Italy to probe CIA rendition
Prosecutors say they will go to court over the 2003 "rendition" of a Muslim cleric.
Last Modified: 06 Dec 2006 03:47 GMT
Berlusconi has denied that such operations were sanctioned but expressed support for Italian agents
Italian prosecutors have asked a judge to order CIA agents and Italian spies to stand trial on charges of kidnapping a terrorism suspect and flying him to Egypt, where he says he was tortured.
The investigation that has been going on for over two years has embarrassed both Washington and Rome.
An Italian judge must call a preliminary hearing to decide if there is enough evidence for a trial.
If so, it would be the first criminal trial in the world over so-called renditions, one of the most controversial aspects of George Bush's global war on terror.
Suspects include 26 Americans, most believed to be CIA agents, as well as six Italians, including Nicolo Pollari, the former head of Italy's SISMI military intelligence agency.
Prosecutors believe the CIA agents, with help from SISMI, grabbed Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr off a Milan street, bundled him into a van and flew him out of Italy from a US airbase.
Nasr, an Egyptian also known as Abu Omar, says he was tortured by Egyptian agents under questioning there with electric shocks, beatings, rape threats and genital abuse.
Nasr also said in an 11-page handwritten account that he was offered freedom if he collaborated with authorities, but he refused.
A high-ranking SISMI suspect says the CIA wanted the agency to help it abduct the imam but that he declined. The US embassy in Rome did not comment.
Washington acknowledges secret transfers of terrorism suspects to third countries, but denies torturing suspects or handing them to countries that do.
But a draft report issued last week by the European parliament said Nasr had been "held incommunicado and tortured" after his suspected abduction by the CIA and SISMI.
'Terrorist networks'
For the American suspects, who already face European Union arrest warrants, a trial would almost certainly take place in absentia since Washington is not expected to hand them over.
"I don't think he will come. There's an arrest warrant [for the Americans] and it's not over," said Daria Pesce, the lawyer chosen by Robert Lady, the former CIA station chief in Milan.
Lady is retired and lives in the US.
One suspect, an Italian police officer, has admitted he stopped Nasr and helped CIA agents grab him. But he says Lady told him the goal was to recruit - not abduct - the Muslim cleric. He also says he was told the US and Italian governments sanctioned the operation.
Italian police had been monitoring Nasr at the time of his abduction and say the so-called rendition ruined a promising investigation into terrorist networks in Europe.
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