Italian prosecutors to pursue case over CIA rendition


ITALIAN PROSECUTORS have insisted that they will continue to pursue a high-stakes case against US and Italian intelligence agents despite a high court ruling that the prosecution broke state secrecy laws while investigating the abduction of an Egyptian extremist in Milan in 2003.

The ruling on Wednesday by the 15-judge Constitutional Court, Italy’s highest court, gave a partial victory to the government of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. The government has tried to block the trial of 26 Americans and seven Italians accused in the abduction of Abu Omar, a Milan imam who allegedly was flown to Egypt at the behest of the CIA and was tortured.

In its ruling, the court appeared to exclude the evidence of an Italian military police officer that was “fundamental” to the prosecution’s case, said Alessia Sorgato, a lawyer defending some of the US agents being tried in absentia.

The court also found that prosecutors should not have used classified documents found in the search of a headquarters of an operative of the SISMI, the military intelligence service. But Sorgato said that evidence centred on the accused Italian accomplices, making it possible that the Americans’ trial could continue.

Prosecutors in Milan declared on Thursday that the ruling did not substantively harm their case, the most dramatic prosecution of a clandestine “rendition” by the CIA to date. The high court rejected the government’s attempt to quash evidence obtained through wiretaps and interrogations of Italian intelligence officials, prosecutors said.

More than half of the trial had been completed last autumn before it was suspended by the government’s appeal to the Constitutional Court. Testimony is due to resume on March 18th.

Prosecutor Ferdinando Pomarici said the ruling “will not stop the regular course of the trial” because the documents and evidence barred on the grounds of state secrecy are of little value or can be introduced through other means.

Testimony thus far has depicted a well-organised but brazen operation by the CIA, assisted by SISMI agents, in which plainclothes operatives snatched Abu Omar off a street in broad daylight. Italian intelligence chiefs then allegedly attempted a cover-up, even paying journalists to help them spy on the prosecutors.

– (LA Times-Washington Post)