Rights court slams Italy in cleric's CIA-led abduction

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Posted: Feb 23, 2016 10:59 AM
Rights court slams Italy in cleric's CIA-led abduction

ROME (AP) — The Italian government abused state secrecy to provide impunity in the abduction of an Egyptian cleric, who was spirited out of Italy for interrogation and torture in his homeland under the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Tuesday.

The court ordered Italy to pay 70,000 euros ($78,000) in compensation to Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, and 15,000 euros ($16,500) to his wife. The court concluded Italian authorities "were aware that Abu Omar was a victim of the extraordinary rendition operation" involving his 2003 kidnapping on a Milan street.

Based in Strasbourg, France, the court said Italy violated the cleric's rights not to be mistreated and tortured.

The extraordinary rendition program was part of the anti-terrorism strategy of the U.S. administration following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Years later, U.S. President Barack Obama ended the program.

Nasr was first taken to U.S. air bases in Italy and Germany. Then he was flown aboard a military aircraft to Egypt, where he underwent interrogation sessions "during which he was ill-treated and tortured" by Egyptian intelligence services, the court noted.

The cleric was eventually released in 2007 although prohibited from leaving Egypt, the ruling noted.

Tuesday's ruling also noted that Italy's justice ministry never pursued extradition of 26 Americans convicted in absentia in the case. And it cited the quashing, by Italy's top criminal court, of the convictions of five Italian military intelligence agents on grounds of state secrecy. The court said that "the legitimate principle of state secrecy had clearly been applied in order to ensure that those responsible did not have to answer for their actions."

"Accordingly, the investigation and trial had not led to the punishment of those responsible, who had ultimately been granted impunity," the ruling said.

The cleric's lawyer, Carmelo Scambia, expressed bitterness at the low level of damages, but welcomed that the court affirmed "certain principles."

The prosecutor in the Italian trials, Armando Spataro, voiced satisfaction "because the ruling confirms that democracies cannot use, not even against terrorism, instruments that are outside the law."

The Italian government has three months to request further examination of the case. It didn't immediately indicate if it would do so.

Last year, in an act of clemency, Italy's president shaved two years off the nine-year sentence of a former CIA base chief who was among those convicted in absentia in the case. In 2013, an earlier Italian president pardoned a U.S. Air Force colonel, the only military defendant in the case, citing the unprecedented aspect of convicting of U.S. military officer of NATO for deeds committed on Italian soil.

Tuesday's decision noted that the cleric had been granted political asylum by Italy in 2001, and that in 2013, he was convicted in absentia by a Milan court of membership in a terrorist organization.

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Colleen Barry contributed from Milan