Italy's CIA Rendition Trial Back On -- For Now

| Wed Apr. 16, 2008 6:38 PM PDT

What timing. In the same week that Italy elected the flamboyant Silvio Berlusconi to serve as its prime minister again, so too comes the news that the long-delayed trial of those officials accused of being involved in the CIA's 2003 extraordinary rendition of Egyptian cleric Abu Omar from Milan to Egypt is back on. Armando Spataro is the Milan prosecutor pursuing the case, which has faced multiple obstacles getting to the courtroom, and staying there. Among the hitches faced, charges that the case threatened state secrecy, the geopolitical complications of the fact the US refuses to turn over for trial the almost two dozen CIA officials named by prosecutors as having carried out the botched and highly troubling rendition, and the fact that among those Spataro contends had knowledge of the CIA snatch were top official in the Italian military intelligence service, Sismi.

Tonight, Spataro emails reporters following the case that the prosecution is celebrating a rare moment of victory (I tweaked the English a bit):

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Following previous messages, I can communicate this good news about the April 16th hearing:

1) the judge rejected all the preliminary requests ... to conduct the trial behind closed doors; to transer the trial to another court; and to declare inadmissable the confession of Gen. Pignero (who died on September 2006) on the SISMI role etc.

3) the lawyers of [Sismi director] Gen. Pollari asked to call as witnesses [incoming and former prime minister] mr. BERLUSCONI and [outgoing prime minister] Mr. PRODI on the secret state matter. The prosecutors were not opposed to this request;

4) the prosecutors asked to admit more than 100 [documents] and more than 80 witnesses. They also requested the testimony of mr. Dick Marty (Council of Europe) and Claudio Fava (European Parliament). The lawyers of the defendants were opposed on this point and also on the admission of the Abu Omar written memorandum (given to the prosecutors by his lawyers) on the kidnapping and on the tortures he suffered.

So at the next hearing the judge will read his decision on what evidence can be admitted. Then immediately, in the same hearing, the prosecutors will start with their first witnesses: Ghali Nabila (Abu Omar's wife) and Mr. Bruno Megale, the Senior Police Officer who lead, with the two Milan prosecutors, the investigations. ...

"The prosecutors think today was an important step," Spataro concludes, after noting the next hearing in the case is scheduled for May 16.

For a detailed account of the Abu Omar case, see this Peter Bergen exclusive. You can read my 2007 interview with Spataro on the eve of the trial here.

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