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Italian court convicts CIA agents in absentia

Today, an Italian court convicted 23 U.S. citizens, 22 of them acknowledged as CIA agents, for the daylight abduction and "extraordinary rendition" of cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, better known as Abu Omar.

The CIA snatched Abu Omar off of a street in Milan in 2002, sending him to the U.S. base in Ramstein, Germany, and then to Egypt, where he was allegedly tortured.

Adam Serwer at the American Prospect asks: "This case has always puzzled me -- Italy is an ally. Why was extraordinary rendition necessary? Such methods are usually reserved for apprehending individuals in countries that are not friendly to the United States precisely because those countries won't cooperate."

It's a good question, with a somewhat queasy answer: the CIA did it, I presume, because it was the most efficient way to do it, and, at the time, the CIA operated in extralegal channels with impunity. (The case that always confused me most was that of Ahmed Agiza -- human-rights respecting U.S. ally Sweden actually participated in that one.)

And it seems the Italian court is ensuring the CIA knows there's no impunity now, even if the only real effect is that former Milan station chief Robert Lady needs to cancel his European vacations. 

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The Streisand effect and the Afghan election

Writing for Eurasianet, Aunohita Mojumda makes the case that Abdullah Abdullah is the real winner in the Afghan election debacle:

Heading into the August 20 election, Abdullah, an ethnic Tajik, stood virtually no chance of winning the election -- whether outright in the first round, or in a run-off -- because of his inability to muster a united opposition. Given his previous political roles, most notably as Karzai’s foreign minister until 2006, Abdullah lacked a strong and cohesive political base to support his candidacy. Even the ethnic-Tajik opposition failed to unite around him. A key Northern Alliance ally, Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, campaigned for Karzai.

Nevertheless, Abdullah emerged as the man of the moment. His skillful campaigning caused his popularity to surge, said Mir. "He had lost touch with the ordinary people as foreign minister. Now he has emerged as a national leader," the political analyst said.

Ironically, Abdullah’s prestige is now probably higher following the first-round vote-rigging scandal than it would have been had August 20 balloting been deemed largely free and fair.

This could be seen as the electoral equivalent of the "Streisand Effect," an Internet phenomenon often invoked by my colleague Evgeny Morozov in which attempts to censor information give it more publicity and impact than it would have had on its own. By attempting to rig the vote, Afghan authorities turned a not-particularly-credible Afghan politician into a credible international public figure.

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