Italian judge convicts 23 in CIA kidnap case - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Italian judge convicts 23 in CIA kidnap case

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Prosecutor Armando Spataro speaks in a Milan court, Italy, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009.  (AP Photo/Luca Bruno) Prosecutor Armando Spataro speaks in a Milan court, Italy, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
MILAN (AP) - An Italian judge says he has convicted 23 Americans of the 2003 kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric from a Milan street in a CIA extraordinary rendition.

Citing diplomatic immunity, Judge Oscar Magi told the Milan courtroom Wednesday that he was acquitting three other Americans.

Twenty-two of the convicted Americans were immediately sentenced to five years in jail at the end of the nearly three-year trial. The other convicted American, Milan CIA station chief Robert Seldon Lady, was given the stiffest sentence, eight years in prison.

All of the Americans were tried in absentia.

Magi said he was acquitting five Italian defendants because Italy withheld evidence, contending it was classified information.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

MILAN (AP) - An Italian judge on Wednesday began deliberating the fate of 26 Americans and seven Italians charged with kidnapping an Egyptian terror suspect in 2003, as the first trial in the world involving the CIA's extraordinary rendition program drew to a close.

After nearly three years of hearings, Judge Oscar Magi heard the last rebuttals before beginning deliberations. A verdict - expected later Wednesday - will be the first legal appraisal of the CIA's program to abduct suspected terror suspects and transfer them to third countries for interrogation.

The American suspects - all but one identified by prosecutors as CIA agents - are being tried in absentia and are considered fugitives. Their lawyers, most of whom have had no contact with their clients, have entered innocent pleas on their behalf and argued for their acquittals...

The Americans are accused of kidnapping Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, on Feb. 17, 2003, from a street in Milan, then transferring him by van to the Aviano Air Base in northern Italy, where he was put on a plane and taken to Ramstein Air Base in southern Germany. He was then moved to Egypt, where he says he was tortured. He has since been released, but has not been permitted to leave Egypt to attend the trial.

The trial is the first by any government to scrutinize the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, which human rights advocates charge was the CIA's way to outsource the torture of prisoners to countries where it is practiced.

The Milan proceedings have been a sore spot in relations between the United States and Italy. The CIA has declined to comment on the case, and Italy's government has denied involvement.

The trial has continued despite obstacles that have threatened to derail it. Subsequent Italian governments, including the current government of Premier Silvio Berlusconi, have refused or ignored prosecutors' requests to week extradition of the American defendants - a fact that raises doubts about the enforceability of any guilty verdicts against the absent Americans.

But even that test may be delayed, as sentences in Italy aren't served until all appeals are exhausted, a process that can take years.

In addition, Italy's highest court ruled some key evidence inadmissible because it is considered classified - including dossiers seized from the Rome apartment of an Italian intelligence agent and the testimony of a carabinieri officer allegedly at the scene of the kidnapping.

Magi ruled that the trial could go forward despite the ruling. Closing arguments focused on which evidence could and could not be considered, in particular for the Italian defendants, and the verdicts will reflect Magi's thinking.

Prosecutor Armando Spataro has asked for stiff sentences ranging from 10 to 13 years in jail, citing a conspiracy between U.S. and Italian secret services to abduct Nasr, who was at the time under surveillance by Italian investigators building their own terror case against him.

Spataro requested the top sentence of 13 years for Jeffrey Castelli, the former Rome CIA station chief, who he said coordinated the 2003 kidnapping with the former head of Italian military intelligence Nicolo Pollari. He also sought 13 years for Pollari.

The prosecutor requested 12 years each for Robert Seldon Lady, former Milan station chief, and Sabrina de Sousa, who was assigned to the Milan consulate at the time of the kidnapping and whom prosecutors say worked closely with Lady. Spataro is seeking sentences of 10 or 11 years for the remaining Americans.

The Americans' defense have argued alternatively that their clients were following orders, that they should be cleared due to diplomatic immunity, or that extraordinary renditions were not illegal under the policies adopted by former U.S. President George W. Bush to combat terrorism.

Lady, quoted in an Italian newspaper this summer, made the latter argument.

"I am not guilty. I am only responsible for following an order I received from my superiors," Lady was quoted as saying by Il Giornale. "It was not a criminal act. It was a state affair."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

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