An Italian judge on Wednesday extended the suspension of the abduction trial of 26 Americans charged in an alleged CIA operation until the country’s highest court rules on a government challenge that could scuttle the case.
The Constitutional Court’s ruling, expected early next year, also would indicate whether the kidnapping trial will be permitted to publicly air details of the U.S. extraordinary rendition program — moving terrorism suspects from country to country without public legal proceedings.The suspects — all but one identified by prosecutors as CIA agents — are accused of kidnapping an Egyptian terror suspect from a Milan street on Feb. 17, 2003, in an operation coordinated by the CIA and Italian intelligence.Italian prosecutors say Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was then transferred to U.S. bases in Italy and Germany before being moved to Egypt, where he was imprisoned for four years. Nasr, who was released Feb. 11, said he was tortured.Judge Oscar Magi said Wednesday he could not continue with hearings while the Constitutional Court was still debating the Italian government’s request to throw out the indictments against the Americans. The Milan trial was suspended shortly after it opened in June, and Magi has now extended the suspension until March 12.Seven Italians also were indicted in the case, including Nicolo Pollari, the former chief of military intelligence. Pollari has denied any involvement by Italian intelligence in the abduction.In its challenge, the government contends the prosecution unlawfully relied on state secrets to justify the charges. A ruling by the Constitutional Court in favor of the complaint could doom the Milan trial.The high court also plans to hear a challenge charging that prosecutors went too far by wiretapping Italian intelligence agents indicted in the case.Despite the trial suspension, a lawyer for several American defendants said she was unhappy with Wednesday’s decision.”I wanted to get on with it,” lawyer Alessia Sorgato said. “Of course I respect the decision, but I can’t wait to start.”The 26 Americans have left Italy, and a senior U.S. official said they would not be turned over for prosecution even if Rome requests it. The Italian government has not yet responded to prosecutors’ requests to seek the extradition of the Americans, and the justice minister has indicated the Constitutional Court’s ruling would be a key factor.When the judge initially suspended the trial in June, he also stopped the clock on the statute of limitations until the process resumes. The statute of limitations on the charge of abduction with aggravating circumstances is 12 1/2 years from the date of the crime.Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.