The One Story No One Will Talk About

616810 The silence is deafening.

No one at the White House or the State Department will say anything on-the-record and of substance about Italy's indictment and plan to put on trial 26 Americans, all but one of them said to be CIA agents.

They are charged in the alleged kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric four years ago. It was believed to be part of the CIA program of "rendition," in which suspected terrorists are secretly and without judicial warrant spirited out of one country and taken to another for interrogation. A lawyer for the cleric said he was held in Egypt for four years and tortured.

You might think the U.S. Government would want deny or condemn the charges against the Americans. But we've heard not a word of that.

At the White House today, I asked spokesman Tony Snow if there's anything substantive he can say about the indictments in Italy.

"Not that I can share at this point," he said matter-of-factly.

He admitted he would not address the issue.

"To be honest with you, I'm tap-dancing, Mark." He referred me to the State Department.

On the day of the indictments last Friday, State Department spokesman Tom Casey admitted he didn't have much to say on the matter. He referred reporters to the Justice Department which isn't talking either.

Italy's Government must now decide whether to ask the U.S. to extradite those charged in the alleged kidnapping. And it appears, the Justice Ministry there isn't anxious to pursue this case.

Justice Minister Clement Mastella is quoted as saying he may not seek extradition of the Americans in order to safeguard Italy's friendship with the U.S.

The practice of "rendition" has stirred up a hornets nest of resentment among some officials in Europe. In fact, a report from the European Union has condemned the practice and accused some governments in Europe, including Italy, of secretly cooperating with the U.S. practice or turning a blind eye to it.

Back in April of '05, I raised the issue of "rendition" at a news conference with President Bush.

"We operate within the law and we send people to countries where they say they're not going to torture the people," he said.

But he also seemed to be defending the practice of grabbing suspected terrorists for interrogation.

"But you bet, when we find somebody who might do harm to the American people, we will detain them and ask others from their country of origin to detain them. It makes sense. The American people expect us to do that. We (are) still at war."

He portrayed "rendition" as a method of self-defense.

"...I just can't let the American people -- I'm not going to let them down by assuming that the enemy is not going to hit us again," he said. "We're going to do everything we can to protect us. And we've got guidelines. We've got law. But you bet, Mark, we're going to find people before they harm us."

That's the most anyone in the U.S. Government has said about the matter.
  • Mark Knoller On Twitter»

    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.

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