December 15, 2010 / 7:06 PM / 8 years ago

Italy court toughens sentences for ex-CIA agents

MILAN (Reuters) - An Italian appeals court sentenced 23 Americans to up to nine years in jail Wednesday for the abduction of a Muslim cleric, in a symbolic condemnation of the CIA “rendition” flights used by the former U.S. government.

The sentences are tougher than those initially handed down last year. The Americans were all tried in absentia because the United States refused to extradite them.

The court convicted the Americans for the abduction of Egyptian-born cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, snatched off a Milan street in 2003 and flown to Egypt for interrogation.

The heaviest sentence — nine years in prison — was handed down to the former head of the CIA’s Milan station, Robert Seldon Lady, up from eight years in the 2009 trial.

Twenty-one other former agents and a U.S. air force lieutenant colonel got seven years each — up from five years initially.

The 2009 verdict was the first of its kind against the “rendition” flights practiced by the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush, which have been condemned by civil society groups as a violation of basic human rights.

At the time, the verdict was criticised by the U.S. State Department. Both prosecutors and defence lawyers in the case had launched an appeal against it.

The appeals court upheld a decision to drop charges against the former head of Italy’s Sismi military intelligence service, Nicolo Pollari, because evidence against him violated state secrecy rules.

Reporting by Manuela D'Alessandro; editing by Mark Heinrich

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