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Judge: Italian spies likely knew of CIA kidnap

Italian Judge Oscar Magi is seen at the court, in Milan, Italy.
Italian Judge Oscar Magi is seen at the court, in Milan, Italy.
Luca Bruno, Associated Press

MILAN — An Italian judge said Monday it is likely that Italy's military intelligence agency was aware of, or maybe even complicit in, the CIA-led kidnapping of an Egyptian terrorism suspect from the streets of Milan.

The Milan judge said, however, that state secrecy drew "a sort of black curtain" around the role of Italy's secret services in the kidnapping, making it impossible to reach a legal decision regarding the responsibility of Italian agents.

Judge Oscar Magi made the comments in the 217-page reasoning for his November guilty verdicts against 23 Americans and two Italians in the 2003 kidnapping of the Egyptian cleric. The convictions remain the first legal convictions anywhere in the world involving the CIA's extraordinary renditions program.

Silvio Berlusconi, who was premier at the time and has since returned to office again, has always denied any Italian involvement in the abduction.

Magi also acquitted three American diplomats, citing diplomatic immunity, along with five Italian secret service agents, including the former chief, citing state secrecy.

In his reasoning, Magi was direct in his criticism of the use of state secrecy, saying it created "a logical and judicial paradox" when it came to evaluating the potential roles of Italian military intelligence in the kidnapping of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, on Feb. 17, 2003, from a Milan street.

The judge said the fact that the CIA ran the operation on Italian soil "allows the presumption" that Italian secret services were at least aware or "maybe even complicit." State secrecy, invoked by successive Italian governments and backed up by the nation's highest court, created "a zone where no decision could be made," the judge wrote.

The release of Magi's reasoning gives both sides 45 days to appeal the verdicts. Lawyers for the convicted Americans had indicated they would do so at the time of the conviction.

Prosecutor Armando Spataro also has said it is "highly probable" he will appeal the acquittals.

Former Milan CIA station chief Robert Seldon Lady received the top sentence of eight years in prison. The other 22 convicted American defendants, including former Milan consular official Sabrina De Sousa and U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Joseph Romano, each received a five-year sentence. Two Italians got three years each as accessories for their role in trying to derail the prosecutors' investigation.

After being kidnapped in Milan, Nasr was transferred to U.S. bases in Italy and Germany. He was then moved to Egypt, where he says he was tortured. He has since been released, but was not been permitted to leave Egypt to attend the trial.

The convicted Americans, who were tried in absentia, cannot travel to Europe without risking arrest as long as the verdicts remain in place.