Ex-CIA chief seeks Italy pardon for Egypt rendition

Egyptian cleric Osama Hassan Mustafa Nasr talks on his mobile as he walks at a Cairo street on 11 April 2007. Cleric Abu Omar was snatched from a street in Milan in 2003

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A former CIA station chief has asked the Italian president for a pardon after being convicted in absentia of kidnapping an Egyptian Muslim cleric.

Robert Seldon Lady was sentenced to nine years in jail over the abduction of Abu Omar from Milan in 2003.

Two months after a brief detention in Panama, Lady wrote to Giorgio Napolitano to apologise for putting a strain on US-Italian relations.

His trial was the first of its kind against CIA rendition practices.

"I ask you and Italy for personal forgiveness and legal pardon,'' Lady said in a letter delivered to the presidential office on Wednesday.

"I never intended to disrespect Italy's sovereignty... quite to the contrary,'' he continued.

'Fed up'

The 59-year-old had been briefly detained in Panama in July due to an international arrest warrant issued after his sentencing. However, he was released before Italy - which has not yet formally started extradition proceedings - could process a request.

He is now believed to be back in the US.

According to his lawyer, Tom Spencer, Lady did not realise there was a warrant out for his arrest.

"Bob's fed up and wants to face it head-on and get this resolved," Mr Spencer told Reuters news agency.

In the letter, Lady mentioned President Napolitano's recent pardoning of an Air Force colonel, Joseph Romano, who was the only member of the US military to be tried in the same case.

"I don't wear a uniform, but I was a soldier in the war against terrorism and I had immunity," Lady was earlier quoted as saying in an interview with Italian paper, La Stampa, on Thursday.

Without going into detail about the case, Lady said his actions had been "vetted by very high officials", adding that he had been advised they were in accordance with US, Italian and international law.

"I apologise to you in your capacity as president and to the Italian people for the strain this policy and case has caused in the bilateral relations of Italy and America," he wrote in the letter.

Lady was among 23 American nationals convicted in the same extraordinary rendition case.

Considered a terrorism suspect by the US, Abu Omar, also known as Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, was abducted on a Milan street in February 2003 and transferred between US military bases in Italy and Germany before being brought to Egypt.

He alleged he was tortured in Egypt before being released.

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