MILAN -- A Milan appeals court on Friday vacated acquittals for a former CIA station chief and two other Americans, and instead convicted them in the 2003 abduction of an Egyptian terror suspect from a Milan street as part of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program.
The appeals court sentenced former CIA Rome station chief Jeffrey Castelli to seven years, and handed sentences of six years each to Americans Betnie Medero and Ralph Russomando. All three were tried in absentia at both levels. A lower court that convicted 23 other Americans in 2009 had previously acquitted the three citing diplomatic immunity.
The November 2009 convictions, which were held up on two levels of appeal, were the first anywhere in the world against CIA actors involved in a practice alleged to have led to torture.
None of the Americans tried in Italy have ever been in Italian custody, but they risk arrest if they travel to Europe and lawyers have in the past suggested that final verdicts would open the way for the Italian government to seek their extradition. No such action has yet been taken.
Italy's highest court last year upheld the convictions of the 23 other Americans in absentia in the abduction of an Egyptian terror suspect Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, on Feb. 17, 2003. Nasr was transferred to U.S. military bases in Italy, then Germany, before being flown to Egypt, where he alleges he was tortured. He has since been released.
Those convicted in the original trial included the former Milan CIA station chief, Robert Seldon Lady, whose original seven-year sentence was raised to nine years by Italy's high court. The other 22 Americans, all but one identified by prosecutors as CIA agents, also saw their sentences stiffened on the final appeal, from five to seven years.
The appeals process for Castelli and the other two was separated for technical reasons. The appellate court's reasoning was expected to be released in 15 days, but defense lawyer Alessia Sorgato said the decision noted extenuating circumstances.
"That goes some way to saying they acted on orders of a superior," said Sorgato, who represents Medero. She said she was satisfied that the sentences were less than that for the other Americans. She will decide whether to appeal to the highest court after reading the court's reasoning.