Italian court convicts 23 Americans of kidnapping in CIA rendition case

From Raw Story:

Twenty three Americans have been convicted in absentia, after an Italian court found them guilty of kidnapping in the CIA rendition of a Muslim cleric, the Associated Press reports. Three other Americans were acquitted.

The New York Times reported earlier today, “Italian prosecutors have charged the American officials, all but one of them alleged to be agents of the Central Intelligence Agency, and seven members of the Italian military intelligence agency, in the abduction of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, known as Abu Omar, on Feb. 17, 2003. Prosecutors say the cleric was snatched in broad daylight, flown from an American air base in Italy to a base in Germany and then on to Egypt, where he claims he was tortured.”

According to the Times, “The Italian counterterrorism prosecutor Armando Spataro is seeking 13-year jail terms for Jeff Castelli, a former C.I.A. station chief in Rome, and Nicolò Pollari, a former head of Italian military intelligence, for their suspected roles in the abduction. He is seeking 12-year terms for Robert Seldon Lady, who as C.I.A. station chief in Milan is accused of having coordinated the operation, and Sabrina De Souza, who worked in the United States Embassy in Rome and is accused of having worked closely with Mr. Lady.”

Charges against Pollari and his deputy, as well as three other Italian defendants, were dropped “because Italy withheld evidence, contending it was classified information.” Pollari is also known as the Italian official who first brought to the attention of the White House claims that Saddam Hussein had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger.

Lady, a veteran of covert CIA operations in Latin America during Iran-Contra, was given the longest sentence, but his whereabouts are currently unknown. Lady said of the kidnapping in an interview last spring, “Of course it was an illegal operation. But that’s our job.” He also claimed, “”I am not guilty. I am only responsible for following an order I received from my superiors.”

The Times notes that the case, which has been going on for three years, is the first to challenge the legality of the practice of “extraordinary rendition” and is “widely seen as a referendum on Bush administration foreign policy.” The government of Premier Silvio Berlusconi, however, has refused to seek extradition of any of the Americans, making it questionable whether the guilty verdicts can be enforced.

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