March 9, 2009 / 11:18 PM / 11 years ago

Italy high court to rule on CIA kidnap case

ROME (Reuters) - The Italian state will ask the Constitutional Court on Tuesday to throw out a trial of U.S. and Italian spies accused of kidnapping a terrorism suspect, arguing the case breaks state secrecy laws, lawyers in the case said.

Twenty-six Americans and seven Italians are accused of grabbing a Muslim imam off the streets of Milan and flying him to Egypt in 2003. Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, says he was tortured and held for years without charge.

Human rights groups accuse Washington and its allies of breaking international law with the extrajudicial transfers, known as “renditions”.

Successive Italian governments, while denying any state role in Nasr’s disappearance, have argued that prosecutors got to the trial phase by breaking rules governing national security.

This includes wiretapping spies and questioning them on classified matters, such as relations with the CIA.

After years of legal maneuvers, the matter is finally before the Constitutional Court.

“If the government’s position is upheld by the Constitutional Court, certain evidence will become impossible to use,” Ignazio Francesco Caramazza, who will argue the state’s position, told Reuters.

Caramazza said the state wants the court to annul the trial as a result, since the indictments were based at least partly on that evidence. Prosecutors must rebuild their case, he said.

Caramazza said the state did not oppose any future trial, as long as state secrecy rules were respected.

A lawyer who will represent prosecutors before the court said he would argue that the no state secrecy rules were broken during the kidnapping investigation.

But he acknowledged that a ruling in favor of the state could send prosecutors back to the phase of collecting evidence and seeking indictments.

“If that were the case, the decree ordering a trial would be annulled. One would have to start over again,” Alessandro Pace, who will argue on behalf of prosecutors, told Reuters.

A verdict following the closed-door proceedings could come as early as Tuesday, but, given the complexity of the case, observers say a decision could take days.

Washington has defended renditions as a valid counter-terrorism tool that has produced vital intelligence and rejected accusations that it allowed torture.

The new CIA director under U.S. President Barack Obama has said rendition is still permitted, subject to assurances suspects would be treated humanely.

In the Milan case, Nasr says he was subjected to electric shock, beatings and rape threats. The Egyptian-born imam, who was released from Egyptian custody in 2007, faces an arrest warrant in Italy on suspicion of terrorist activity.

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