Ex-Aviano officer won't comment on alleged abduction
A former commander of the 31st Security Forces Squadron declined to talk Thursday about the case that Italian prosecutors say they have against him and about two dozen agents from the Central Intelligence Agency.
Lt. Col. Joseph Romano, reached by phone at his office at the Pentagon, led security forces at Aviano Air Base, Italy, in 2003 when an imam — commonly referred to as Abu Omar — was allegedly kidnapped by CIA agents from the streets of Milan. He was reportedly taken to Aviano, flown to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and then onto Egypt.
“I have nothing to say,” Romano said.
He referred questions about the “alleged incident that I’m supposedly involved in” to Air Force senior leadership and the service’s public affairs office. Public affairs then referred questions to the State Department.
“We are not going to comment on Italy’s internal judicial process,” Janelle Hironimus, a press officer for the State Department, wrote in an e-mail response to queries. “We have good cooperation with Italy on countering terrorist and other transnational threats.”
Romano indicated he had no legal representation for the case, which resurfaced last week in the Italian media after Milan prosecutor Armando Spataro again asked the federal government to seek extradition for the American suspects in order to bring them to trial. A similar request was rejected by the government of Silvio Berlusconi in 2005, but a left-center coalition led by Romano Prodi has since gained control of the country’s legislature.
Italian authorities have not disclosed what specific role they believe Romano played in the abduction.
Romano’s fate might hinge on Article 7 of the Status of Forces Agreement between the two countries. It appears to state that the United States would have the first right to bring him up on charges if it felt a crime were committed. If it did not, it is required to give “sympathetic consideration” to Italian authorities requesting jurisdiction.
The same article states the United States would be required to assist the Italians in apprehending a suspect still on Italian soil. But it does not appear to address any responsibility to apprehend a suspect elsewhere.
The two countries also have an extradition agreement signed during the Reagan administration. One of the exceptions for refusal is for those performing military duties.
Reports in publications such as The New York Times and The Washington Post as well as a few Internet postings by legal scholars have cast doubt on whether any Americans charged would ever stand trial in Italy.