Testimony also began Wednesday. The cleric’s wife, Ghali Nabila, said her husband, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar, was taken from Italy and transferred to a prison in Egypt, where, she said, he was repeatedly tortured. While acknowledging a program of “extraordinary rendition,” or abducting terrorism suspects outside the United States, the Bush administration claims that no one is sent to nations that torture.
“I found him wasted, skinny — so skinny — his hair had turned white, he had a hearing aid,” Ms. Nabila said, recounting her husband’s condition between prison stays in 2004.
Wearing a veil that revealed only her eyes, Ms. Nabila at first said she “didn’t want to talk about” any abuse against her husband in prison. But advised by prosecutors that she had no choice, she told the court in tears: “He was tied up like he was being crucified. He was beat up, especially around his ears. He was subjected to electroshocks to many body parts.”
“To his genitals?” the prosecutors asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
The Bush administration has not commented on whether it was responsible for the disappearance of Mr. Nasr, who was abducted near the Jenner Street mosque here in Milan in February 2003. He was finally released in 2007. Last year, an Italian prosecutor brought charges against 26 Americans — 25 Central Intelligence Agency operatives and one Air Force colonel — in the first case involving the contentious practice of extraordinary rendition.
None of the Americans are now in Italy, and the United States has said it will not extradite them. But the case is still likely to reveal many details about a program shrouded in secrecy.
And last month, the case took on greater significance here in Italy: Mr. Berlusconi, who was prime minister at the time of Mr. Nasr’s disappearance, was re-elected; any revelations about his or his aides’ complicity could damage his new government.
Last year, Italy indicted the 26 Americans, citing a trail of incriminating cellphone exchanges intercepted by Italian prosecutors in the days before Mr. Nasr’s abduction.
Far more vulnerable, though, are more than a half dozen high-level officers of Italy’s secret service who have also been indicted, all accused of in some way approving, masterminding or carrying out the kidnapping plan.
The Italian government has tried to block the prosecution or at least to limit embarrassing revelations by claiming that some or much of the evidence is classified or privileged information that could endanger national security.
For example, the Italians said that overzealous prosecutors should not have intercepted the C.I.A. operatives’ phone calls. A constitutional court is to on this issue on July 8, although it has failed to meet previous deadlines.
But the Milan prosecutor, Armando Spataro, has vowed to press on, noting that even if some documents are inadmissible, there are many levels of proof.
“We have the maximum respect for the constitutional court, but we don’t think any decision it makes will stop this trial from going forwards,” he said Wednesday during a break.
One of the documents in question has been introduced by the defense lawyers for Nicolò Pollari, former director of Sismi, Italy’s military intelligence agency, in an attempt to clear his name. It would presumably show that he, at least, was unaware of the kidnapping plan, or even actively opposed it.
Mr. Pollari’s lawyers claim that Mr. Berlusconi and his predecessor, Romano Prodi, have information that would clear Mr. Pollari’s name. On Wednesday, Judge Oscar Magi, presiding over the trial in a cramped, airless courtroom here, ruled they would have to testify if called.
Many members of Italy’s law enforcement agencies were furious about the kidnapping. They say they could have arrested Mr. Nasr at any time and had long had him under surveillance for potential connections with terrorists. They say his clumsy and illegal kidnapping erased years of police work that had put them on the verge of gaining valuable information about Muslim groups in Italy.
On Wednesday, defense lawyers tried to counter Ms. Nabila’s testimony, portraying her as an unreliable witness. She and her husband now live in Cairo with their 3-month-old child and are supported by Mr. Nasr’s family.
After Wednesday’s session, Titta Madia, a defense lawyer for Mr. Pollari, said that Ms. Nabila’s form of heavily veiled dress indicated an “unreliable witness” since it was “an expression of an extreme Islam,” moved by “a deep hatred of Americans and toward the Western world.”
For example, Ms. Nabila testified that after Mr. Nasr’s 14 months in the Toran prison in Cairo, he was repeatedly released by judges and re-arrested by the police, before being finally released for good in February 2007. She said that during the extended period of repeated detentions, her husband had told her that his Egyptian interrogators offered him American citizenship and payments of $1 million if he would cooperate.
When asked a series of questions about a home computer that was ultimately confiscated by the Italian police long after Mr. Nasr’s disappearance, she said he had no memory of the events.