Italy seeks jail time for 26 Americans in rendition case

Prosecutor urges repudiation of abduction, torture

By Colleen Barry
Associated Press / October 1, 2009

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MILAN - A prosecutor asked a Milan court yesterday to sentence 26 Americans to jail terms ranging from 10 to 13 years for the abduction of an Egyptian terrorism suspect.

It is the first trial anywhere scrutinizing the CIA’s extraordinary renditions.

As he completed his closing arguments, prosecutor Armando Spataro argued that a guilty verdict and a strong sentence for the defendants, most of them CIA agents, would help restore confidence in Western democracies eroded by tactics employed in the fight against terrorism.

Spataro requested the highest sentence of 13 years for Jeffrey Castelli, the former Rome CIA station chief, who he said coordinated the 2003 kidnapping with Nicolo Pollari, former head of Italian military intelligence. Spataro sought 13 years for Pollari.

The prosecutor requested 12 years each for Robert Seldon Lady, former Milan station chief, and Sabrina de Sousa, who was in the Rome Embassy and who prosecutors say worked closely with Lady.

Spataro is seeking sentences of 10 or 11 years for the other Americans.

The prosecution’s closing arguments signal the final phase in the more than 2 1/2-year-old trial. Nearly a dozen defense lawyers now must make their case. A verdict is expected possibly by early November.

Prosecutors say Egyptian cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, a suspected terrorist also known as Abu Omar, was kidnapped from a Milan street in broad daylight on Feb. 17, 2003.

Nasr was then allegedly driven from Milan to the Aviano Air Base in northern Italy, flown to Ramstein Air Base in southern Germany and then to Egypt, where he was allegedly tortured. Nasr has been released, but remains in Egypt and has not testified at the trial.

Human rights advocates contend that renditions were the CIA’s way to outsource the torture of prisoners to countries where it was practiced.

The CIA has declined to comment on the Italian case. Al the Americans are being tried in absentia and are considered fugitives.

The Italian government has denied any involvement, and all the defendants have denied the charges.

In his closing, Spataro said Western democracies cannot accept arguments that the rules of engagement have been altered by the threat posed by international terrorism.

“We don’t have an alternative,’’ he said, “but to have absolute respect for the law, even where it seems difficult. Only this will give us credibility.’’

Spataro requested sentences of 11 years for 15 other Americans and 10 years for the remaining eight, including the only defendant not identified by prosecutors as a CIA agent: Joseph Romano, who was the US Air Force head of security at the Aviano Air Base.

Spataro asked for a sentence of 10 years for Pollari’s former deputy, Marco Mancini, for his role in the kidnapping.

He is seeking three years for two other Italian defendants on lesser charges of aiding and abetting and asked the court to dismiss the case against three others, citing a constitutional court ruling that limited access to evidence protected as classified for reasons of national security.