapping.
A Kidnapping in Milan is extraordinarily well researched, particularly considering much of this information must have been hard to track down or make sense of. Early on in the book, Hendricks tells the reader:
In Milan a known fact is always explained by competing stories, more than one of which will be plausible. Some of the stories will be frivolous, even absurd. With time, the elements of all will mix, their separate origins becoming unclear. With time enough, even the one fact once known with certainty will become all but unknowable.
Based on the other details he gives us about life in Milan, that certainly seems to be the case. However, his research is so good and his story told so flawlessly, that A Kidnapping in Milan seems to belie that statement with its very existence.
This book is particularly timely right now, because it covers in broad strokes much of the political history of Egypt. This is primarily done to explain the large number of Egyptian-born radicals living overseas, as well as the appeal of rendering terrorism suspects to Egypt. It raised a good many questions for me about what the place of Egypt will be in these matters going forward, which I would guess is not something that is really known as of yet, as we wait to see exactly how the recent events in Egypt will play out. The accounts of the tortures which took place in Egypt are horrific, and the faint of heart and stomach may want to skim those sections, although I do think it is important for informed citizen to know what is being done in our name by proxies of our own government.
One of the earliest recipients of the CIA’s training was Egypt. The trainers were former Nazi commanders from Germany who were recruited by the CIA not long after the Second World War.
“If you want a serious interrogation,” said Robert Baer, who for years was a CIA officer in the Middle East, “you send a prisoner to Jordan. If you want them to be tortured, you send them to Syria. If you want someone to disappear – never to see them again – you send them to Egypt.”
This is not a particularly easy read, both because of the level of detail Hendricks includes, and because of the subject matter, but if you have even the slightest interest in this subject – or in knowing what is being done in your (if you are American) name – this is a great choice. Recommended.
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