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Ex-CIA chief allowed to return to U.S.

| Friday, July 19, 2013, 9:36 p.m.

Panama on Friday allowed a retired CIA station chief wanted in Italy for his role in the 2003 abduction of an Egyptian Muslim cleric to leave for the United States, permitting the former intelligence agent to avoid an Italian jail cell.

Robert Seldon Lady, the former CIA station chief in Milan, had been arrested earlier in the week as he attempted to cross into Costa Rica from Panama.

Panama offered no explanation for its decision to authorize Lady's release, but Italy's foreign ministry said it respected Panama's action in a sign that none of the countries involved cared to reopen one of the most controversial incidents of the George W. Bush administration's prosecution of its war against terrorism as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“It's my understanding that he is in fact either en route or back in the United States,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said during a daily briefing in Washington.

Lady, 59, was convicted along with 22 other CIA agents for the abduction of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, an Egyptian cleric who U.S. officials said was recruiting radical Muslims for jihad in the Middle East. Nasr, widely known as Abu Omar, later turned up in an Egyptian prison, where his lawyer said he'd been repeatedly tortured.

Lady's detention brought to the fore an issue that leaders in both Italy and the United States had sought to keep out of the limelight.

“It's a sensitive issue, and it is a source of embarrassment to the two countries. We cooperate on all kinds of things,” said Michael Calingaert, a visiting scholar and expert on U.S.-Italian relations at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

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