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Italy’s former spymaster gets prison over rendition

ROME — The former head of Italy's military intelligence agency, Nicolo Pollari, was given a 10-year jail term by an appeals court on Tuesday for his involvement in the U.S.-sanctioned kidnapping of a terrorist suspect.

Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, an Egyptian Muslim cleric also known as Abu Omar, was illegally abducted by the CIA in a Milan street in 2003, and flown to Egypt via the U.S. air base at Ramstein, Germany. He was held until 2007 without charges and alleges he was tortured.

For their involvement in the affair, Milan judges also sentenced Pollari's former deputy Marco Mancini to nine years’ imprisonment and handed six-year jail terms to three other Italian secret agents.

The court also granted a provisional award of $1.34 million to Abu Omar and $670,000 to his wife for the suffering they endured. The precise amount of the damages will have to be settled by a civil court.

The jail terms will not be enforced if the defendants appeal before Italy's Court of Cassation — which is likely.

Italian judges have already tried in absentia and issued final guilty verdicts against 23 U.S. citizens, producing the first-ever official convictions against "extraordinary renditions," the practice employed by the CIA in the war on terrorism.

The policy, adopted under the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush and now dropped by his successor Barack Obama, involved kidnapping a suspect in one country and flying the individual to a third nation for interrogation.

Charges against Pollari and the four other convicts had been dropped previously because the Italian government invoked state secrecy laws to shield them from prosecution. The Court of Cassation annulled that decision in September.

However, the outgoing government of Prime Minister Mario Monti has asked the Constitutional Court to overturn the findings of cassation judges, meaning that Tuesday's convictions could be suspended.

Through his lawyers, Pollari said state secrecy laws prevented him from defending himself in court and he continued to profess his innocence.

All Italian administrations that have been in office since Abu Omar's case was publicized have defended Pollari. Former center-left premier Romano Prodi made Pollari a national security adviser after he left the military intelligence agency.

Conservative leader Silvio Berlusconi, who was in office at the time of the kidnapping, said he was "fully convinced" that Pollari was "absolutely innocent," while one of his aides, Maurizio Gasparri, said that Tuesday's ruling endangered national security.
 

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