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Italy orders trial of 25 CIA agents for rendition flight

January 19, 2006

In a rare case, Italy has decided to put on trial 25 agents of the United State’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and five of Italy’s own spies after an Egyptian cleric alleged that he abducted and transported to Egypt for torture by a US “rendition flight.”

Two former Italian intelligence chiefs were also among those indicted by Milan judge Caterina Interlandi.

It will be the biggest case against US intelligence agents staged in an allied country and threatens embarrassing new revelations over the CIA programme in which terror suspects were seized in one country and taken to another.

The tactic has been among the most controversial used in the US “war on terror” declared after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Renditions are a controversial aspect of US President George W Bush’s war on terror. Washington acknowledges secret transfers of terrorism suspects to third countries, but denies using or sanctioning torture.

Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr was allegedly snatched from a street in Milan, Italy, on February 17, 2003, and transferred to Egypt where he was tortured.

It is claimed he was abducted by five Italian intelligence officials who worked with 26 Americans – all but one of whom have been identified by prosecutors as CIA agents – and sent to Egypt via Germany for torture.

Secrecy has surrounded the case – the first-ever trial on rendition flights – with even defence lawyers saying they have never seen or heard from their US defendants.

Defence lawyer Guido Meroni said: “At this stage there has not been a clear and profound declaration on the real and physical identities of anyone involved.’

This week a report by the European Parliament concluded that rendition flights do exist and that individual European governments accepted and concealed the practice.

It singled out the British Government as being one of the worst to collude with the US and claimed the authorities sent three UK residents on rendition fights for questioning in connection with alleged terrorism.

On Wednesday, the Swiss government gave the go-ahead for a criminal investigation into the use of Swiss airspace to fly Hassan, also known as Abu Omar, to a US base in Germany before he was flown on to Egypt.

Judge Interlandi ordered the trial to start on June 8, 2007, though none of the accused US agents is expected to return to Italy.

A European arrest warrant has already been issued for the 26 US citizens, but Italy’s Justice Minister Clemente Mastella has yet to act on a request by Milan prosecutors to seek their extradition.




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