A former CIA official who was previously convicted of kidnapping an alleged terrorist in Italy was released from Panama on Friday, where he was arrested earlier this week and detained at the request of Italian authorities.
Robert Seldon Lady was the CIA's Milan station chief and was convicted by an Italian court for kidnapping Muslim cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, an Egyptian terror suspect, in 2003. The State Department confirmed that Seldon Lady had been arrested in Panama and was on a flight back to the United States on Friday.
"It's our understanding that he's on a plane en route to the United States right now," a senior Obama administration official told The Washington Post.
Seldon Lady and 22 other government employees, were all charged with the kidnapping. They fled before the trial, but were convicted in absentia in 2009. Seldon Lady faces a sentence of up to nine years in prison, The Washington Post reported.
News of Seldon Lady's release back to the United States has begun to spark controversy, as human rights groups are calling for his extradition to Italy where he would face his sentence. The case originally called attention to a controversial interrogation practice known as "extraordinary rendition."
The government employees reportedly took the cleric, known as Abu Omar, from Milan and sent him to Germany, then Egypt, where he was interrogated and allegedly tortured for information, according to Voice of America.
Such practices have been in place since 1995, but have been harshly criticized by human rights organizations who say the behavior avoids typical diplomatic rendition options. The tactics were largely stepped up under the Bush Administration following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The Center for Constitutional Rights, an advocacy group in the United States, said in a statement to the Christian Science Monitor that Seldon Lady's arrest earlier this week was a step forward.
"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 the statement.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International issued a statement saying Seldon Lady should be returned to Italy to be "brought to justice" for his involvement in the "sordid affair."
"By his own admission, he participated in a kidnapping operation that resulted in a man being tortured," said John Dalhuisen, the organization's Europe and Central Asia program director, in a statement. "Seldon Lady evaded justice by leaving Italy before his trial. This time he should have to answer the charges against him in Italy in person."