Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Guilty of Torture: Stephen Kappes

Spencer Ackerman links to me today in his piece, "Do We Really Have to Call Steve Kappes a Torturer?" He picks up on the central charge of my post, that Kappes signed off on the rendition of Abu Omar. He writes as follows:

The most serious charge against Kappes, as best I can tell, comes from his role in the abduction and rendition of Abu Omar, the Egyptian cleric taken by the CIA off the streets of Milan and tortured in Egypt. A 2007 article from The Chicago Tribune about the rendition reports briefly that Kappes was “one of those who signed off on the Abu Omar abduction.” (h/t TalkLeft.) No doubt that’s troubling. Extraordinary rendition is legally and morally problematic. Italy is prosecuting in absentia the CIA agents involved in the Abu Omar rendition.

Well, actually, no the Italians are not "prosecuting in absentia the CIA agents involved," because they have not pressed charges against Stephen Kappes, for whatever reason. Nor have they pressed charges against Jeff Castelli, Chief of Station (Rome), who was in favor of the rendition (and by Italian & American accounts most intimately linked to it - see Matthew Cole, and the Chicago Tribune). Kappes and Castelli are quote unquote "the CIA agents involved in the Abu Omar rendition." The Chicago Tribune article makes it pretty clear that Kappes' signature is a significant one. The point of including his name in the article is to show that the renditions were sanctioned at the highest levels of government authority.

Bob Lady - a case officer - is currently on trial in absentia for the rendition of Abu Omar. You can check out the warrant for his arrest here [warning PDF]. If Kappes signed off on the rendition of Abu Omar, he too is party to the crime. He should be on trial as well.

Of course the White House is desperate to keep its hands clean, dirty as they may be. They are not required to sign off on the rendition. Kappes did. Bob Lady was involved too.

Ackerman's piece attempts to establish breathing room for those unnamed individuals who may've resisted the Bush torture regime in some significant way. But I wonder why he poses the question regarding Kappes, and not Bob Lady. Regardless, and despite the fact that he opposed the rendition, Bob Lady still helped to coordinate it. That's why he's on trial. If he had reservations, he managed them. As did Kappes when signing the authorization. Actually, Kappes must've done better than manage his reservations - as part of the CIA elite, his opposition might actually have carried some weight. Too bad I guess. He did not lend it. It's difficult to imagine which signatures could be more important than his, the no.2 in Operations. And it's difficult to deny that the rendition turned into an absolute sh*tshow.

Ambinder lists as one of the 6 challenges facing Panetta "Upcoming legal battles over retroactive immunity for CIA officers involved in the Bush Administration's Bad Stuff. Will Panetta fight on their behalf? The CIA will argue, quite strenuously, that prosection of case officers would be disastrous for morale and would convince managers to err on the side of extreme caution, always."

Setting this up as "Obama might go after case officers! Oh noes!" is a misstatement. As Bob Lady's case makes clear, those case officers weren't protected during the Bush Administration. What do they have to fear from Obama? Frank Naif has discussed how officers take out professional liability service now, because their superiors don't have their backs.

Bob Lady is on trial in Italy for kidnapping. A particular kidnapping that took the victim to Egypt to be tortured. Yes, that makes Bob Lady a torturer. And unless the Chicago Tribune is somehow inaccurate, it makes Stephen Kappes a torturer as well. He can certainly make the case that he is not - in Italy, or in the United States, in the same setting as Bob Lady. As the Deputy Director of Operations (no.2) he has a lot of explaining to do. To the American people, to the people who suffered torture by our hands, to the people of Italy.

For background information into this case, I suggest reading Matthew Cole's GQ piece. And these articles from the Chicago Tribune 1 & 2.

[Crossposted at Talk Left]

Updated to include the comment I added at TL:

On the off-chance (none / 0) (#1) by lilburro on Tue Jan 06, 2009 at 10:58:11 PM EST
that readers might not find the Chicago Tribune sufficient, consider the following:
Stephen Kappes was named Assistant Deputy Director of Operations in June 2002. [cite] This is the number 2 position in Operations.
From June 2002 to June 2004 the CIA reportedly rendered 28 persons and waterboarded KSM.
Kappes was named the successor of Jim Pavitt on June 4 2004. This would make him no. 1 in Operations. Between June 2004 [btw August 2004 was when Kappes officially took over] and November 2004, when Kappes left the CIA, the CIA rendered 2 persons.
I will add more later.

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