A Kidnapping in Milan by Steve Hendricks – Book Review

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.
Page 14

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.
Page 145

“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.”
Page 147

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.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound | Amazon*

Source: Author.
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Sunday Spotlight On: Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
Published by Vintage Books, an imprint of Random House

Although he now lives in California, Dave Eggers is a Chicago native and, really, a Chicago institution. As such, it pains me to admit that I have never read any of his work. “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” was, at one point, what every single person from my high school class was raving about on their Facebook page so I did pick it up. Unfortunately, in my first year of teaching for Teach for America in West Englewood, Chicago I did not have the emotional energy to read a new-to-me book about a 22 year-old becoming the guardian of his 8 year-old brother on the death of their parents. That was the year of comfort re-reads, people. I abandoned the book and ended up losing it somewhere I suppose, since it is not on my shelves now. Fast forward a couple of years and I am on LibraryThing and have started blogging, and Eggers makes his way onto my radar again, with “What is the What,” Eggers’ fictionalized memoir of one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. “What is the What” is still on my shelves somewhere, but I have not yet managed to read it.

Egger’s newest book, “Zeitoun” is, I believe, not fated to join its brothers in the realm of books I don’t get to. Like its fictionalized counterpart “City of Refuge” by Tom Piazza, which was one of my favorite books last year, “Zeitoun” tells the story of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. I love – if that is the right word – thoughtful books about the travesty and tragedy of Katrina and the indomitable spirit of the people of New Orleans. “Zeitoun,” however, goes one step further and tells a story that sounds even more fascinating: that of a Syrian-American man named Abdulrahman Zeitoun and what happened to him when Hurricane Katrina joined forces with the War on Terror to become the ultimate destructive force. I mean, really, how am I even finishing this sentence without picking up this book? It is Calling. My. Name.

And on that note, I’m going to end this post to go and place “Zeitoun” as close to the top of my TBR pile as I can, in hopes of reading it as soon as humanly possible

Source: Personal copy