Fears of torture for Italian gangster

A convicted Mafia gangster will not be extradited from the United States to Italy after a Californian judge ruled that his confinement in Europe would amount to "torture".

Judge Sitgraves said Rosario Gambino, who has just completed a 22-year jail term in the US for drug-running, would be inhumanely treated by the Italian "41 bis" system, which isolates Mafiosi while they are serving prison sentences. "This coercion," the judge wrote, "is not related to any lawfully imposed sanction or punishment, and thus constitutes torture." Gambino's lawyer, P Joseph Sandoval, said the judge was "100 per cent correct... It's a humanitarian issue. The prison conditions in his specific case will be life-threatening and life-shortening."

The ruling was criticised by Italian media, which reacted poorly to being reprimanded on humanitarianism by an American judge. Guantanamo Bay and the CIA kidnap in Milan of a suspected Islamic terrorist were both mentioned.

Clemente Mastella, Italy's Justice Minister, defended the "41 bis" system – laws drawn up in 1993 after the assassination of the anti-Mafia investigators Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino – saying it had been passed by the Italian parliament.

The system was designed to prevent convicted Mafiosi from continuing to run their gangs from inside jail. It limits their access to other prisoners, to their family, to mail and the telephone. It can also involve long spells of solitary confinement, and has been credited by prosecutors with helping to persuade convicts to turn supergrass.

Ann Hathaway, a Lancashire woman married to a Sicilian Mafioso, was held under the system before she was returned to Britain last year. "In England, prison was like being in a hotel," she said at the time.

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