An Italian court's conviction of 23 CIA agents for extraordinary rendition has been hailed by human rights campaigners as a "historic repudiation" of the US intelligence agency's crimes.
The agents, including one alleged to have been a CIA station chief in Milan, were given jail sentences ranging up to eight years for the crime of kidnapping Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr and secretly transporting him to Egypt to be tortured.
Mr Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was snatched in Milan on 17 February 2003 in a joint operation between the CIA and Italian military intelligence.
After being driven to Aviano air base in north-eastern Italy the Muslim imam was allegedly put on a plane and flown to the US base at Ramstein in Germany, and from there to Egypt.
He claims that he was tortured repeatedly during the nearly four years in which he was subsequently held at an Egyptian jail without charge.
In June 2005 an Italian judge issued indictments against 26 US citizens thought to be behind the rendition, but Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi refused to seek the agents' extradition and the sentences were handed down in absentia.
However Human Rights Watch terrorism director Joanne Mariner stressed that the court had still sent "a powerful message."
"The CIA can't just abduct people off the streets - it's illegal, unacceptable, and unjustified," she declared.
"Both the Italian and US governments should now be on notice that justice authorities will not ignore crimes committed under the guise of fighting terrorism."
The court also tried seven Italian secret service agents including General Nicola Pollari, the former head of militay intelligence who resigned after the rendition of Mr Nasr was exposed.
US civil liberties campaigners ACLU also welcomed the verdicts and insisted that the decision "underscores the need for the United States to hold its own officials accountable for crimes committed under the 'extraordinary rendition' programme."
"The US Department of Justice has utterly failed in its responsibility to investigate and prosecute these serious crimes, and it is shameful that the first convictions of this kind came from a foreign justice system, where those convicted are not likely to serve their time," said ACLU lawyer Steven Watt.
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