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Ex-CIA official seeks pardon in Italy over rendition

By Steve Scherer

ROME (Reuters) - Former CIA Milan station chief Robert Seldon Lady has asked Italy's president to pardon him for kidnapping an Egyptian Muslim cleric under the U.S. "extraordinary rendition" program for which he was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Lady was among 23 Americans convicted for snatching Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr from a street in Milan in 2003 and whisking him away to be questioned in Egypt.

The Italian trial was the first of its kind against such "renditions" practiced by former U.S. President George W. Bush's administration in the wake of the September 11 attacks on Washington and New York.

Lady was tried in absentia and first convicted in 2009. Last year his final appeal was rejected.

Lady's lawyer Tom Spencer and President Giorgio Napolitano's office confirmed on Thursday that a pardon request had been made.

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

"I have never had anything but the best intentions for the people of Italy and I ask its forgiveness."

The ex-spy was detained in Panama in July due to an international arrest warrant issued after his sentence became definitive last year, but he was released after little more than a day, before Italy could process an extradition request.

Before being held in Panama, Lady was not aware that Italy was seeking his arrest, Spencer said in a phone interview from Miami. That is why he decided to ask for clemency now.

"Bob's fed up and wants to face it head on and get this resolved," Spencer said.

In the letter, Lady said he had refused to testify in his defense because he would have broken both American and Italian laws regarding state secrets.

PRECEDENT FOR PARDON

In April, Napolitano granted a request for pardon to U.S. Air Force officer Colonel Joseph L. Romano, the only person not working for the CIA in the rendition.

Napolitano said he granted clemency to Romano, the pilot who flew Abu Omar to Egypt, because Italy and the United States are close allies in the promotion of global democracy and security.

"I don't wear a uniform, but I was a soldier in the war against terrorism and I had immunity," Lady said in an interview published in La Stampa newspaper on Thursday.

The "extraordinary rendition" program by the Bush administration has been condemned by human rights groups and prompted investigations into the procedure in countries allied to the United States.

The rendition of Abu Omar, who Lady said was in the process of planning a attack, led to further renditions in other countries, Lady told La Stampa.

He denied that the Egyptian cleric had been tortured during the seven months he was held captive.

"I went to Egypt to assist with the interrogations, and I can guarantee that he was never tortured," Lady said.

(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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