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Italian court convicts 3 Americans in CIA kidnapping

ROME — On the crisp morning of Feb. 17, 2003, Abu Omar, a Muslim cleric in Milan, was walking near his mosque when a group of men suddenly grabbed him, tossed him in the back of a van, drove him to NATO's Aviano Air Base and flew him to Cairo, where he claims he was tortured for seven months.

On Friday, a Milan appeals court sentenced a former CIA station chief to seven years in jail, convicting him in the cleric's kidnapping, which was part of the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program. Two six-year sentences were also handed out to two American officials for the same crime.

Jeff Castelli, a former CIA station chief in Rome, along with Betnie Medero and Ralph Russomando, had been acquitted due to their dimplomatic immunity in the 2009 trial, while 23 other U.S. citizens were sentenced to prison in absentia.

Abu Omar, whose name is Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, is one of the most documented Egyptian terror suspects in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. Following his abduction and detention, he was released by an Egyptian court in 2007, and is now a free man.

None of the Americans has ever been in custody, as they fled Italy before their convictions. The Italian court wants them to be extradited, but Italy has always kept the lid of secrecy on the incident, and never formally asked the U.S. to hand them over. More importantly, Italy’s court decision in 2009 represented the first time any country held CIA operatives responsible for an extraordinary rendition, a practice that was widely tolerated in Europe.

While it is unlikely any of those convicted will face any time in prison, they now face arrests should they travel anywhere in Europe. In a strange twist of fate, it seems, the renditioners have now become the renditioned.