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American wanted by Italy in rendition case released in Panama

By Hada Messia, CNN
July 19, 2013 -- Updated 1800 GMT (0200 HKT)
[File photo] Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar, in Cairo on 11 April 2007.
[File photo] Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar, in Cairo on 11 April 2007.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • An ex-CIA base chief was arrested in Panama on an Italian arrest warrant
  • He was convicted in absentia for his role in a 2003 rendition case
  • The State Department says Robert Seldon Lady is now headed to the United States

Washington (CNN) -- A former CIA base chief wanted by Italy and detained in Panama has been released, a State Department spokeswoman said Friday.

Robert Seldon Lady, who had been convicted by an Italian court for his role in a 2003 rendition case, was flying back to the United States.

"It's my understanding that he is in fact either en route or back in the United States. Beyond that I have no further details," State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters.

In a 2009 trial, an Italian court convicted Lady and 22 others of abducting Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr, or Abu Omar, from the streets of Milan in 2003. Italian prosecutors said Abu Omar was nabbed by a CIA team working with Italian officials.

The trial was the first 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.

Abu Omar, who was suspected of recruiting men to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan and was under heavy surveillance by Italy's intelligence agency, was transferred to Egypt and tortured, Italian prosecutors said.

A former senior CIA official said Lady is no longer with the CIA.

In the 2009 trial, the Italian court sentenced Lady to eight years in prison, prosecutor Armando Spataro said. The other Americans were sentenced to five years.

Each of the 23 Americans was ordered to pay 1 million euros (about $1.3 million) to Abu Omar, plus 500,000 euros to his wife.

But at the time, it seemed unlikely that the convictions would have much effect on the Americans, as none appeared at the trial and the Italian government did not ask for their extradition.

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

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