Italy pardons U.S. pilot convicted in CIA rendition case

ROME Fri Apr 5, 2013 3:34pm EDT

Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, shows letters of well wishes from his supporters from around the world during a Reuters interview in his house in Alexandria, Egypt May 13, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer (EGYPT)

Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, shows letters of well wishes from his supporters from around the world during a Reuters interview in his house in Alexandria, Egypt May 13, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer (EGYPT)

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ROME (Reuters) - Italy's president on Friday pardoned a U.S. Air Force officer convicted of kidnapping an Egyptian Muslim cleric who was taken away for interrogation on a CIA "rendition" flight.

Such covert flights were among the tactics used to wage the "War on Terror" under the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush, after the 9/11 attacks. They have been condemned by human rights groups as a violation of international agreements.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said he had pardoned Colonel Joseph L. Romano, who was the only person not a member of the CIA among 23 Americans sentenced for the kidnapping of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr in Milan in 2003.

Romano's lawyer had requested the pardon. The clemency was granted because the United States and Italy are close allies that "share the common goals of promoting democracy and security" around the world, a statement from the president said.

The Egyptian cleric, also known as Abu Omar, was secretly flown to Egypt for interrogation, where he says he was tortured for seven months. He was a resident in Italy at the time of the abduction.

Italy was the first country to convict American nationals for their involvement in a rendition.

Romano and 21 others received seven-year jail terms for kidnapping, while the former CIA Milan station chief Robert Seldon Lady was sentenced to nine years in jail.

All were tried in absentia and the Italian government has so far shown little indication it will ask for them to be extradited to serve the terms. No reason was given for why Romano was awarded clemency while the 22 CIA members were not.

U.S. President Barack Obama has tried to distance himself from heavy-handed intelligence tactics employed by the Bush administration, and ordered the CIA to close its long-term prisons in 2009.

(Reporting by Naomi O'Leary; Editing by Steve Scherer and Pravin Char)

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