MILAN – Italy’s highest court upheld guilty verdicts Tuesday against the final three U.S. defendants in the 2003 extraordinary rendition kidnapping of an Egyptian terror suspect.
The decision, after a series of trials spanning six and a half years, brought to a close the only prosecution to date against the Bush administration’s practice of abducting terror suspects and moving them to third countries that permitted torture.
The court upheld guilty verdicts and confirmed the seven-year sentence against the CIA’s former Rome station chief Jeff Castelli and six-year sentence against two others identified as CIA agents. All three had been acquitted in the original trial due to diplomatic immunity.
The three are among 26 Americans, mostly CIA agents, who have been found guilty in absentia of kidnapping Milan cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, known as Abu Omar, in broad daylight from a Milan street on Feb. 17, 2003. They received sentences of six to nine years. Italy later pardoned the only military defendant.
Though lower courts found the CIA had worked alongside Italian secret services, the high court last month acquitted Italy’s former head of military intelligence and the former head of counterintelligence, as well as three Italian agents, after the Constitutional Court ruled key testimony was classified as state secrets.
Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and European human rights activists monitored the trial throughout.
“It is really a seminal case. It set a very important precedent that unfortunately has not been followed yet by any other countries,” said Judith Sunderland, senior Western Europe researcher for Human Rights Watch. “We certainly hold it as an example how a national judiciary can in fact get to the bottom of an unlawful rendition.”
The case against the Americans relied primarily on detective work, including photocopies of passports from Italian hotels that showed reconnaissance meetings and intercepts of cellular data to show proximity to the actual kidnapping as well as movements from Milan to Aviano Air Force base, from where Nasr was put on board a plane for Ramstein Air Base in Germany. From there, he was transferred to Egypt, where he says he was tortured.