Poor Bob Lady. The CIA's top guy in Milan was wrapping up his tour in 2004 with plans to retire to an Italian villa he'd bought.
Then all hell broke lose. Acting on a tip that Italian police were going to arrest him in connection with a CIA kidnapping plot, he split, leaving his dreams behind.
Now he's behind bars in Panama, awaiting extradition to Italy for a half-baked CIA operation that he'd opposed. The irony is that he'd turned down an Italian prosecutor's offer to drop the charges in exchange for snitching out his fellow CIA agents. He'd kept his mouth shut out of loyalty to the spy agency he'd served for two decades.
But the CIA did nothing for him.
Italy's Justice Minister will have two months to file a request from Panama for the extradition of Robert Seldon Lady, Italian sources say--plenty of time for Obama administration officials to pressure Italy to drop its pursuit of the fugitive ex-CIA officer.
Under pressure from the Bush administration, the Justice Ministry rebuffed previous prosecutors' extradition requests.
Lady was the CIA's Milan base chief when agency operatives kidnapped (or "renditioned," at the U.S. prefers) a suspected al Qaeda operative from the city to a brutal interrogation in Egypt. Italian counterterrorism police broke open the case when the al Qaeda operative phoned his wife in Italy and disclosed his kidnapping by Americans.
Last December Italy's former justice minister, Paola Severino,?authorized an?international arrest warrant only for Lady, one of 22 CIA operatives convicted in absentia in the case, according to Italian media reports today.
Prosecutors in Milan had requested a warrant for the others, but Severino granted the warrant only for Lady, according to reports today in Il Fatto Quotidiano and Il Corriere della Sera.
Italy's Justice minister Anna Maria Cancellieri formally asked Panamanian authorities to detain Lady, thought to living in Central America in recent years, according to Italian sources.
Severino's decision to limit the warrant to Lady could mean good news for the other CIA fugitives.
But Mark S. Zaid, attorney for Sabrina De Sousa, one of the CIA officers convicted in the case who was posted in Milan as a U.S. diplomat, did not immediately see it that way.
"This arrest lies completely at the feet of the USGOVT for abandoning its diplomatic personnel," Zaid said in an email. "All US diplomats should be concerned about this development."
A 23d American convicted in the case, US Air Force Col. Joseph Romano, was granted a pardon by the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano last spring.
In 2012, Lady was sentenced in absentia to nine years in prison for his role in the kidnapping, but "as a result of a general amnesty issued three years earlier,?he?will spend only six years in jail instead of nine," according to veteran Italian investigative reporter Leo Sisti, who has covered the case closely for years. "The amnesty cut three years off almost every kind of crime," Sisti said.
Lady was detained in Panama after being rebuffed trying to enter Costa Rica (not the Dominican Republic, as originally reported in Italy).
The Justice Ministry's reuest for Lady's arrest, revealed for the first time today, represents a breakthrough of sorts for Milan prosecutor Armano Spataro, whose previous reauests fell on deaf ears in Rome. According to reports several years ago, the Justice Ministry had acceded to Bush administration requests to rebuff the prosecutor's request for the extradition of Lady and others sought in the case.??