If the case of Ray Davis is any guide, ex-CIA officer Robert Seldon Lady will not spend a day in Italy any time soon, much less in an Italian prison.
CIA aficionados will remember that Davis, a 38-year-old counterterrorism contractor, was arrested after killing two Pakistani men during a 2011 street confrontation in Lahore.
The shootings caused an uproar, with millions of Pakistanis calling for Davis's head. For a while, it looked like the ex-Special Forces soldier would not see blue sky again outside a prison yard. But then Washington stepped in, handed over untold dollars in "blood money" to the victims' families, and Davis was sprung.
Lady, fugitive from an Italian conviction for kidnapping, seems to be benefitting from the same largesse.
The former career CIA operative was reported Friday to be on a flight to the United States after being detained overnight in Panama.
No doubt Panama wanted to wash it hands quickly of Lady, who was convicted in absentia in Italy for his role in the CIA's abduction of an al Qaeda suspect off a Milan street in 2003. In 2009 he was sentenced to nine years in jail (later reduced to six as part of a general amnesty program). Almost two dozen Americans were convicted in the case, all but one CIA agents.
But Italy's Justice Ministry quietly issued an arrest warrant only for Lady last December. He was reportedly detained in Panama after being turned back by Costa Rican customs after trying to enter that country.
What he was doing in Panama has not been disclosed. He has been living in Honduras in recent years.
Years earlier Bush administration officials had persuaded a previous Italian Justice Minister to rebuff a Milan prosecutor's request for Rome to ask Washington to extradite Lady and the other CIA agents to stand trial.
Either the current Justice Minister had radically different politics, or Obama officials weren't paying attention--or both. But the outcome will likely be the same.
I'd be shocked if CIA Director John Brennan weren't on the phone within minutes after Lady's detention warning President Obama, Attorney General Holder and anyone else who would listen that it will be disastrous for CIA morale to turn Lady over.
Brennan, a former CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia, will warn the president of significant, if not mass, resignations in the agency's spy ranks if Lady is put on a plane to Rome. It's not inconceivable that Francis "Frank" Archibald, head of the agency's National Clandestine Service would resign.
The longer the issue drags on, the more we'll see former CIA directors, ex-spies and influential columnists -- not to mention Republicans and their Fox News echo chamber -- howling at Obama on the cable shows. The Op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other outlets will be studded with somber columns warning of chaos in the ranks.
The pressure will be intolerable. As it should be.
Obama shouldn't let it get that far. He should shove Eric Holder to the nearest podium with a quick, brief announcement that Lady will not be turned over. End of story.
Italian officials will yelp, with good reason. So will human rights organizations, already long disgusted by the CIA's counterterrorism practices and the administration's assertion of a right to assassinate American citizens with CIA drones, not to mention NSA spying. There will be speeches about abusing the rule of law, from Milan to the offices of the ACLU.
As it should be.
But as tough calls go, this one is a no-brainer.
Lady was dispatched to Milan, where he was the CIA's base chief under light diplomatic cover. According to some accounts, he opposed the plan by CIA higher-ups to snatch al Qaeda suspect Abu Omar off the street and bundle him off to Egypt for interrogation.
In any event, he was a cog in the wheel. Lady's superiors in the loopy plan, notably the CIA's Rome station chief Jeff Castelli, and his boss, then-CIA operations chief Stephen Kappes, emerged from the scandal unscathed. (Italy granted Castelli diplomatic immunity.)
Start with them, if you want a scalp. In the meantime, give Bob Lady a break--topping it with an announcement that the practice of renditions is over, unless the situation is truly, without question, "extraordinary."