Image: Italian Judge Francesco Silocchi
Luca Bruno  /  AP
Judge Francesco Silocchi, center, looks on during a hearing at a Milan court Wednesday in which the covictions of 23 Americans in the kidnapping of an Egyptian terror suspect were upheld.
By
updated 12/15/2010 4:33:19 PM ET 2010-12-15T21:33:19

An Italian appeals court on Wednesday increased the sentences against 23 Americans convicted in the kidnapping of an Egyptian terror suspect who was part of the CIA's extraordinary renditions program.

In upholding the convictions, the court added one year to the eight-year term handed down to former Milan CIA station chief Robert Seldon Lady and two years to the five-year terms given to 22 other Americans convicted along with him, defense lawyers said.

They were never in Italian custody and were tried and convicted in absentia but risk arrest if they travel to Europe.

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The Americans and two Italians were convicted last year of involvement in the kidnapping of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, from a Milan street on Feb. 17, 2003 — the first convictions anywhere in the world against people involved in the CIA's practice of abducting terror suspects and transferring them to third countries where torture was permitted.

The cleric was transferred to U.S. military bases in Italy and Germany before being moved to Egypt, where he says he was tortured. He has since been released.

Amnesty International praised Wednesday's decision as a step toward demanding greater accountability in Europe for the CIA's extraordinary rendition program.

"Abu Omar was snatched off a Milan street and spirited away without any due process at all," Julia Hall, an Amnesty counter-terrorism expert said in a statement. "The Italian courts have acknowledged that the chain of events leading to such serious abuses cannot go unanswered."

The reason for the increased sentences won't be known until the judges issue their written ruling in March.

But Guido Meroni, who represents six U.S. defendants, said the court rejected the mitigating factors that had resulted in the original, lower sentences. In their original sentence, the judges noted that the Americans had just been following orders.

Prosecutors countered in the appeal that kidnapping can never be considered part of ordinary diplomatic or consular work.

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Defense attorney Arianna Barbazza, who represents Lady and 12 other Americans, said she would appeal to Italy's high court.

During the original trial, three Americans were acquitted: the then-Rome CIA station chief Jeffrey Castelli and two other diplomats formerly assigned to the Rome Embassy. Prosecutors appealed the acquittal, as they can in Italy.

But their appeal will start later after the court on Wednesday agreed with a defense argument that there had been errors in how the Americans had been notified, said defense attorney Matilde Sansalone.

The court on Wednesday upheld the acquittals of five Italians, including the former head of Italian military intelligence Nicolo Pollari and four other Italian secret service agents. They had originally been acquitted because classified information about their alleged involvement was stricken by Italy's highest court on the grounds it amounted to state secrets.

Hall, of Amnesty, urged Italy to give a full accountability of their involvement and not hide behind the high court's ruling. "Kidnapping is a crime, not a 'state secret,'" she said.

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