- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 17, 2007

MILAN, Italy — An Italian judge indicted 25 suspected CIA agents and a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel yesterday in the purported kidnapping and torture of an Egyptian cleric who had been under investigation for recruiting Islamist fighters.

The indictment paves the way for Italy to try the Americans, along with five Italians, in June in the first criminal trial over the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program.

But prosecutors think that many of the American names in the indictment are aliases, and even if Italy requests the Americans’ extradition — a move that would strain U.S.-Italian relations — it is unlikely that the agents, who have all left Italy, would be turned over for prosecution.

All the U.S. agents have court-appointed attorneys, who say they have had no contact with their clients. In Italy, defendants can be tried in absentia.

The CIA did not comment yesterday on the case, which has put an uncomfortable spotlight on intelligence operations and increased U.S.-European disagreement over combating terrorism.

Prosecutors say five Italian intelligence officials worked with the Americans to abduct Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr from a Milan street on Feb. 17, 2003.

Mr. Nasr was purportedly taken to the Aviano Air Base near Venice and then flown to the Ramstein Air Base in southern Germany and onward to Egypt, where he was held for four years and, his attorney said, tortured. He was freed earlier this week by an Egyptian court that ruled his detention was “unfounded.”

The Swiss government this week approved prosecutors’ plans to investigate the flight that purportedly took Mr. Nasr over Swiss airspace from Italy to Germany. And a German prosecutor recently issued arrest warrants for 13 persons in connection with the purported CIA-orchestrated kidnapping of a German citizen.

Italian prosecutors say the operation was a breach of their country’s sovereignty that compromised Italy’s own anti-terrorism efforts.

Mr. Nasr, who had the status of political refugee in Italy, was under investigation for terrorism-related activities at the time of his abduction, and Milan prosecutors issued a warrant for his arrest more than two years after he disappeared from Milan, while he was in Egyptian custody.

All but one of the Americans have been identified as CIA agents, including the former Milan station chief Robert Seldon Lady and former Rome station chief Jeffrey Castelli. The other is Air Force Lt. Col. Joseph L. Romano III, who was stationed at the time at Aviano.

Among the Italians indicted by Judge Caterina Interlandi was the former chief of military intelligence, Nicolo Pollari, and his former deputy, Marco Mancini. Mr. Pollari has denied any involvement by Italian intelligence.

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