Milan

Ex-spy chief 'stunned' by ruling on CIA snatch sentence

'Those who observe law are condemned' Pollari tells ANSA

Ex-spy chief 'stunned' by ruling on CIA snatch sentence

Milan, April 5 - Former Italian intelligence service chief Nicolo' Pollari on Friday said he was "stunned" after judges issued their explanation for the 10-year sentence they gave the ex-top spy in February for his role in the CIA abduction of a Muslim cleric from the streets of Milan in 2003. "In Italy, those who do their job are persecuted. Those who observe the law are condemned," Pollari told ANSA. On Friday judges said Pollari allowed the CIA to commit "a grave violation of national sovereignty" when they snatched Muslim cleric Hassan Mustafa Omar Nasr. Pollari provided "support" for the controversial operation, which was subjected to the world's first judicial examination of the controversial US practice of extraordinary rendition in the so-called war on terror. On February 12 the Milan appeals court convicted ex-SISMI (now AISE) chief Pollari over the abduction of Nasr, and gave his former No.2, Marco Mancini, nine years. They had both been acquitted because of a State-secrecy injunction on two previous occasions. Last September Italy's top court of appeals upheld the convictions of 22 CIA agents and a retired US air force officer found guilty of abducting Nasr. The Court of Cassation confirmed the seven-year sentences for 22 of them and a nine-year term for former Milan station chief Robert Seldon Lady. The justice ministry said Italy might ask for extraditions, but that has not happened so far. Even if it were to occur, the US is unlikely to accede to such a request. Nasr, an Islamist suspected of recruiting jihadi fighters, disappeared from a Milan street on February 17, 2003 and emerged from an Egyptian prison four years later claiming he had been tortured. The cleric, who is also known as Abu Omar, did not attend the trial, nor Pollari's, at which he was awarded one million euros in damages. Nasr was snatched by a team of CIA operatives with SISMI's help and taken to a NATO base in Ramstein, Germany, en route to Cairo. In the closely watched case, the agents' terms were lengthened from 5-8 years to 7-9 years in December 2010. The prosecution had sought convictions ranging from eight to 12 years for the 23. But the CIA's former Italy chief, Jeff Castelli, was excluded from the proceedings at the last minute on a technicality along with two other operatives, Betnie Medero and Ralph Russomando. For the three, acquitted at the first trial in November 2009 on the grounds of diplomatic immunity, the appeals process started from scratch. The prosecutor in the trial had requested a 12-year sentence for Castelli and eight years for the other two. The court also ordered the 22 CIA officers and the retired colonel to pay one million euros in damages to Nasr and 500,000 euros to his wife. None of the CIA operatives have ever appeared in court here. US-ITALIAN FRICTION. The case had caused friction between Italy and the United States, which voiced its "disappointment" with the 2010 verdict. Former Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini said he sympathised with US concerns, noting that the judiciary in Italy was independent but despite this, the Italian government had obtained the secrecy injunction. Some of the agents had said they were worried they would become international fugitives but Frattini said he "didn't think they would go to jail". Extraordinary rendition was first authorised by former American president Bill Clinton in the 1990s and stepped up when his successor George W. Bush declared war on terror after the September 11, 2001 attacks by Al-Qaeda. Successive Italian governments denied all knowledge of the case and consistently ruled out the possibility of extradition. During the trials the CIA had refused to comment and its officers were silent until Lady, the ex-Milan chief, told an Italian daily in August 2009 that he was only following orders. Lady, who has now retired, said from an undisclosed location that he was "a soldier...in a war against terrorism". The trial of Nasr claimed headlines worldwide and stoked discussion of rendition, which was extended by President Barack Obama in 2008 under the proviso that detainees' rights should be respected. The Council of Europe, a 47-nation human rights body, called Nasr's case a "perfect example of rendition".

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