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Italy: Constitutional Court Ruling in Connection with Ongoing Extraordinary Rendition Trial

(Mar. 20, 2009) The Constitutional Court of Italy, in a ruling delivered on March 11, 2009, held that wiretap surveillance on Italian secret service agents by Milan prosecutors in the Abu Omar rendition case had violated state secrecy laws. The decision was deemed in the press to be “a heavy blow” to the prosecution of the kidnapping case of an Egyptian terrorist. (Italian Court Says State Secrets Violated in CIA 'Rendition' Investigation, AFP, Mar. 11, 2009, available at World News Connection online subscription database.) The case involves the kidnapping in Milan of an Egyptian terrorist suspect, Imam Osama Mustafa Hassan (known as Abu Omar), in February 2003 by the secret services of the United States and Italy, and the suspect's extraordinary rendition to a high security prison in Egypt. The Abu Omar trial had been suspended pending the Constitutional Court decision; the next hearing is scheduled for March 18, 2009.

The case is reportedly “the first in Europe [to look] into the CIA's 'extraordinary rendition' programme involving the secret transfers of terrorism suspects to third countries known to practise torture.” (Id.; Abu Umar Abduction Trial Adjourned to 18 May, AFP, Dec. 8, 2008, available at World News Connection online subscription database.) The defendants are 26 Americans, almost all CIA agents, being tried in absentia, and seven Italians, including Nicolo Pollari, Italy's former military intelligence chief, who was forced to resign because of the incident. (Italian Court Says State Secrets Violated in CIA 'Rendition' Investigation, supra).

Prosecutor Alessandro Pace contends the decision does not spell the end of the case for the prosecution. He stated, “[t]he trial still holds, and only part of the evidence, and not all of the wiretap transcripts, are covered by the state secrecy laws.” (Id.)