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Italy ups prison terms for ex-CIA men
Fri, 17 Dec 2010 03:30:59 GMT
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Egyptian-born cleric Osama Hassan Mustafa Nasr
An Italian court has extended the prison terms of 23 CIA agents convicted in absentia of kidnapping an Egyptian imam in a move seen as a blow to the American rendition program.

The Milan appeals court meted out harsh sentences to the CIA officers, the heaviest of which --nine years in prison-- was given to the former head of the CIA's Milan station, Robert Seldon Lady, who initially had received eight years in the court's ruling in 2009, AFP reported on Thursday.

Other agents who were sentenced to five-year prison terms in November 2009 are now facing up to seven to nine years on appeal, and under the new ruling they will have to pay $2 million in damages to Egyptian-born cleric Osama Hassan Mustafa Nasr and his wife for the 2003 abduction.

Osama Hassan Mustafa Nasr, better known as Abu Omar, was abducted from a street in Milan in 2003 in a joint operation by the CIA and the Italian military intelligence agency.

In 2003, the Egyptian cleric was allegedly taken to the Aviano US air base in northeastern Italy, from where he was kidnapped and allegedly later tortured in Egypt.

Washington has refused to hand over the convicted agents, who remain at large in the United Sates but may be apprehended if they travel to Europe.

The agents took advantage of diplomatic immunity and were absent in court in 2009 when the first order was issued.

The court also exonerated the then head of Italian military intelligence Nicolo Pollari and his aide Marco Mancini on grounds that revelation of any sensitive documents against them would be in breach of state secrecy rules.

Meanwhile, the agents' lawyer Alessia Sorgato criticized the tough ruling issued by the Milan court, adding that "it's a shocking blow for the Americans."

The disputed "extraordinary rendition" program, which the former George Bush administration used after the 9/11 events, was harshly criticized for its practice of extraordinary rendition, with human rights advocates charging the CIA with outsourcing torture of prisoners to countries where it is a permitted practice.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International hailed the ruling on Thursday but lashed out at the Italian government for taking advantage of "state secrecy" to put a lid on human rights abuses.

"The Italian government and its officials should not be able to use 'state secrecy' as a shield to cover up human rights abuse," stated Amnesty's counter-terrorism expert Julia Hall.

"The government must engage in a full and fair accountability process even if its official are embarrassed or even vulnerable to criminal charges for their actions," she concluded.

HA/MB
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