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Italy pardons U.S. Air Force officer in rendition case

By CNN Staff
April 6, 2013 -- Updated 2112 GMT (0512 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S. Air Force Col. Joseph Romano was convicted in absentia in 2009
  • He was one of nearly two dozen tried for their role in seizing a suspected terrorist
  • ANSA: Italy's president pardoned Romano to solve "a situation of great delicacy"

(CNN) -- Italy's president has pardoned a U.S. Air Force colonel convicted in absentia for his role in the seizing of a suspected terrorist in Italy in 2003.

Nearly two dozen Americans, most thought to work for the CIA, were tried in 2009.

The trial was the first in the world to deal with a practice that human rights groups call "extraordinary rendition." They say the United States has often transferred terrorism suspects to countries that practice torture.

Washington has acknowledged making secret "rendition" transfers of terrorism suspects between countries but denies using torture or handing suspects over to countries that do.

"(Defense) Secretary (Chuck) Hagel welcomes the news of (Italian) President (Giorgio) Napolitano's decision to grant clemency to U.S. Air Force Col. Joseph Romano, and appreciates the Italian government's careful consideration of this matter," Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement Saturday.

The case centered on the extraordinary rendition of a Muslim cleric, Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr, or Abu Omar.

He was seized on the streets of Milan in 2003, transferred to Egypt and tortured, he says. He was suspected of recruiting men to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan and was under heavy surveillance by Italy's intelligence agency.

Prosecutors said he was nabbed by a CIA team working with Italian intelligence officials.

Napolitano pardoned Romano to "find a solution to an affair considered by the United States to be unprecedented" and to solve "a situation of great delicacy," Italian news agency ANSA reported, citing the president's office.

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