An Italian judge today ordered the first trial involving the American program of kidnapping terror suspects on foreign soil, indicting 26 Americans, most of them C.I.A. agents, and Italy-s former top spy.
The indictments covered the episode in which a radical Egyptian cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, who disappeared near his mosque in Milan on Feb. 17, 2003, says he was kidnapped. The cleric, known as Abu Omar, was freed this week from jail in Egypt, where he says he was taken and then tortured.
Despite the indictment, issued by a judge in Milan, it is unlikely that any of the Americans will ever stand trial here.
All the operatives, which included the top two C.I.A. officials in Italy at the time, have left the country. Moreover, Italy has not requested their extradition, and if it did, there seems little chance the Bush administration would agree.
But the indictment nonetheless marked a turning point in Europe, where anger is high at the secret American program of "extraordinary renditions" that whisked away terror suspects in contravention of the law after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
This week, the Swiss government approved an investigation into the flight that allegedly carried Mr. Nasr from Italy to Germany, across Swiss airspace. The plane reportedly left from an American air base in Germany to Egypt.
Late last month, a German court issued an arrest warrant for 13 people suspected of involvement in the kidnapping in Macedonia of a German citizen of Lebanese descent. There are also investigations into extraordinary renditions in Portugal and Spain.
Meantime this week, a European parliamentary committee issued a detailed report into what it said were "at least" 1,245 secret C.I.A. flights in Europe, some of them involving extraordinary renditions. The report, which awaits approval by the Parliament, is particularly sensitive because it suggested forcibly that a number of governments knew of the flights.
"We believe there has been either active collusion by several E.U. governments or turning a blind eye," one member of the European Parliament, Baroness Sarah Ludford of Britain, said this week.
Here in Italy, the possible complicity of the government of then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is one of the most difficult issues in the case. Among the Italians indicted today were Nicolo Pollari, who was until earlier this year Italy-s chief of military intelligence, and his former deputy, Marco Mancini.
Mr. Pollari has denied responsibility, saying he cannot defend himself because he would need to use evidence that is classified as state secrets. The suggestion is that officials outranking Mr. Pollari, the nation-s chief spy, gave approval for the kidnapping.
"We are very disappointed by the decision of the judge, being convinced that the lack of proof and the acquisition of documents covered by secrets of state demonstrates Pollari-s innocence," Mr. Pollari-s lawyer, Tittal Madia, said, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
The case has snarled Italian politics with several complications. Earlier this week, the government of Prime Minister Romano Prodi asked the Constitutional Court to review whether the prosecutor in Mr. Nasr-s case, Armando Spataro, overstepped his bounds by wiretapping the phones of Italian agents.
Today, Mr. Spataro said in a statement that he was "astonished" by the government-s move, saying he had followed all the laws in gathering evidence.
Meantime, a member of Mr. Prodi-s government, Antonio Di Pietro, minister of infrastructure and a former corruption prosecutor, criticized the government for not having requested the extradition of the 26 C.I.A. agents.
Mr. Prodi-s government has not said whether it will make such requests. But the issue looms as one more source of conflict between Italy and the United States.
While both American and Italian officials say the relationship remains solid, it has been tested in recent months on several fronts. On Saturday, a big demonstration is being planned in Vicenza, in northern Italy, where the Americans have asked to enlarge an existing air base, and Italian officials have recently criticized American actions in Iraq, Lebanon and Somalia.
Earlier this month, an Italian court ordered an American soldier to stand trial for the death in Iraq of Nicola Calipari, an Italian secret service agent killed in 2005 while securing the release of a kidnapped Italian journalist. As with the C.I.A. agents, the serviceman is unlikely to be extradited to Italy. - New York Times
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