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Italy: Decision in CIA Kidnapping Case

(Dec. 22, 2010) <

On December 15, 2010, the Appeals Court in Milan, Italy, rendered a decision in the case of the kidnapping of Abu Omar. Omar was alleged to have been an extremist imam from a mosque in Milan who was taken from Italy to Egypt, via the Ramstein U.S. Air Force Base in Germany, by a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) team on February 17, 2003. The Court found 23 U.S. agents guilty of the rendition of Omar to the Government of Egypt. Their sentences under the Appeals Court's verdict are harsher than the sentences originally issued in 2009 by a lower court. Bob Lady, the Milan CIA station chief, was given a nine-year prison sentence, while the others were sentenced to seven years. In addition, the Court awarded Omar and his wife a total of €1.5 million in compensation (about US$1.99 million). The Chief of the CIA station in Rome in 2003, Jeff Castelli, and his two top aides were acquitted by the lower court and not tried at the higher-court level due to errors in the notification procedure. (Luca Fazzo, Italian Commentary Says Court Found “Reasonable Middle Way” to End Abu Umar Case, Il (Dec. 16, 2010), World News Connection online subscription database, Doc. No. 201012161477.1_774f0122c5baa713.)

Speaking about the case, Lady commented on the wealth of evidence left by the CIA agents who carried out the rendition of Omar, stating that the operation had a “surprising lack of professionalism.” (Id.)

Italian agents were declared “not prosecutable” for their parts in the case for reasons of state secrecy, a decision confirmed by Italy's Constitutional Court. The Americans convicted in the case were not in Italy when the verdict was announced and are not likely to have to serve their terms of imprisonment unless they return to the country. The Italian Minister of Justice at the time the case began, Roberto Castelli, intervened to stop the extradition request that had originally been issued by the prosecution in Milan. (Id.)

The case has attracted considerable interest as a test of the U.S. policy of “extraordinary rendition.” For example, Daniel Kempton and Matthew Rossow presented a paper on the subject at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association in 2007, in which they discuss the case in the context of the policy. The abstract for the presentation states:

While the US government claims this is an efficient, productive and fair strategy for dealing with dangerous suspects, critics allege the policies often violate the laws of the country in which the suspects are apprehended and lead frequently to human rights violations, when the receiving countries use varied forms of torture to extract confessions and information.. This case will examine the morality, legality, and effectiveness of extraordinary rendition as a tool in the war on terror. (Daniel Kempton & Matthew Rossow, American Extraordinary Rendition: The Case of Abu Omar, International Studies Association (Mar. 2007), available at

When the original, lower court, convictions were announced, the German news website Spiegel Online called the decision “an unmistakable verdict on American anti-terrorist practices … .” (Britta Sandberg, Abu Omar Case: Italian Court Delivers Damning Verdict on CIA Renditions, SPEIGEL ONLINE(Nov. 5, 2009),,1518,659418,00.html.)