Alert readers may remember the case of Khaled al-Masri, a German citizen who claimed, back in December 2005, that he had been kidnapped in the Balkans by the CIA and held in isolation for five months before being released, in what was apparently a case of mistaken identity.

The Americans have continued to play down these stories of “extraordinary rendition” – the practice of outsourcing interrogation and torture of terrorism suspects by means of clandestine intelligence operations.

Australian Mamdouh Habib (now running for the New South Wales parliament) is another who claims to be a victim of it.

Europe has been taking it more seriously. Last week, a committee of the European parliament approved a report accusing several EU member states of complicity in human rights violations. And a court in Milan is considering ordering the arrest of a number of CIA agents over the alleged kidnapping of an Egyptian, Osama Mustafa Hassan, on Italian soil in 2003.

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Now German prosecutors have issued arrest warrants for 11 men and two women, believed to be CIA agents, in connection with al-Masri’s kidnapping. No names were officially released, and prosecutor Christian Schmidt-Sommerfeld said that “Further investigation will, among other things, concentrate on trying to determine the clear identities of the suspects” – apparently they only have aliases at present.

It is an interesting comment on the state of US-German relations, otherwise reported to be unusually good, with chancellor Angela Merkel seen as much more sympathetic to the Bush administration than her predecessor. Last month The New Republic gushed that Bush and Merkel “both speak the same language of global vision and liberal capitalist values.”

But how close can two countries really be if one is prosecuting agents of the other for kidnapping its citizens? And how will Germans respond if Merkel is unable to defend her country’s interests on such a basic point?