11-06-2009, 12:04 AM
Italian court convicts 23 Americans in CIA rendition caseReply
MILAN -- An Italian court on Wednesday convicted 22 CIA operatives and a U.S. Air Force colonel of orchestrating the kidnapping of a Muslim cleric in Milan in 2003 and flying him to Egypt, where he said he was later tortured.
The judge in the case, Oscar Magi, said three other Americans, including the former Rome station chief for the CIA, were covered by diplomatic immunity.
The Americans were all tried in absentia. A Milan prosecutor said his office would seek to have them extradited from the United States, but a formal decision will be made later by the Italian Justice Ministry.
The case is the only instance in which CIA operatives have faced a criminal trial for the controversial tactic of extraordinary rendition, under which terrorism suspects are seized in one country and forcibly transported to another without judicial oversight. A similar case involving a German citizen kidnapped in the Balkans has resulted in arrest warrants and a civil lawsuit but has not gone to trial.
Prosecutors said the Americans snatched Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, a radical Egyptian imam also known as Abu Omar, from a Milan intersection in broad daylight. They said he was flown to Cairo, where he was subject to electroshocks and physical abuse at the behest of the CIA.
Among the Americans charged in the case were Jeffrey Castelli, the former CIA station chief in Rome who allegedly oversaw the plot, and Robert Seldon Lady, the spy agency's chief in Milan, who was accused of orchestrating the kidnapping. Prosecutors sought a 13-year prison term for Castelli and a 12-year sentence for Lady.
Armando Spataro, the deputy public prosecutor in Milan, said in his closing argument Wednesday that it was "unthinkable" that the U.S. policy of extraordinary rendition should trump Italian law, which forbids kidnapping.
"Here, Italian law rules, not American law or any other law," he said.
Spataro also rejected arguments by defense lawyers that at least some of the U.S. defendants should be protected by diplomatic immunity because they were based at the U.S. consulate in Milan and the U.S. embassy in Rome.
According to a witness and Italian investigators, Nasr was grabbed as he was walking to a Milan mosque and stuffed into a van, which rushed him to Aviano Air Base, a joint U.S.-Italian military installation. Prosecutors said he was transferred to another U.S. military base in Germany before being flown to Cairo.
Nasr was freed by Egyptian authorities after his case received publicity in Italy, but he has been unable to attend the trial in Milan or leave Egypt. He has filed a civil suit seeking $14 million in damages.
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