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23 Americans convicted in Italy in CIA kidnap case

By Colleen Barry and Victor L. Simpson
Associated Press / November 5, 2009

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MILAN - An Italian judge found 23 Americans and two Italians guilty yesterday in the kidnapping of an Egyptian terror suspect, delivering the first legal convictions anywhere in the world against people involved in the CIA’s extraordinary renditions program.

Human rights groups hailed the decision and pressed President Obama to repudiate the Bush administration’s practice of abducting terror suspects and transferring them to countries where torture was permitted. The American Civil Liberties Union said the verdicts were the first convictions stemming from the rendition program.

The Obama administration ended the CIA’s interrogation program and shuttered its secret overseas jails in January but has opted to continue the practice of extraordinary renditions.

The Americans, who were tried in absentia, now cannot travel to Europe without risking arrest as long as the verdicts remain in place.

One of those convicted, former Milan consular official Sabrina De Sousa, accused Congress of turning a blind eye.

“No one has investigated the fact that the US government allegedly conducted a rendition of an individual who now walks free and the operation of which was so bungled,’’ she said, speaking through her lawyer.

Despite the convictions capping the nearly three-year trial, several Italian and American defendants, including the two alleged masterminds of the abduction, were acquitted due to either diplomatic immunity or because classified information was stricken by Italy’s highest court.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the Obama administration was “is disappointed about the verdicts.’’

The State Department is being sued by De Sousa, a former State Department employee who denies she was a CIA agent and who believes she should have been granted diplomatic immunity by US officials.

The judge’s verdict, however, did not extend diplomatic immunity to consular officials charged.