Italian judge orders CIA agents to face trial for kidnap

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In the first legal test anywhere in the world of America's right to seize people from the streets of allied countries and take them away to be tortured, an Italian judge ordered yesterday that 26 Americans and five Italians be put on trial for the abduction of an Egyptian cleric in 2003.

The Americans, practically all CIA agents, left Italy long ago and unless Italy were itself to take steps to seize them from the streets of the American suburbs where they live, it is highly unlikely that they will answer the charges in person. The Italian government has yet to forward the prosecutor's extradition request to the United States government. It is waiting for the constitutional court to rule on whether the prosecutor in the case exceeded constitutional limits when he ordered the telephones of Italian secret service agents to be bugged.

But under Italian law the agents can be tried in absentia. The case marks a historic first as the Italian justice system stands up for the rights of those legally resident within its shores to be protected from what the Americans term "extraordinary rendition".

Abu Omar, whose real name was given as Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, was walking towards the mosque in Milan where he is an imam on 17 February 2003 when he was forced into the back of a van and driven to the US base of Aviano, near Venice.

From there he was flown to Germany where he changed planes and was taken to Egypt and imprisoned. He was released from custody by the Egyptians this week and claimed he was "a broken man." His lawyer said in an interview with Italian state television that Abu Omar wants to return to Italy, where he had political refugee status.

Among the others indicted was Nicolo Pollari, the former head of Italian military intelligence, and his former deputy, Marco Mancini.