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Ex-CIA Rome chief gets jail term in "rendition" trial


(Reuters) - A former CIA station chief received a seven-year jail sentence on Friday for the kidnap of an Egyptian Muslim cleric during the U.S. government's "war on terror" waged by former president George W. Bush.

A Milan appeals court also handed down two six-year sentences to two American officials for the same crime, the first of so-called "extraordinary rendition" operations organised by the United States.

The cleric, an Egyptian imam known as Abu Omar, was snatched from a Milan street and flown to Egypt for interrogation, where he says he was tortured for seven months. He was resident in Italy at the time of the abduction.

Former Rome CIA station chief Jeffrey Castelli and the two other defendants were tried in their absence and are unlikely to serve their sentences, but they will be unable to travel to Europe without risking arrest.

The CIA declined a request for comment.

Castelli was among 26 U.S. nationals indicted by Italian authorities for their involvement in the 2003 kidnap. The judgment overturned a previous ruling by a lower court, which acquitted the three on grounds of diplomatic immunity.

Last September Italy's highest court upheld guilty verdicts on 22 CIA agents and one Air Force pilot for the kidnapping.

In that case, all of the Americans were sentenced to seven years' jail except former CIA Milan station chief Robert Seldon Lady, who was handed a nine-year sentence.

The new ruling may boost attempts to shed light on heavy-handed CIA tactics during the administration of President Bush and was welcomed by human rights group Amnesty International.

"Many European governments are deeply implicated in the rendition and secret detention programme and any court attempting to find out the truth about these practices is welcomed," Amnesty's Expert on Counter Terrorism and Human Rights, Julia Hall, said.

In December a landmark European Court of Human Rights ruling found a German car salesman, Khaled El-Masri, was an innocent victim of torture and abuse by U.S. authorities, and condemned the CIA "rendition" programme that seized him in Macedonia and secretly flew him to Afghanistan for interrogation.

In 2007 the European Parliament found at least 1,245 CIA flights were made into or over Europe in the four years after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

President Barack Obama has sought to distance himself from heavy-handed intelligence tactics employed by the previous Bush administration and in 2009 vowed to close the controversial Guantanamo detention centre, though he has yet to do so.

Controversy over CIA tactics came to the fore last month with the release of a film about the killing of Osama bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty, which was accused of taking an uncritical view of torture and rendition.

(Reporting by Manuela D'Alessandro; Writing by Antonella Ciancio and Naomi O'Leary.; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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