Court orders 35 to stand trial over CIA flights


Feb 16, 2007

ROME, Italy (CNN) -- An Italian court ruled Friday that 35 people should stand trial in connection with a CIA "extraordinary rendition" program that involves the alleged kidnapping and transfer of terror suspects to third countries, where critics say they are tortured.

The ruling is symbolic because none of the Americans is in custody in Italy and the Italian government has not asked for their extradition to Italy.

Of the 35, 26 Americans and six Italians would stand trial for kidnapping and three Italians would stand trial on a charge of complicity in the kidnappings.

The ruling -- akin to an indictment -- means there was enough evidence to try the 35. The trial is scheduled to begin June 8.

The case revolves around the alleged kidnapping of Osama Nasr Mostafa Hassan, an Egyptian-born Muslim cleric, also known as Abu Omar, in February 2003.

At the time of his disappearance, Milan prosecutors were investigating him for alleged links to terrorism.

Prosecutors allege that a CIA team working with Italian intelligence officials seized him, eventually flying him to Egypt, and used torture as part of an interrogation there.

In an earlier interview, former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer said the Italian military secret service had approved the operation, and CIA sources who refused to be named told CNN in 2005 that the agency had briefed and sought approval from its Italian counterpart for such an abduction.

But the Italian government of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has vigorously denied having authorized Hassan's kidnapping, which it called illegal.

Human rights groups condemn the practice known as "extraordinary rendition," saying suspects have often been sent by the U.S. to countries that practice torture.

Washington acknowledges making secret "rendition" transfers of terror suspects between countries, but denies using torture itself or handing suspects over to countries that do so.