MILAN, Italy — In a landmark ruling, an Italian judge on Wednesday convicted a base chief for the Central Intelligence Agency and 22 other Americans, almost all CIA operatives, of kidnapping a Muslim cleric from the streets of Milan in 2003.
The case was a huge symbolic victory for Italian prosecutors, who drew the first convictions involving the American practice of rendition, in which terrorism suspects are captured in one country and taken for questioning in another, often one more open to coercive interrogation techniques.
Critics of the Bush administration have long hailed the case as a repudiation of the tactics it used to fight terrorism. And the fact that Italy would convict intelligence agents of an allied country was seen as a bold move that could set a precedent.
Still, the convictions may have little practical effect. They do not seem to change the close relations between the United States and Italy. Nor did they reveal whether the government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had approved the kidnapping. And it seemed highly unlikely that anyone, Italian or American, would spend any time in prison.
Judge Oscar Magi handed an eight-year sentence to Robert Seldon Lady, a former CIA base chief in Milan, and five-year sentences to the 22 other Americans, including an Air Force colonel and 21 CIA operatives. Three of the other high-ranking Americans were given diplomatic immunity, including Jeffrey Castelli, a former CIA station chief in Rome.
Citing state secrecy, he did not convict five high-ranking Italians charged in the abduction, including a former head of Italian military intelligence, Nicolo Pollari.
Italian prosecutors had charged the Americans and seven members of the Italian military intelligence agency in the abduction of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, known as Abu Omar, on Feb. 17, 2003. Prosecutors said he was snatched in broad daylight, flown from an American air base in Italy to a base in Germany and then on to Egypt, where he asserts that he was tortured.