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Italian Supreme Court upholds guilty verdict against 23 Americans

From Livia Borghese, CNN
September 20, 2012 -- Updated 0108 GMT (0908 HKT)
The case against the CIA centered on the agency's alleged extraordinary rendition of cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr.
The case against the CIA centered on the agency's alleged extraordinary rendition of cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: "American officials would be wise to heed the Italian court's message," ACLU says
  • They were found guilty of kidnapping terrorist suspect Abu Omar in 2003 in Milan
  • Abu Omar claimed the Americans transferred him to Egypt for torture
  • None of the Americans appeared at trial, and extradition has not been requested

Rome (CNN) -- The Italian Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the 2009 convictions of 23 Americans whom a lower court convicted in absentia of kidnapping a terrorist suspect in Milan in 2003.

It's unlikely the court ruling will have much effect on the lives of any of the Americans. None of them appeared at the original 2009 trial, nor were any of them taken into custody, and the Italian government did not ask for their extradition.

The CIA declined to comment on the ruling Wednesday.

The trial was the first to deal with a practice that human rights groups call "extraordinary rendition." They say the United States has often transferred terrorism suspects to countries that practice torture.

Washington has acknowledged making secret "rendition" transfers of terrorism suspects between countries but denies using torture or handing suspects over to countries that do.

The case centered on the alleged extraordinary rendition of a Muslim cleric, Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr, or Abu Omar, who said he was seized on the streets of Milan in 2003 and then transferred to Egypt and tortured.

2005: Italy seeks Americans over abduction, source says.

Abu Omar was suspected of recruiting men to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan and was under heavy surveillance by Italy's intelligence agency.

Prosecutors said he was nabbed by a CIA team working with Italian intelligence officials.

"Today's ruling highlights the lack of accountability in the U.S. courts for serious crimes committed by government officials in the name of national security, such as kidnapping and torture," said Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU Human Rights Program. "U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks showed that Washington tried to derail the Italian investigation instead of supporting the interests of justice. Though legal questions remain, such as the validity of trials in absentia, American officials would be wise to heed the Italian court's message that those who violate the law will be called to answer."

In the 2009 trial, the Italian court sentenced 22 of the Americans to five years in prison each for their role in the abduction. Prosecutor Armando Spataro said Robert Seldon Lady, who prosecutors say was the CIA station chief in Milan, was sentenced to eight years.

Each of the 23 Americans was ordered to pay 1 million euros (about $1.3 million) to Abu Omar, plus 500,000 euros to his wife.

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