The first criminal trial over the CIA's controversial practice of "extraordinary rendition" opened on Friday in the northern Italian city of Milan.
Twenty six Americans - most believed to be CIA agents - and six Italians have been charged with kidnapping of an Egyptian imam from a Milan street in 2003 and transferring him via Germany to Egypt, where he was imprisoned and - the cleric alleges - tortured.
Prosecutor Armando Spataro said the case is important as will demonstrate the need to fight terrorism according to "the full respect of the laws of our Western democracies.
"Washington has said it will reject any request by Italy to extradite any of the accused: Italy's centre-left prime minister Romano Prodi has so far refused to forward to Washington a judiciary request to extradite the American suspects, as did the previous centre-right government.
Prosecutors say CIA agents seized Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr - known as Abu Omar - from a Milan street in broad daylight, bundled him into a van and drove him to a military based in northern Italy. From there the CIA secretly flew him to Germany and on to Egypt, where Nasr alleges he was tortured with electric shocks, beatings, rape threats and genital abuse.
He was released earlier this year and is currently in an undisclosed location in Egypt, according to his lawyer. Nasr has told French newspaper Le Monde he does not believe justice will be done at the Milan trial and that Italian government is hiding behind state secrecy.
Italian secret agents, including the former head of the country's SISMI intelligence agency, Nicolo Pollari, are accused of helping the CIA agents abduct Nasr.
Thousands expected to protest Bush
The trial comes at a difficult time for Prodi, whose unpopularity is growing one year after taking office, and only hours before a visit to Italy by US president George W. Bush.
The American leader's visit is expected bring thousands of anti-war protestors to the streets of Rome who will vent their anger at plans to expand a US military base in the northern city of Vicenza and over the presence of Italian troops in Afghanistan alongside those of the US and other NATO countries.
Prodi is struggling to keep fractious coalition partners united and away from the protest marches.
Italy's government has asked the Constitutional Court - the country's highest court - to shelve the rendition trial, saying prosecution documents contravene state secrecy laws and damage relations with the CIA.
The court is due by September to rule on the government's appeal, and defence lawyers are expected to ask for the trial to be adjourned pending a decision.
Meanwhile, the head of a probe by the top European rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, is due report on Friday that the CIA operated secret prisons in Europe where terrorism suspects were interrogated and were allegedly tortured, according to information leaked by Britain's Guardian newspaper.
Last Mod: 08 Haziran 2007, 13:20