MEXICO CITY -- Panamanian authorities have arrested a retired CIA station chief who was convicted in absentia in Italy for kidnapping an Egyptian cleric who was accused of terrorism and sent back to Egypt for questioning and a jail term.
Robert Seldon Lady was the CIA station chief in Milan when Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr was pulled from the streets of that city as part of an operation that Italian prosecutors later said involved 22 American agents, all of whom fled Italy shortly afterward.
Italys main news agency, ANSA, reported that Lady was detained in Panama and that Italian Justice Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri would have two months to formally request his extradition.
No officials in Panama immediately confirmed Ladys arrest.
Were looking into the reports and were seeking further details from the government of Panama, a State Department spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of privacy laws involving U.S. citizens.
Italys top court of appeals in September confirmed a nine-year jail term for Lady in the extraordinary case, the first attempt by a foreign judiciary to prosecute U.S. officials for the controversial practice of extraordinary rendition the practice of sending a person detained in one country to another country for questioning without requesting the approval of a court.
First approved as a counterterror tactic in 1995, extraordinary rendition was stepped up during the administration of President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The tactic has been harshly criticized by human rights groups because it circumvents regular extradition practices processed through diplomatic channels between nations. The Center for Constitutional Rights, a liberal U.S. advocacy group, welcomed the arrest.
While the United States refuses to investigate or prosecute its own officials for torture and other serious breaches of domestic and international law, other countries like Italy have been willing to place the demands of justice above politics, the organization said in a statement.
A CIA spokesman said the agency had no comment on the case.
Nasr was snatched from Milans Via Guerzoni before noon Feb. 17, 2003, by two men who sprayed chemicals in his face and forced him into a white van. He turned up in an Egyptian prison, where he spent four years before his release. U.S. officials suspected him of recruiting radical Muslims in Italy for jihad in the Middle East, but he was never charged with a crime in Italy or Egypt.
Italian prosecutors said they proved that the van was part of a CIA scheme to round up Nasr, move him to an air base north of Venice and on to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, before delivering him to Egyptian interrogators.
Neither Nasr nor Lady, who oversaw his abduction from a nearby cafe, have found good fortune since.
According to a March 2007 article in GQ magazine, Lady was born in Honduras, the son of Americans, and grew up there. He spent more than two decades in the CIA. At the time of the rendition of Nasr, Lady, who is 59 now, was only a year from retirement.
When the GQ writer spoke to him at a strip mall near Miami, Lady said hed been on the run since his initial conviction in Italy in 2005.
The agency has told me to keep quiet and let this blow over, Lady told the magazine. But its not blowing over for me. I pay $4,000 a month on a mortgage to a house I cant live in.