SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – A fugitive former CIA base chief detained in Panama this week was being sent to the United States instead of Italy, which wanted him to serve prison time in the 2003 abduction of a terror suspect, the Obama administration said Friday.
Robert Seldon Lady was held in Panama on Thursday after Italy and Interpol requested his arrest for his role in the anti-terrorism program known as extraordinary rendition. After barely a day in detention, he was put on a plane to the U.S. by the Panamanian government, a close U.S. ally.
“It’s my understanding that he is in fact either en route or back in the United States,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters. She declined to disclose other details about his case.
Italy’s deputy foreign minister, Lap Pistelli, said in a statement that Italy “acknowledges” Panama’s decision, adding nothing more about the case. Italy and Panama have no extradition treaty, Italian diplomats said, but Panama would have been free to send Seldon Lady to Italy if it wanted.
Cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan 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 tortured.
All of the U.S. suspects were eventually convicted but only Seldon Lady received a sentence – nine years in prison – that merited an extradition request under Italian legal guidelines.
He disappeared for years, offering sporadic comments to the media, until he reappeared in the public eye this week.