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The news is reporting that Italy’s Constitutional Court has

dealt a setback to the first criminal prosecution of an alleged joint CIA-Italian military intelligence (SISMI) "extraordinary rendition" operation. The court ruled that the trial courts and prosecutors overzealously investigated the alleged kidnapping of a suspected terrorist.

So, the hope that the international court system might lead directly to criminal prosecutions of Bush war crimes has also thus been dealt a setback, and Bush's fellow right wing neocon, Silvio Berlusconi, has thus scored a temporary victory. However, not all hope for justics is necessarily lost. The judges did not formally throw out the indictments though arguably, the prosecution’s case has been somewhat hampered.

Some more details:

The Italian case involves the alleged 2003 CIA-SISMI kidnapping of Egyptian terrorist suspect, Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, in Italy. Mr. Nasr claims he was taken from Italy by CIA and SISMI agents and returned to Egypt where he was tortured.

The decision by the Constitutional Court (known as the Consulta because it is housed in the Palazzo della Consulta in Rome) nearly replicates the ruling by a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Jose, Calif., who tossed out an ACLU lawsuit about "extraordinary rendition" by also citing that state secrets would be compromised in an open trial.

Sadly, a holding to a "state secrets" doctrine is something that has tied the Bush and Obama administrations together, and which has been backed up by the courts, which seem loathe to get in the way of the "war on terror."

The article here also notes stonewalling all over regarding participation in rendition and torture:

The Italian government denies any role in the operation. The CIA has declined to comment on the case. The trial in Milan was suspended pending the Consulta’s ruling.

The Los Angeles Times is noting that Italian prosecutors insisted Thursday that they would continue to  pursue a high-stakes case against U.S. and Italian intelligence.

In the meantime, in a recent discussion on Democracy Now, Michael Ratner, of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and host Amy Goodman

AMY GOODMAN: And are there other countries that are pursuing a possible prosecution against any of these Bush administration officials?

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, I think right now what’s happening is they’re going to wait and see what Obama does. If Obama doesn’t do anything in the next few months, I think there’s going to be a huge push in Europe. At the same time, there is stuff going on in Europe, and that’s—when there’s conduct or illegalities on the country itself, they don’t have to wait for the United States. So, you have an investigation, that we’ve talked about here, in Italy of the CIA agents going on who kidnapped an Egyptian cleric of the street. In Spain, you have a—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain that. You have CIA officers being tried in absentia in Italy.

MICHAEL RATNER: That’s correct. There were twenty-four CIA officers involved in a conspiracy to kidnap an Egyptian cleric off the streets of Milan. There’s an independent prosecutor in Italy who has been running a trial now for probably a year or more, in which testimony is being taken on what those CIA agents have done. I think there’s arrest warrants issued for a number of those people throughout Europe. So that’s one relatively successful effort in Italy. And again, if you look at it, they actually kidnapped someone and violated the sovereignty of Italy, so they went after them.

Spain, likewise, has an investigation going on with a court, a judge, because the rendition flights landed in Majorca, they landed in Spain. And so, Spain looked, and its territory has been violated. So that’s going on.

But I think, overall, what we’re seeing here is—I mean, from my perspective, we’re seeing actually more push for prosecutions than I actually expected, that the American public, it seems, is not really giving the sort of Obama line, "Let’s look forward and not backward." Of course, to me, prosecutions is looking forward, because that’s how you prevent torture in the future. So I think we’re seeing a much greater push. I do think, though, that, as I want to say, that the combination of the memos and Leahy should just really send a message to America that we’ve got to make these guys accountable.

If Ratner is right, as I think that he is, our European allies are watching Obama closely and carefully. The clock is ticking. If the U.S. won't seek criminal prosecution of key members of rogue administrations, then it's up to the rest of the world, as well as the American public to pressure our government - regardless of setbacks by courts which give such rogues cover.

And as a note of hope

In its ruling, the court appeared to exclude evidence from an Italian military police officer that was "fundamental" to the prosecution's case, said Alessia Sorgato, a lawyer defending some of the U.S. agents being tried in absentia.

The court also found that prosecutors should not have used classified documents found in the search of a headquarters of an operative of the SISMI, Italy's military intelligence service. But Sorgato said that evidence centered on the Italian defendants, making it possible that the trial of the Americans could continue.

Prosecutors in Milan said Thursday that the ruling did not substantively harm their case, the most dramatic prosecution to date involving the U.S. practice of "extraordinary rendition," in which terrorism suspects are secretly transferred to third countries. The high court rejected the government's attempt to quash evidence obtained through wiretaps and interrogations of Italian intelligence officials, prosecutors said in a statement.

"Whoever thinks this trial is over is mistaken," lead prosecutor Armando Spataro said in a telephone interview.

Originally posted to Randian on Mon Mar 16, 2009 at 06:15 AM PDT.

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