U.S. Embassy in Rome Declared Amanda Knox Matter “Case Closed” in 2011
NEWLY RELEASED EMBASSY CABLES SHED LIGHT ON STATE DEPT HANDLING OF AMANDA KNOX CASE
By Andrea Vogt
FEBRUARY 13 1 p.m. GMT
Newly released state department documents show the U.S. Embassy in Rome declared the Amanda Knox matter “Case Closed” in a cable to Washington just days after the American’s clamorous 2011 acquittal. The memo reveals wishful thinking on the part of some U.S. diplomats, who were only too eager to see the thorny case come to a clean close.
Embassy cables and government documents are not nearly as sexy as the glamorous clickbait of fiancès and fashion, but it is easy to forget this an ongoing international murder case still moving through the courts . . . and leaving a hefty paper trail behind in the U.S. and Italy as it slogs along.
This week, instead of biting into that juicy, tabloid peach and writing about Amanda Knox’s Valentine’s Day engagement plans, I’m instead publishing a new batch of public documents on the case, the fruit of tedious filings of Freedom of Information Act Requests over the course of several years.
For those willing to go to the trouble of finding them, there actually are many public documents available in Italy and the U.S. government databases on the Amanda Knox case. I have tried to link to some of those in this post. Of the 16 more recent U.S. records that my requests triggered, only 5 were released, and only 1 fully and without excisions. Those are published at the bottom of this post.
A bit of background for those reading for the first time: In the seven years that have passed since I began covering the murder of Briton Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy, and the subsequent arrest and conviction of American Amanda Knox, I have independently filed several Freedom of Information Act requests in an effort to clarify the role of embassy and state department officials (and those working on their behalf) in the prickly case. Many may view the cables as just routine bureacracy, which in large part they are, but I believe they are important documents to add to the public record for two reasons. First, they show insight into how American citizens in trouble abroad are supported (or not, depending on your viewpoint) by their government. Second, they contribute transparently to the established written government record, clarifying diplomatic aspects of the case that until now have remained hidden while the saga played out solely in Italian courtrooms and the media. The results of this second batch of FOIA requests were of particular importance due to the grave accusations being launched against the Italian police and members of its judiciary by members of Knox’s family, supporters and public relations team during the period of her incarceration. The question at hand: was Amanda Knox abused, mistreated or robbed of a fair trail in Italy? How closely was the state department monitoring the case and what did embassy officials do, or not do, as it evolved? The answer, first revealed in this first batch of embassy cables released to me in 2012 and dating back from 2007-2009, is that embassy and state department personnel actively monitored the case and provided aid from the very first days after her arrest. Other state and federal documents that I published back in 2010 (story available here) show how Washington State’s congressional delegation, namely Sen. Maria Cantwell, was also involved. This second batch of FOIA-requested embassy cables was released to me in late 2014 in response to another more extensive FOIA request made in 2012 (a two-year lag time is not ununsual for broad requests). I have redacted the cables to delete my own details and the names of state department reviewers, but all the blank boxes are state department excisions.
In brief, these new cables shows that the trend of close state department monitoring of the case was constant, with consular involvement up until the day (Oct 11, 2011) that the U.S. Ambassador Thorne in Rome sent a cable to the secretary of state in Washington D.C., officially declaring the matter “case closed.”
The communications are noteworthy because they bust a number of media myths about Amanda Knox’s release and immediate departure from Italy after her release in 2011, namely that the U.S. embassy did not receive her in the hours immediately post release for consular services, as she was traveling on a valid U.S. passport.
The other interesting point is that though the case was far from over in Italy, once Amanda Knox was off Italian soil, it no longer considered the case to be of interest. “With the verdict of Oct. 3 overturning Amanda Knox’s prior conviction, her immediate release from prison and her subsequent departure from Italy today, Post considers this case closed. THORNE.”
For American citizens abroad, it is a welcome reminder that the embassy works on citizens’ behalf, as are the four documents released with excisions that show Knox was regularly visited by consular officials every six weeks and brought reading materials. *It is worth noting that the only persons to publicly report to have regularly visited Knox in prison to bring her reading materials were those associated with the Fondazione Italia USA, namely Italian parliamentarian Rocco Girlanda and Corrado Maria Daclon, the two men also present with her in the car that drove Knox out of prison the night she was acquitted. Coincidence or are these the consular visits the cables refer to?
As soon as Knox was out of the country, the embassy declared “case closed,” perhaps not expecting that her trials would continue. Those who have followed the case know that the acquittal that prompted her release was later annulled in its entirety by Italy’s Supreme Court, which called for a second appeal trial to be held in a separate venue:Florence. That trial in 2014 upheld Knox’s conviction. In March of this year, the Supreme Court is due to give its final ruling on the case. It can either uphold conviction, or overturn the appeal and call for new trials or additional legal proceedings.
For the British and Italian authorities, and family members of Meredith Kercher who have patiently waited out the Italian legal system, perhaps the “case closed” cable jumped the gun. Once an American citizen is out of the country where he or she is in trouble, what duty does the embassy have to keep following legal developments that involve an American not physically in the country? Did the embassy re-open the case later once the Supreme Court quashed the acquittal or is it “out of sight, out of mind,” and once an American in trouble abroad is no longer abroad, the embassy in that country can effectively wash its hands of the matter? Is it still considered “Case Closed”? As the possibility of an extradition process hangs in the balance with the upcoming March 25 supreme court decision, the documents may provide some additional material for legal scholars to consider.
As the State Department letter points out, there are still 11 documents that fall under the umbrella of my initial FOIA request that have not been released that require further coordination. Based on the content of my 2012 request, I believe these may be documents relating to then Sen. John Kerry and the U.S. Committee on Foreign Relations, of which he was chairman from 2009-2013, and to which specific FOIA requests were made, and for which I have not yet received response.
I have scanned and uploaded the 2-page FOIA response and 5 released cables (Oct 2011, June 2011, March 2011, November 2010, September 2010) below: