November 4, 2009
An Italian judge has convicted 23 Americans – all but one of them CIA agents – and two Italian secret agents for the 2003 kidnap of a Muslim cleric.
The agents were accused of abducting Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar, from Milan and sending him to Egypt, where he was allegedly tortured.
The trial, which began in June 2007, is the first involving the CIA’s so-called “extraordinary rendition” programme.
Three Americans and five Italians were acquitted by the court in Milan.
The Americans were all tried in their absence as they have not been extradited from the US to Italy.
The CIA’s Milan station chief at the time, Robert Lady, was given an eight-year term, while the other 22 Americans convicted – one of them a US air force colonel – were sentenced to five years in prison.
Lawyers for the 23 Americans said they would appeal against their convictions.
The two Italian agents, who were convicted as accomplices to kidnapping, were given three-year prison terms.
The court also ruled that those convicted must pay 1m euros ($1.5m) in damages to Abu Omar and 500,000 euros to his wife.
CIA spokesman George Little in Washington declined to comment on the convictions, telling the Associated Press news agency: “The CIA has not commented on any of the allegations surrounding Abu Omar.”
Italian prosecutors said Abu Omar was taken as part of a series of extraordinary renditions carried out by the CIA – when terror suspects were moved between countries without any public legal process.
They told the court he had been kidnapped in daylight on a Milan street in February 2003 and flown to Germany, and then Cairo, where he was held for years until being released without charge.
Judge Oscar Magi acquitted the CIA chief for Rome, Jeffrey Castelli, saying he was protected by state secrecy rules, as were the former head of Italy’s military intelligence agency, Nicolo Pollari, and his deputy, Marco Mancini.
Mr Pollari, who resigned over the affair, told the court earlier this year that documents showing he had no involvement in the kidnapping were classified under secrecy laws.
Prosecutor Armando Spataro rejected the argument that legal provisions could shield those accused from prosecution, saying any agreement to carry out a kidnapping was “absolutely against Italian law”.
He had sought a 13-year jail term for Mr Castelli and Mr Pollari and 12 years for Robert Lady.
Activist group Human Rights Watch welcomed the verdict, saying it sent “a strong signal of the crimes committed by the CIA in Europe”.
Spokeswoman Joanne Mariner said: “For us, this first case puts the war on terror on trial.”