From NBC's Pete Williams
In the world's first criminal trial of CIA officials over the practice known as "rendition," an Italian judge today found nearly two-dozen American citizens guilty of kidnapping. The U.S. has used renditions to take suspected terrorists from one foreign country to another for questioning or to the U.S. None of the U.S. defendants were ever in the courtroom: they were tried in absentia.
The case involved a radical Egyptian cleric, Abu Omar, who was picked up on a street in Milan in February 2003 and taken to Egypt. When he was released four years later, he claimed he was brutally tortured by the Egyptian intelligence service. Italian authorities then prosecuted the Americans and members of Italy's military intelligence service.
Today, the judge sentenced 22 of the Americans to five years in prison. The other, a former CIA station chief in Milan, was sentenced to eight years. Three other Americans were originally charged, but the judge ruled today that they had diplomatic immunity. Because they were not in Italy during the trial, they remain free.
The trial has been a sore point in relations between the U.S. and Italy. Despite calls from international human rights groups, the Italians have not sought the extradition of the Americans. Prosecutors there say they will try again, but that will be up to Italy's justice ministry.
NBC's Jim Miklaszewski adds the response from the CIA:
In response to the Italian court convictions of 23 Americans in absentia for the "kidnapping" of a Muslim cleric in Milan in 2003, CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano would only say, "The CIA has not made any comment on the allegations surrounding Abu Omar."
The Italian courts had found that the 23 Americans had broken Italy's kidnapping laws in the apparent "rendition" when they allegedly grabbed Abu Omar off the streets of Milan and flew him to Egypt where he claims he was tortured.
We are told that either State Department, the National Security Council, or both may issue a broad statement on today's convictions.