Rendition Trial Puts U.S. On Hot Seat

CIA Agents charged with kidnapping in Milan. Richard Roth
CBS
In Italy tonight, the president's visit isn't just facing more European protest. The administration's "war on terror" has also become the target of criminal prosecution.

In Milan, a trial opened against 26 Americans accused of working for the CIA. None of the Americans showed up, but in a courtroom lined with empty cages, they're charged with kidnapping a Muslim cleric on a street near his mosque in Milan and secretly flying him to Egypt, CBS News correspondent Richard Roth.

Abu Omar spent four years in jail there, tortured, he says, as a suspected terrorist.

"I think that this trial is excruciatingly embarrassing for the United States, but let's face it, the real issue is that the process of illegal renditions or kidnappings, effectively, has been a complete catastrophe for the United States," said Clive Stafford Smith, a civil rights lawyer.

President Bush acknowledged last year that some terror suspects had been held in secret prisons run by the CIA, but he didn't say where.

Now a report for Europe's human rights agency has named Romania and Poland as places where CIA prisoners were subjected to what amounted to torture. Both countries deny it.

But full of detail – pinpointing this airport in Eastern Romania, for instance, as one staging point for the secret operation – the report says complicity with the United States has put Europe in a "moral quagmire."

"In Europe, now we're seeing criminal prosecutions that are based on the accepted view that this system is not just illegal, it's criminal," said international lawyer Scott Horton.

That includes Germany, where arrest warrants are out for thirteen suspected CIA agents accused of kidnapping Khaled el-Masri. He's a German citizen who says he was blindfolded, drugged, and flown to Afghanistan three years ago — then released, with the explanation his abduction had been a mistake.