Steven Hendricks’s A Kidnapping in Milan: The CIA on Trial details the story of radical imam Abu Omar. Omar, an Egyptian radical who sought political asylum in Italy, was the focus of an investigation by the Milan police force, who, via wiretaps and other forms of surveillance, were building a case against Omar for recruiting a network of Islamist terrorists. In early 2003, the Milanese case fell apart when Omar was disappeared in what turned out to be one of the most conclusively documented cases of the CIA’s “extraordinary renditions.” Omar was kidnapped, relocated to Germany, and then returned to Egypt, where he was tortured and held by Egypt’s SSI–under the watchful eyes of the CIA. Italian prosecutor Armando Spataro, erstwhile protagonist of Kidnapping, reconstructed the evidence of the CIA’s extraordinary (and extra-legal) rendition, leading to the prosecution of twenty-six CIA operatives for kidnapping; twenty-three were convicted.
Hendricks combines journalistic clarity with the structure of a detective novel in Kidnapping, giving his book the urgency of a modern thriller, all the more striking for its cold reality. The book is well-researched; Hendricks interviewed, among others, Spataro, Omar, and even some of the indicted CIA agents–but Kidnapping never reads as a dry recitation of facts or a ponderous series of analyses. Additionally, Hendricks fleshes out his story with a consideration of the CIA’s history in Italian politics, with an emphasis on why Milan is such a hotbed for clandestine activities. Guiding the narrative is a refined sense of moral outrage against the idea that dark deeds done in the dark make our world somehow safer. While there are some that will remain unmoved by his descriptions of Omar’s torture — the cleric is a “bad guy,” in the Bush admin’s parlance, after all — Hendricks builds a clear case that the “outsourcing of torture” is a vile practice, and one antithetical to the spirit of our Constitution. And, even if the Obama administration is unwilling to shed further light on such crimes, it is good to know that there are writers who will.
A Kidnapping in Milan is new in hardback from W.W. Norton.