ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s highest court on Wednesday upheld guilty verdicts on 23 Americans for the kidnapping of an Egyptian Muslim cleric, in the first criminal convictions for CIA “rendition” flights during the U.S. ‘war on terror’.
The Americans – 22 CIA agents and one Air Force pilot – who are believed to be in the United States and were tried in their absence – are unlikely to serve their sentences. But they will be unable to travel to Europe without risking arrest.
Italy has never requested their extradition.
All of the Americans were sentenced to 7 years jail by a lower court except former CIA Milan station chief Robert Seldon Lady, who was handed a nine-year sentence.
Italy’s highest appeals court, or Court of Cassation, also said five senior Italian secret service agents could be tried for the abduction, overturning a previous ruling barring a trial on the grounds it would reveal state secrets.
The five are the former head of Italy’s Sismi military intelligence agency Nicolo Pollari, who resigned over the affair, his deputy and three others.
Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, an Egyptian imam known as Abu Omar, was snatched from a Milan street in 2003 and flown to Egypt for interrogation, where he says he was tortured for seven months. He was resident in Italy at the time of the abduction.
The Italian trial was the first of its kind against the “rendition” flights practiced by the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush, which have been condemned by human rights groups as a violation of international agreements.
Under the rendition programme, the CIA is alleged to have abducted terrorism suspects and flown them to countries where they could be tortured, a practice banned under international law.
(Reporting by Naomi O’Leary; editing by Barry Moody)