A group of 23 CIA agents have been convicted of kidnapping an Egyptian cleric from Italy in a landmark case involving the agency's extraordinary rendition programme in the war on terrorism. Former Milan CIA station chief Robert Seldon Lady received the highest sentence, eight years in prison. The other 22 American defendants each got five years. The Americans were tried in their absence and their lawyers entered not guilty pleas on their behalf. They are considered fugitives from Italian justice. In the US, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the Obama administration was "disappointed about the verdicts." Judge Oscar Magi, sitting in Milan, said he was acquitting five Italian defendants because Italy withheld evidence, contending it was classified information. Two of the Italian defendants were convicted as accomplices to kidnapping and received three-year sentences, which despite the state secrecy imposed, indicates that Italian officials were complicit. The verdict "sends a strong signal of the crimes committed by the CIA in Europe," said Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch. The Americans were accused of kidnapping Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, on February 17, 2003, in Milan, then transferring him to US bases in Italy and Germany. He was then moved to Egypt, where he says he was tortured. He was released after four years in prison without being charged. The trial is the first by any government over the CIA's extraordinary rendition programme, which transferred suspects overseas for interrogation. Human rights advocates say that renditions were the CIA's way to move the torture of prisoners to countries where it is permitted. The Milan proceedings have been a sore spot in relations between the United States and Italy. The CIA has declined to comment on the case, and Italy's government has denied involvement.