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CIA trial in Italy may not go ahead

AN Italian judge will decide next month whether to continue with the politically sensitive trial of 26 Americans and seven Italians accused in the alleged kidnapping of an Egyptian terror suspect after the constitutional court threw out key evidence deemed classified.

Defense lawyers for the Americans - mostly CIA agents - and Italians argued yesterday the exclusion of the evidence made it impossible to continue with the trial. The prosecution argued the indictments were still valid and the trial should go on.

Judge Oscar Magi said he would announce his decision May 20.

The viability of the two-year-old trial has been hanging on the constitutional court's ruling, which this month said evidence pertaining to the alleged CIA-run kidnapping as part of its renditions program is classified and therefore inadmissible.

The high court's ruling threw out key testimony from Luciano Peroni, an intelligence agent who acknowledged being present on February 17, 2003, when Egyptian cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was taken from a Milan street in broad daylight.

Prosecutors say he was transported in a van to the Aviano Air Force base, from where he was flown to southern Germany, then onward to Egypt, where he was held and allegedly tortured. He was later released.

The Constitutional Court also threw out any evidence that would reveal the workings between the CIA and Italian intelligence agents, who are among the defendants.

Lawyers for both the American and Italian defendants requested their clients be cleared - not technically possible yet.

Prosecutor Armando Spataro argued the indictments "maintained their integrity," even without the excluded evidence. He noted that the case against the Americans began at least a year before the Italians were investigated, meaning that any evidence pertaining to the Italian secret services that is seen as classified was not used to build the case against the Americans.

Magi could decide to continue the case, throw out the indictments - which would send the case back to the preliminary hearing stage - or rule the trial can't go on if he views the remaining evidence as insufficient.

Defense lawyer Alessia Sorgato, who is defending three American clients, said he could also decide to continue the trial for the American defendants while stopping it for the Italians, on the basis that classified information applied only to the Italian secret services.

The CIA has refused to comment on the trial and the Americans are being tried in absentia. The defense lawyers for the Americans have acted without contact with their clients.

Italy's government has denied any involvement in the kidnapping although successive Italian premiers saying testimony in the case could compromise operations between Italian spy services and the CIA.


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