A Milan appeals court on Tuesday convicted two former Italian spy chiefs for their role in the kidnapping of a terror suspect as part of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program.
The court overturned the acquittals of a lower court and sentenced Nicolo Pollari, the former head of Italian military intelligence, to 10 years, and Marco Mancini, a former deputy and head of counterintelligence, to nine. Three other Italian agents also were convicted and handed six-year sentences. All the convictions can be appealed.
Earlier this month, another Italian appeals court vacated the acquittals and convicted in absentia three Americans, including the former Rome CIA station chief, in the same case. A lower court had acquitted them due to diplomatic immunity.
In all, 26 Americans, most CIA agents, have been convicted in absentia in the 2003 kidnapping of Egyptian Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, with sentences ranging from six to nine years. It is unlikely any will serve time. U.S. officials have never commented on the case.
Italian officials and its secret services have insisted they were neither aware of nor participated in the kidnapping of Nasr, an Egyptian cleric who was transferred to two U.S. bases in Europe before being flown to Egypt where he alleges he was tortured. He has since been released without charge and reportedly remains in Egypt. At the time of his abduction, prosecutors in Milan were investigating Nasr on terrorism-related charges.
Despite acquitting Pollari and Mancini, the lower court judge wrote in his reasoning that it was likely that Italy's military intelligence agency was "aware of" or perhaps even "complicit" in the CIA-led kidnapping. However, the court said it was impossible to convict them because of state secrets restrictions imposed by successive Italian governments and confirmed by Italy's highest court. The government's action blocked any evidence relating to contact with agents from other countries.
Pollari's lawyer, Nicola Madia, said he plans to appeal Tuesday's appeals court conviction. Pollari's legal team has long argued that it has not been able to properly defend him because of constraints placed by the government to protect state secrets.
The Italian trials are the first in the world to assign responsibility in a case involving the CIA's practice of abducting terror suspects and transferring them to third countries that permitted torture. The original trial finished in November 2009, with guilty verdicts against 23 Americans and acquittals of the Italians and three American diplomats. It spawned three appeal court cases.