Italy prevents trial of intelligence agents over Abu Omar rendition
Amnesty International today called on Italy to stop using the ‘state secret’ privilege to shield its officials, after an appeals court increased the sentences of 23 US officials and confirmed the conviction of two Italians for the illegal rendition of an Egyptian cleric. The court however upheld that high-ranking Italian agents cannot be prosecuted over the incident.Originally sentenced to five and eight years’ imprisonment respectively, the 22 CIA agents and one US military official had their sentences increased by the Milan appeal court to seven and to nine years for their role in the abduction of Usama Mostafa Hassan Nasr, better known as Abu Omar. The 23 convicted US agents were tried in their absence as their extraditions were never formally requested by the Italian government.Abu Omar was snatched from a Milan street in 2003 and transferred unlawfully to Egypt, where he was held in secret and allegedly tortured. "The Italian courts have acknowledged that the chain of events leading to such serious abuses cannot go unanswered" said Julia Hall, Amnesty International’s expert on counter-terrorism and human rights in Europe. “The appeals court's recognition that Abu Omar suffered a grave injustice at the hands of US and Italian intelligence actors is another step in the effort to seek accountability in Europe for abuses in the context of the CIA rendition and secret detention programmes.”"But the Italian government and its officials should not be able to use 'state secrecy' as a shield to cover up human rights abuses.”In November 2009 a lower court in Milan convicted the 23 US officials and two Italian agents for involvement in the Abu Omar rendition, in the first and only convictions for human rights violations committed in the course of CIA renditions and secret detentions. However, the same court dismissed cases against five high-ranking Italian and three US officials on the basis of state secrecy and diplomatic immunity. “Kidnapping is a crime, not a 'state secret’,” said Julia Hall. “The Italian government must engage in a full and fair accountability process even if its officials are embarrassed or even vulnerable to criminal charges for their actions.” The two Italian officials originally convicted with the US agents in 2009 had their sentences reduced at yesterday’s appeal ruling, from three years to two years and eight months. The appeal concerning the three US officials who benefited from diplomatic immunity will be examined in a separate trial.