Panama

CIA imam snatch agent handed to Interpol

Robert Seldon Lady planned 2003 rendition of cleric from Milan

CIA imam snatch agent handed to Interpol

Panama, July 19 - The CIA's former Milan station chief Robert Seldon Lady has been arrested and handed over to Interpol in Panama for his lead role in the abduction of Muslim cleric Hassan Mustafa Omar Nasr from Milan in 2003, Panama security ministry sources told ANSA Friday. Lady, who has been sentenced to nine years in prison in Italy, was detained Thursday for not paying an entry fee into Panama from Costa Rica, they confirmed. Italian Justice Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri has signed a request for Lady to be detained provisionally in Panama and Italy has two months to request an extradition. Panama and Italy do not have an extradition treaty but Panama could till decide to send Lady to Italy, diplomats say. 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 (now AISE) and taken to a NATO base in Ramstein, Germany, en route to Cairo. Last September Italy's top court of appeals, the Cassation Court, 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 issued an international arrest warrant for Lady after the Cassation's ruling, which made the convictions definitive. She decided to seek Lady's arrest because he was the brains behind the operation and had received the longest sentence. The CIA's former Italy chief Jeffrey Castelli, on the other hand, was originally acquitted along with two other operatives but in February a Milan appeals court overturned the acquittals, giving Castelli seven years and the others six years. The three are appealing to the Cassation Court. In a separate trial, former SISMI director Nicolo' Pollari and his deputy Marco Mancini got 10 and nine years in jail respectively for helping Lady organise Nasr's kidnapping. They, too, are appealing to the supreme court. 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".

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