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Italy Seeks Jail for US Spies in Rendition Trial


MILAN - An Italian prosecutor called on Wednesday for 26 Americans, all but one believed to be members of the CIA, to be jailed for between 10 and 13 years each for the kidnapping of a terrorism suspect in 2003.

Public Prosecutor Armando Spataro also asked a Milan court to sentence four Italians, including the former head of Italy's Sismi secret service, to up to 13 years in prison for the abduction of Muslim cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr.

Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was snatched from the streets of Milan six years ago and secretly flown for interrogation in Egypt, where he says he was tortured and held until 2007 without charge.

The trial is the most high profile case in Europe to challenge the extra-judicial transfers, known as 'renditions', used by the government of former President George W. Bush in its fight against terrorism.

"Democracies are founded on principles that cannot be renounced even in moments of emergency. If we give up that vision we would have partly lost the fight against terrorism," Spataro told the court in his summary of the evidence.

"This was an unbearable blow to legality and fundamental human rights, unacceptable even in the interests of security."

None of the Americans is in Italy for the trial and the United States has ruled out extraditing them, so any conviction would be purely symbolic. The longest jail term, 13 years, was requested for the ex-head of the CIA station in Rome, identified as Jeff Castelli.

Prosecutors sought 12 years for the former chief of the Milan station, identified as Robert Feldon Lady. Spataro said a verdict could be delivered by late October or early November.

Spataro dropped charges against three of the seven Italian suspects after an earlier Constitutional Court ruling made evidence against them inadmissable as it broke state secrecy.

Prosecutors had used wiretaps on the spies and questioned them on classified matters, such as relations with the CIA.

Last week, Washington said it invoked jurisdiction in the case against Colonel Joseph Romano -- believed to be the only non-CIA member on trial -- under a NATO accord. The other U.S. suspects in the Italian trial do not face prosecution in their homeland.

Under the Bush administration, the United States has said it used rendition to seize terrorism suspects around the world and deliver them for interrogation in third countries. It has not acknowledged any rendition in Italy.

Washington is currently debating the harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects who were in U.S. custody and whether to prosecute the officials responsible.

Egyptian-born Nasr, who was released from Egyptian custody in 2007, faces an arrest warrant in Italy on suspicion of terrorist activity.

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