By COLLEEN BARRYAssociated Press
MILAN (AP) - A former CIA base chief has asked Italy's president for a pardon of his conviction in absentia of kidnapping a terror suspect as part of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, apologizing for the strain the case has put on U.S.-Italy relations and citing Italy's pardon of another American convicted in the case.
"I never intended to disrespect Italy's sovereignty - quite to the contrary," Robert Seldon Lady, a former U.S. consular officer based in Milan, wrote in the four-page letter obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.
President Giorgio Napolitano's office confirmed receipt of the letter, and said the request had been forwarded to the office for justice affairs.
Seldon Lady, 59, was sentenced to nine years for the 2003 kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric suspected of recruiting terrorists in Milan, and was briefly held this summer in Panama based on an international arrest warrant issued before being allowed to return to the U.S.
One of 26 CIA and U.S. government employees convicted in absentia in the kidnapping, he received the toughest sentence and is the only one subject to extradition under Italian law. Italy has yet to formally request his extradition, but has issued a notice through Interpol of its arrest warrant.
In requesting the pardon, Seldon Lady noted that he is the only one of the U.S. defendants subject to an international arrest warrant and cited Napolitano's pardon earlier this year of a U.S. Air Force colonel who had convicted in the case. U.S. Air Force Col. Joseph Romano, who was security chief at Aviano Air Force base, was the only member of the U.S. military to be tried in the case and Napolitano said it was unprecedented to try an officer of a NATO country for acts committed in Italy.
Seldon Lady said he had been advised that his actions were in accordance with U.S., Italian and international law and were "vetted by very high officials," and emphasized that none of the defendants had any authority over the policies of the previous administration.
"I apologize 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. I ask you and Italy for personal forgiveness and legal pardon."
He said that he and other government personnel "who were directed by senior officials have been severely damaged by these convictions. We have been more than adequately punished. The careers of most of us have been forever destroyed."
The letter contained no details of the actual kidnapping, with Seldon Lady saying he couldn't legally comment on the "facts and circumstances surrounding the Abu Omar case."
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.
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