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Ex-CIA official in rendition case held in Panama

The Associated Press

PANAMA CITY -- A former CIA base chief convicted in the 2003 abduction of a terror suspect from an Italian street has been detained in Panama after Italy requested his arrest in one of the most notorious episodes of the U.S. program known as extraordinary rendition, Italian and Panamanian officials said yesterday.

Robert Seldon Lady, the former CIA chief in Milan, entered Panama, crossed the border into Costa Rica and was sent back to Panama, where he was detained, according to an Italian official familiar with Italy's investigation of the rendition of cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr.

A Panamanian National Police official said Lady, 59, had been detained Wednesday on the Costa Rica-Panama border.

The government of Panama, which maintains one of the region's closest relationships with the United States, was officially silent on the case. Security Minister Jose Raúl Mulino said he was unaware of Lady's detention and the press office of the National Police, which works with Interpol, said it had no information. The CIA also declined to comment.

Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was hustled into a car in February 2003 on a street in Milan, where he preached, and transferred to U.S. military bases in Italy and Germany before being flown to Egypt. He alleged he was tortured in Egypt before being released.

Italy conducted an aggressive investigation and charged 26 CIA and other U.S. government employees, despite objections from Washington. All left Italy before charges were filed in the first trial in the world involving the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, under which terror suspects were abducted and transferred to third countries where many were subjected to torture.

All the U.S. suspects were eventually convicted but only Lady received a sentence -- 9 years in prison -- that merited an extradition request under Italian legal guidelines.

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