Italian Judge Convicts 23 CIA Officers for Kidnapping
- Italian Judge Convicts 23 CIA Officers for Kidnapping
Italian Officials Complicit in 2003 'Rendition' of Cleric
by Jason Ditz, November 04, 2009
Completing one of Europe's most high profile terror related trials, an Italian judge today convicted 23 Americans, 22 of them confirmed by the prosecutor as CIA agents, to sentences of between five and eight years in prison related to the 2003 kidnapping of a cleric from the streets of Milan.
Fugitive Renditioner Robert Seldon LadyThe longest sentence went to Robert Lady, America's former Milan CIA chief. All the Americans were tried in absentia and are now considered fugitives from justice by the Italian government. The CIA declined comment.
The incident, dubbed the "imam rapito affair" by the Italian press, involves the abduction of Milan's imam, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, an Egyptian cleric who was in Italy on an asylum passport. The CIA agents kidnapped Nasr off the streets of Milan and shipped him to Egypt.
Once in Egypt, Nasr spent the next several years in and out of prison, where he was tortured repeatedly. An Egyptian judge finally ordered his release in 2007. His only charge during the whole time was membership in a banned organization, though even this was eventually dropped.
Lady has insisted he was acting on the orders of his superiors with respect to the "rendition." Two Italian officials were also convicted today as accomplices to kidnapping, though the Italian government's declaration of "state secrecy" prevented more serious charges and pointed to official complicity in the incident.
CIA agents guilty of Italy kidnap
Wednesday, 4 November 2009
Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr was snatched from a street in Milan
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.
The Obama administration has expressed its disappointment at the convictions.
"We are disappointed by the verdicts," state department spokesman Ian Kelly said in Washington.
He declined to comment further pending a written opinion from the judge, but said an appeal was likely.
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.
For us, this first case puts the war on terror on trial
Human Rights Watch spokeswoman
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.
Judge Oscar Magi acquitted some of the highest-ranking defendants
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."
Italian court finds CIA agents guilty of kidnapping terrorism suspect
John Hooper in Rome
Wednesday 4 November 2009
Italian court convicts Robert Lady and 23 others in absentia
First prosecution for US abduction of suspects to torture states
A mid-1990s passport photo of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, who was abducted by the CIA from Milan. Photograph: Marsela Glina/Chicago Tribune/AP
Twenty-three Americans were tonight convicted of kidnapping by an Italian court at the end of the first trial anywhere in the world involving the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" programme for abducting terrorist suspects.
The former head of the CIA in Milan Robert Lady was given an eight-year jail sentence for his part in the seizure of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, known as Abu Omar, who claimed that he was subsequently tortured in Egypt. Lady's superior, Jeff Castelli, the then head of the CIA in Italy, and two other Americans were acquitted on the grounds that they enjoyed diplomatic immunity.
But another 21 alleged CIA operatives and a US air force officer were each sentenced to five years in jail. All were tried in absentia and those who were convicted will be regarded as fugitives under Italian law.
Extraordinary rendition, which has been criticised as "torture by proxy', involves the snatching of suspects and their forcible transfer for interrogation to third countries often those states where torture is routinely employed.
The judge ruled that neither the former head of Italy's military intelligence service Nicolo Pollari nor his deputy could be convicted because the evidence against them was subject to official secrecy restrictions. But two other Italian intelligence officials were each given three-year prison terms.
Successive Italian governments refused or ignored prosecutors' extradition requests to the US for the 26 Americans. All the defendants, apart from two, had lawyers appointed by the court who had no contact with their clients.
Estimates put the number of suspects subjected to extraordinary renditions at just over 100 to thousands. A European parliament-approved report in 2007 concluded that the CIA had operated more than 1,000 rendition flights over Europe alone in the previous six years. The practice was first authorised in 1986 by the then US president, Ronald Reagan, and developed in the 1990s under the Clinton administration as a way of tackling Islamism. Its use is thought to have been extended after George Bush Jr declared his "war on terror" following the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
Some suspects are alleged to have been transferred to "black sites", secret prisons operated by the CIA outside US legal jurisdiction.
According to testimony of witnesses, Omar was bundled into a van after being stopped, apparently by Italian police, on a Milan street in February 2003. The prosecution said that he was driven to the US airbase at Aviano, near Venice, and then transferred to another American military facility, at Ramstein in Germany. He was allegedly flown from there to Egypt.
Four years later he was released without charge. He said he had been reduced to a "human wreck" by torture he had undergone in a Cairo jail.
The prosecution alleged that the Americans enjoyed co-operation from the Italian authorities. The head of the government when Omar was kidnapped was Silvio Berlusconi, who was voted back into office last year.
More than two years after the trial opened, the judge, Oscar Magi, heard final submissions from the prosecution and defence before retiring to consider his verdict. He told the court: "This was not an easy trial and the mere fact of its having been held is a significant event."
The CIA has declined to comment on the case. Successive Italian governments have denied involvement.
To build their case, the prosecutors ordered police to tap operatives' telephones and seize documents from intelligence service archives. Earlier this year, Italy's constitutional court dealt the prosecution a heavy blow when it ruled that much of the evidence it had gathered was protected by under Italy's official secrecy laws and could not therefore be used in court. Magi ruled that the trial should continue regardless.
In a reference to the two senior Italian intelligence officials, the lead prosecutor, Armando Spataro, told the court today that the defendants included those who "by kidnapping Abu Omar compromised, rather than safeguarded, national security".
Before he was abducted Italian investigators had been tapping the Muslim cleric's phone calls over alleged links with Islamists. The prosecution contended that his seizure not only violated Italian sovereignty but also aborted an important anti-terrorist investigation.
The judge awarded him 1m (£900,000) and his wife 500,000 in damages.
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