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CIA imam snatch convictions upheld, extraditions sought

Cassation Court upholds 23 sentences

19 September, 19:33
CIA imam snatch convictions upheld, extraditions sought (ANSA) - Rome, September 19 - Italy's top court of appeals on Thursday upheld the convictions of 22 CIA agents and a retired US air force officer found guilty of abducting Muslim cleric Hassan Mustafa Omar Nasr from Milan in 2003. The Court of Cassation confirmed the seven-year sentences for 22 of them and a nine-year term for former Milan station chief Robert Seldon Lady.

The justice ministry said Italy will ask for extraditions.

Italy's top two former military intelligence officers, former SISMI (now AISE) chief Nicolo' Pollari and his ex-No.2 Marco Mancini, must be retried in the Milan Court of Appeals, the supreme court ordered.

The two have repeatedly been acquitted on appeal in the past because of the state-secrecy injunction.

Lower-ranking ex-Sismi officers Pio Pompa and Luciano Seno, had their sentences of two years and eight months confirmed. Nasr, an Islamist wanted in Italy on suspicion of recruiting jihadi fighters, disappeared from a Milan street on February 17, 2003 and emerged from an Egyptian prison four years later claiming he had been tortured.

The cleric, who is also known as Abu Omar, did not attend the trial.

Prosecutors said he was snatched by a team of CIA operatives with SISMI's help and taken to a NATO base in Ramstein, Germany, en route to Cairo.

In the closely watched case, the world's first judicial examination of the controversial United States practice of extraordinary rendition, the agents' terms were lengthened from 5-8 years to 7-9 years in December 2010. The prosecution had sought convictions ranging from eight to 12 years for the 23.

But the CIA's former Italy chief, Jeff Castelli, was excluded from the proceedings at the last minute on a technicality along with two other operatives, Betnie Medero and Ralph Russomando.

For the three, acquitted at the first trial in November 2009 on the grounds of diplomatic immunity, the appeals process started from scratch.

The prosecutor in the trial had requested a 12-year sentence for Castelli and eight years for the other two.

The court also ordered the 22 CIA officers and the retired colonel to pay one million euros in damages to Nasr and 500,000 euros to his wife.

The prosecutor had sought 12 years for Pollari and 10 for Mancini. None of the CIA operatives have ever appeared in court here.

US-ITALIAN FRICTION.

The case had caused friction between Italy and the United States, which voiced its "disappointment" with the 2010 verdict.

Former Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said he sympathised with US concerns, noting that the judiciary in Italy was independent but despite this, the Italian government had obtained the secrecy injunction.

Some of the agents had said they were worried they would become international fugitives but Frattini said he "didn't think they would go to jail".

Extraordinary rendition was first authorised by former American president Bill Clinton in the 1990s and stepped up when his successor George W. Bush declared war on terror after the September 11, 2001 attacks by Al-Qaeda.

Successive Italian governments denied all knowledge of the case and consistently ruled out the possibility of extradition.

During the trials the CIA had refused to comment and its officers were silent until Lady, the ex-Milan chief, told an Italian daily in August 2009 that he was only following orders.

Lady, who has now retired, said from an undisclosed location that he was "a soldier...in a war against terrorism".

The trial of Nasr claimed headlines worldwide and stoked discussion of rendition, which was extended by President Barack Obama in 2008 under the proviso that detainees' rights should be respected.

The Council of Europe, a 47-nation human rights body, called Nasr's case a "perfect example of rendition".

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