The lawyer for one of the 22 CIA agents wanted in Italy for the kidnapping of terror suspect Abu Omar has claimed the Italian government knew about the “extraordinary rendition” operation.

A lawyer challenging the arrest warrant on Robert Seldon Lady, the former CIA station chief in Milan, said his client’s actions had had “explicit, or at least implicit authorisation from the Italian government.”

In her first appeal, Lady’s lawyer Daria Pesce, claimed he was innocent or “only following orders” and was occupying the role of consul at the time, giving him “diplomatic immunity” which also covered him for “special missions”. However, this argument was rejected by the judge, who decreed that immunity does not cover “serious crimes like kidnapping”. State secrets, he argued, protect “the security of Italian democracy” and not “actions carried out by foreign operatives”.

The Italian government and intelligence service SISMI have always denied knowledge of the operation to capture Abu Omar. However, Lady’s lawyer stated twice in his defence that “Lady, in his consular role as intelligence supervisor, undoubtedly enjoyed the authorisation of the US government in agreement with the political authorities of the Italian state” and this “Italian approval” was “indispensible” for a “special mission sent by the United States”.

Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper speculated on Wednesday that Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi could soon find himself forced to make a difficult choice: “Turn the whole affair into a state secret, thereby admitting that Palazzo Chigi [the Prime Minister’s office] knew, or alternatively, hand over to the Milan prosecutor’s office the names of those who authorised or kept quiet about the kidnapping of Abu Omar.”

Given that EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini this week threatened “serious consequences” — including suspension of voting rights in the Council of Ministers — for EU member states complicit in operating alleged “black site” prisons, he is likely to also take a dim view on EU governments participating in “extraordinary rendition”. Berlusconi may have had his decision forced upon him.

The Milan judge rejected Lady’s claim of diplomatic immunity. A very interesting trial is about to unfold.