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Italy's top court clears ex-spy chief in CIA 'rendition' case

ROME — Italy's top court cleared a former spy chief and his aides Monday over their involvement in the U.S.-sanctioned kidnapping of a terrorist suspect, accepting that their actions were covered by state secrecy laws.

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

Milan prosecutors, who said they were about to arrest Abu Omar, indicted Nicolo Pollari, former head of Italy's military intelligence agency, along with his deputy, Marco Mancini, and three other agents.

Criminal proceedings against them should not have been pursued "because of the existence of state secrecy," the Rome-based Court of Cassation said Monday, delivering a final ruling on the case.

Last year, Pollari was sentenced to 10 years in prison by a lower appeals court. Mancini was jailed for nine years, while the three other agents were given six-year prison terms. The sentences were never enforced pending appeal.

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

One of the convicts, U.S. Air Force Col. Joseph Romano, was pardoned last year by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.

Extraordinary renditions, adopted under the administration of former president George W. Bush and dropped by his successor, Barack Obama, involved seizing a suspect in one country and flying the individual to a third nation for interrogation.

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