CIA agent wanted in Italy 'handed to Interpol'

Prosecutor 'sure' cleric snatch mastermind won't be extradited

CIA agent wanted in Italy 'handed to Interpol'

(By Denis Greenan). Panama, July 19 - The key figure in a controversial CIA rendition of a Muslim cleric from Italy has reportedly been handed over to Interpol in Panama pending an Italian extradition request but the United States is viewed as extremely unlikely to let him end up in a foreign jail. The CIA's former Milan station chief, Robert Seldon Lady, was arrested after having trouble crossing the border into Costa Rica Wednesday. Lady has been sentenced to nine years in prison in Italy for his lead role in the abduction of Muslim cleric Hassan Mustafa Omar Nasr in 2003. Lady, who was reportedly in Panama on a tourist visa with a Colombian woman, was detained by Panamanian police for irregularities regarding an entry fee into Costa Rica "and handed over to Interpol", security ministry sources told ANSA, although the ministry did not comment officially. 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. However, Panama and Italy do not have an extradition treaty and an Italian prosecutor who helped secure Lady's conviction said he had no confidence that the ex-CIA operative would be flown to Rome. Talking to reporters in Milan, Ferdinando Pomarici said he was "sure" the US will prevent Lady being extradited. "The US authorities will oppose the extradition of Robert Seldon Lady in all ways and will exert pressure in all directions to make sure that does not happen," he said. "I'm sure of this," Pomarici said. The US, which wields influence in the Central American country, is famously unwilling to hand its citizens over to foreign jurisdictions, the prosecutor noted. Meanwhile Panamanian media stressed the "absolute silence" of their country's government, judicial and immigration authorities on the case since it broke Thursday night. The La Prensa daily noted that Security Minister José Raul Mulini had said "he had not been informed" about the affair while the foreign ministry announced it would "not supply any information" and both the police and the national prosecutor's office were "keeping to a strict press blackout". 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 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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