An Italian prosecutor in the first trial anywhere scrutinizing the CIA's extraordinary renditions asked a Milan court on Wednesday to sentence 26 Americans to jail terms ranging from 10 to 13 years for the abduction of an Egyptian terror suspect.
Prosecutor Armando Spataro, completing his closing arguments, argued that a guilty verdict and strong sentence for the defendants, most of them CIA agents, would help restore confidence in Western democracies eroded by tactics employed in the fight against terrorism.
Spataro requested the top sentence of 13 years for Jeffrey Castelli, the former Rome CIA station chief, who he said coordinated the 2003 kidnapping with the former head of Italian military intelligence Nicolo Pollari. He also sought 13 years for Pollari.
The prosecutor requested 12 years each for Robert Seldon Lady, former Milan station chief, and Sabrina de Sousa, who was in the Rome Embassy and whom prosecutors say worked closely with Lady. Spataro is seeking sentences of 10 or 11 years for the remaining Americans.
Cleric abducted in broad daylight
The prosecution's closing arguments signal the final phase in the more than 2 1/2-year-old trial. Nearly a dozen defense lawyers now must make their case. A verdict is expected possibly by early November.
Prosecutors say Egyptian cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, a suspected terrorist also known as Abu Omar, was kidnapped from a Milan street in broad daylight on Feb. 17, 2003.
Nasr was then allegedly driven from Milan to the Aviano Air Base in northern Italy, flown to the Ramstein Air Base in southern Germany and then onward to Egypt, where he was allegedly tortured. Nasr has been released but remains in Egypt and has not testified at the trial.
Human rights advocates charge that renditions were the CIA's way to outsource the torture of prisoners to countries where it was practiced.
The CIA has declined to comment on the Italian case, and all the Americans are being tried in absentia and are considered fugitives.
The Italian government has denied any involvement, and all the defendants have denied the charges.
In his closing, Spataro said Western democracies cannot accept arguments that the rules of engagement have been altered by the threat posed by international terrorism.
"We don't have an alternative but to have absolute respect for the law, even where it seems difficult. Only this will give us credibility," Spataro said, wrapping up his closing arguments in the Milan courthouse.
Spataro requested sentences of 11 years for 15 other Americans and 10 years for the remaining eight, including the only defendant not identified by prosecutors as a CIA agent: Joseph Romano, who was the U.S. Air Force's head of security at the Aviano Air Base.
‘The grave responsibility of the CIA’
He asked for a sentence of 10 years for Pollari's former deputy, Marco Mancini, for his role in the kidnapping. He is seeking three years for two other Italian defendants on lesser charges of aiding and abetting and asked the court to dismiss the case against three others, citing a constitutional court ruling that limited access to evidence protected as classified for reasons of national security.
Spataro said the fact alone that four cell phones used by the kidnappers later turned up in use at the U.S. Embassy in Rome with different SIM cards "shows the grave responsibility of the CIA."
De Sousa has challenged the U.S. silence on the case to hire her own lawyer, who has said that the case against his client relies on evidence that he will argue has been excluded because it was classified material.
De Sousa says she was a foreign service officer in Milan and denies that she worked for the CIA.
Romano was the only other U.S. defendant to hire his own attorney. Judge Oscar Magi last week denied a request to transfer his case immediately to a U.S. military tribunal.
In Italy, kidnapping carries a maximum penalty of 10 years if carried out by a public officer, an aggravating circumstance applied to all of the U.S. defendants and the main Italian defendants in Spataro's request. He also added aggravating circumstances of a conspiracy involving more than five people, and another extra penalty for Castelli and Pollari as organizers.