ROME (AP) — Italy's highest criminal court on Wednesday upheld the convictions of 23 Americans in the kidnapping of an Egyptian terror suspect as part of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program.
The ruling marks the final appeal in the first trial anywhere in the world involving the CIA's practice of abducting terror suspects and transferring them to third countries where torture is permitted.
The 23 Americans all were convicted in absentia following a three-and-a-half-year trial, and have never been in Italian custody. They risk arrest if they travel to Europe and one of their court-appointed lawyers suggested that the final verdict would open the way for the Italian government to seek their extradition.
"It went badly. It went very badly," lawyer Alessia Sorgato said. "Now they will ask for extradition."
The Americans and two Italians were convicted last year of involvement in the kidnapping of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, from a Milan street on Feb. 17, 2003 — the first convictions anywhere in the world against people involved in the CIA's practice of abducting terror suspects and transferring them to third countries where torture was permitted. The cleric was transferred to U.S. military bases in Italy and Germany before being moved to Egypt, where he says he was tortured. He has since been released.
Those convicted include the former Milan CIA station chief, Robert Seldon Lady, whose original seven-year sentence was raised to nine years on appeal. The other 22 Americans, all but one identified by prosecutors as CIA agents, face seven-year terms.
Previous Italian governments had declined to act on prosecutors' request to extradite the American suspects, most of whom had court-appointed lawyers the defendants never met. While some of the defendants in the case were known figures attached to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in Milan, many of those named in the trial are believed to have been aliases, impeding any formal extradition.
Among those whose sentence was upheld was Air Force Col. Joseph Romano, who was head of security at the Aviano Air Force base where the Egyptian cleric was driven from Milan before being taken by plane to Germany and eventually Egypt.
Romano's lawyer, Cesare Bulgheroni, said he would appeal the verdict to the EU human rights court in Strasbourg on the basis that Romano was never formally notified of the charges against him, and that lower courts had rejected some witnesses. Romano was one of only two Americans who received permission to hire his own lawyer during the original trial.
The court also ordered new appeals trials for five Italian intelligence agents, including the former head of military intelligence, Nicolo Pollari. They had been acquitted by lower courts because of state secrets.
During the original trial, three other Americans were acquitted: the then-Rome CIA station chief Jeffrey Castelli and two other diplomats formerly assigned to the Rome Embassy. Prosecutors appealed the acquittal, as they can in Italy. The appeal is still pending in Milan.