An Italian court sentenced 23 US CIA agents in absentia to prison for the abduction and 'extraordinary rendition' of Muslim cleric from Milan in 2003.
After two years of wrangling to head off a case that centered around the Bush administration's practice of abducting alleged terrorists abroad and sending them to friendly third states for interrogation, Italian prosecutors won a stunning victory on Wednesday, when 23 US intelligence agents were convicted in absentia by a Milan court for kidnapping.
The practice of "extraordinary rendition" became common for the CIA after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US, with hundreds of alleged militants abducted in Europe and Central Asia and elsewhere, and delivered to states like Algeria, Egypt, and Syria, where torture is often used against presumed enemies of the state. The US says it received assurances that torture would not be used. But the practice has been especially controversial in Europe, where roughly 100 Muslim men have been abducted.
In a ruling that could damage US-Italian relations, Robert Seldon Lady, the former CIA station chief in Milan, was handed an eight-year sentence, and the 22 others -- all believed to have been CIA employees or contractors -- were given five-year sentences for the 2003 abduction from a Milan street of Muslim cleric Hassan Moustafa Osama Nasr. The convicted Americans were also ordered to pay Mr. Nasr and his wife $2 million. It was the first conviction for a rendition case. None of the men are in Italy, and their whereabouts have not been disclosed.
A spokeswoman for the State Department said the US was "disappointed" by the verdict, adding that the US was waiting for a written opinion from the judge before addressing the matter further. As to a possible extradiction request from Italy, she said: "It is a longstanding tradition of the United States not to comment on extradition matters … but we would note that because of anticipated appeals this matter is likely to continue in litigation in Italy and that final decisions with respect to the accused are unlikely for some time."