di Davide Marchetta
Rome, July 18 - The CIA's former Milan station chief Robert Lady has been detained in Panama over his role in the abduction of Muslim cleric Hassan Mustafa Omar Nasr in Italy in 2003. Lady has been sentenced to nine years in prison in Italy over the case. Italian Justice Minister Annamaria Cancellieri has signed a request for Lady to be detained provisionally in Panama and Italy has two months to request an extradition. Nasr, an Islamist suspected of recruiting jihadi fighters, disappeared from a Milan street on February 17, 2003 and emerged from an Egyptian prison four years later claiming he had been tortured. Nasr was snatched by a team of CIA operatives with the help of Italian secret service agency SISMI and taken to a NATO base in Ramstein, Germany, en route to Cairo. Last September Italy's top court of appeals upheld the convictions of 22 CIA agents, including Lady, found guilty of abducting Nasr in the world's first judicial examination of the controversial US practice of extraordinary rendition in the so-called war on terror. Cancellieri's predecessor, Paola Severino, in December decided launch international search procedures after the Cassation's ruling, which made the convictions definitive. In a separate proceedings, former SISMI director Nicolò Pollari, his deputy Marco Mancini and the CIA's former Italy chief Jeffrey Castelli were sentence to 10, nine and seven years in jail respectively in February. The other two CIA agents were sentenced to six years in prison. In April Italian President Giorgio Napolitano pardoned a retired US airforce officer, Joseph L. Romano, who, like the other American nationals, was convicted in absentia. Extraordinary rendition was first authorised by former American president Bill Clinton in the 1990s and stepped up when his successor George W. Bush declared war on terror after the September 11, 2001 attacks by Al-Qaeda. During the trials the CIA had refused to comment and its officers were silent until Lady told an Italian daily in August 2009 that he was only following orders. Lady, who has now retired, said from an undisclosed location that he was "a soldier...in a war against terrorism". The trial of Nasr claimed headlines worldwide and stoked discussion of rendition, which was extended by President Barack Obama in 2008 under the proviso that detainees' rights should be respected. The Council of Europe, a 47-nation human rights body,called Nasr's case a "perfect example of rendition". photo: Justice Minister Annamaria Cancellieri.