Italy appeals trial of CIA kidnapping case begins

AP News
Posted: Oct 12, 2010 1:09 PM
Italy appeals trial of CIA kidnapping case begins

The appeals trial in the CIA-led kidnapping of an Egyptian terrorism suspect from the streets of Milan opened Tuesday with the prosecution seeking to incriminate Italian secret service agents acquitted in the initial trial.

Twenty-three Americans and two Italians were convicted in November in the 2003 kidnapping of the Egyptian cleric _ the first legal convictions anywhere in the world involving the CIA's extraordinary renditions program.

But the judge at that time also acquitted three American diplomats, citing diplomatic immunity, along with five Italian secret service agents, including the former chief, citing state secrecy.

In Tuesday's opening session, the prosecution asked the court to reintroduce incriminating statements by several of the Italian agents that were later thrown out after a higher court ruled they were protected under state secrecy.

The court reserved its decision until the next session Monday.

As allowed in the Italian system, both the prosecution and defense attorneys are appealing the verdict.

In explaining his verdict in February, Judge Oscar Magi was direct in his criticism of the use of state secrecy, saying it created "a logical and judicial paradox" when it came to evaluating the potential roles of Italian military intelligence in the kidnapping of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, on Feb. 17, 2003, from a Milan street.

The judge said the fact that the CIA ran the operation on Italian soil "allows the presumption" that Italian secret services were at least aware or "maybe even complicit."

Former Milan CIA station chief Robert Seldon Lady received the top sentence of eight years in prison. The other 22 convicted American defendants, including former Milan consular official Sabrina De Sousa and U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Joseph Romano, each received a five-year sentence. Two Italians got three years each as accessories for their role in trying to derail the prosecutors' investigation.

After being kidnapped in Milan, Nasr was transferred to bases in Aviano, Italy, and Germany. He was then moved to Egypt, where he says he was tortured. He has since been released, but was not been permitted to leave Egypt.

Romano's lawyer renewed his request made during the trial that his client be tried by an American court, saying Italian judicial authorities did not have jurisdiction over Aviano base under the NATO agreement.

The defense for the former head of military Intelligence Nicolo Pollari also requested that Premier Silvio Berlusconi and former Premier Romano Prodi, along with their respective defense ministers, be called to testify, arguing they could prove his innocence.

The convicted Americans, who were tried in absentia, cannot travel to Europe without risking arrest as long as the verdicts remain in place.