Landmark trial into US rendition case opens

11th June 2007, Comments 0 comments

11 June 2007, Milan (dpa) - A criminal trial into the United States' controversial "extraordinary renditions" practice, part of President George W Bush's global war on terrorism, opened in Milan on Friday. Just one of the 33 defendants - among them CIA agents and top Italian spies - appeared in court for its opening hearing, which was adjourned to June 18 to allow judge Oscar Magi to decide whether to suspend proceedings, as requested by defence lawyers. The judge also ruled against another request to hold

11 June 2007

Milan (dpa) - A criminal trial into the United States' controversial "extraordinary renditions" practice, part of President George W Bush's global war on terrorism, opened in Milan on Friday.

Just one of the 33 defendants - among them CIA agents and top Italian spies - appeared in court for its opening hearing, which was adjourned to June 18 to allow judge Oscar Magi to decide whether to suspend proceedings, as requested by defence lawyers. The judge also ruled against another request to hold the trial behind closed doors.

Twenty six US nationals, all but one of them thought to be CIA operatives, are accused of kidnapping an Egyptian terrorism suspect from the streets of Milan in February 2003, with the complicity of Italy's SISMI agency.

Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, a 44-year-old Egyptian cleric better known as Abu Omar, was on his way to Milan's main mosque, where he worked as its imam, when he was allegedly abducted.

Omar was being investigated by Italian prosecutors on terrorism charges at the time of his disappearance.

According to prosecutor Armando Spataro, Omar was flown to Germany and eventually "rendered" by the US to his native Egypt, where he claims to have been tortured while in prison in a cell near Cairo.

The trial, the first of its kind in Europe, is seen as a legal can of worms: Not only has it strained relations between Rome and Washington, it has also prompted a confrontation between Italy's political and judicial powers.

The US has refused to extradite the CIA agents, who are now being tried in absentia, while SISMI's former top official, Niccolo Pollari, has said he would not be able to defend himself from the charges without being forced to reveal confidential information that could threaten national security.

The Italian government, which under then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi strongly denied any knowledge of the operation, argues that the trial should not go ahead as prosecutors violated state secrets in gathering their evidence.

Friday's hearing took place just hours before President Bush was due to arrive in Rome for his first official visit in three years. Government officials in Rome said the Abu Omar case would likely be brought up by Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi during his meeting with Bush on Saturday.

Meanwhile in Paris, a Council of Europe report said investigators had found proof that the CIA ran clandestine prisons for terrorist suspects in Europe with the full cooperation of government leaders, especially in Poland and Romania.

The report described the US rendition policy as "a disaster" and criticized Germany and Italy for having "obstructed the search for the truth and continuing to do so by invoking the concept of 'state secrets'."

Omar was eventually freed in February after being detained without charges and was admitted as a plaintiff in the Milan trial Friday.

In a statement, human rights group Amnesty International said it hoped the Omar trial would help shed light on "a very serious violation of human rights". Amnesty also called on the Prodi government to publicly condemn the US' rendition policy.

DPA

Subject: German news

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