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How the CIA Went off the Rails on Torture and Kidnapping, and No One Is Responsible

Former CIA counsel John Rizzo's book, 'Company Man' reveals an astonishing capacity for denial.

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In Italy, a court in Milan convicts 26 CIA agents and persons working with them for kidnapping, over their “snatch” operation targeting an Egyptian cleric who was already the subject of an Italian criminal justice probe. Their prisoner was whisked away, using a U.S. Air Force Base, to Egypt, where he was tortured through a CIA proxy-detention program. The convictions are sustained on appeal, even as the U.S. attempts to protect the CIA’s station chief in Rome with a claim of diplomatic immunity.

In Poland, criminal probes continue to identify CIA agents who set up a black site at a villa in Stare Kiejkuty, in the lake district three hours north of Warsaw, a CIA outpost that Rizzo once visited. Arrest warrants are issued for the CIA personnel involved, criminal charges are opened against their Polish collaborators.

Across the frontier, in Lithuania, another CIA black site is exposed and investigated by civil-rights activists. In February a court in Vilnius issued a mandate to the prosecutors to open a criminal probe of torture that may have occurred in that black site.

In Strasbourg, Europe’s highest court found an innocent German greengrocer had been abducted and tortured by the CIA in Macedonia in a case of mistaken identity. The court cited and chided the Macedonian authorities for failing to open a criminal probe and pursue the perpetrators — now high-ranking CIA officials, including the head of the agency’s counterterrorism center.

The prosecutors in all these cases, and in other cases pending in Spain, the U.K. and Australia, trade notes tracking the CIA personnel involved, their pseudonyms, their use of credit cards, frequent-flyer accounts and other data in the expectation of some day making arrests. This leaves the agency personnel unable to leave the United States, facing potentially heavy jail terms — and all at the hands of core U.S. allies who enthusiastically supported the war on terror and previously worked closely with the CIA.

All of these developments flow from John Rizzo’s legal advice at the CIA, but you will strain to find the most fleeting mention of them in his book. If this book does give us a glimpse into the mind of the CIA lawyer, what it reveals is a capacity for self-denial and willingness to ignore inconvenient truths that indeed define John Rizzo as a “company man.”

Scott Horton is a fellow at The Nation Institute and a contributing editor at Harper’s.