Italy’s President has pardoned a U.S. Air Force colonel, convicted in absentia by Italian courts in the CIA-conducted abduction of an Egyptian terror suspect from a Milan street, in a move he hoped would keep American-Italian relations strong, especially on security matters.

President Giorgio Napolitano’s office said the pardon was granted “in hopes of giving a solution to a situation to an affair considered by the U. S. to be without precedent because of the aspect of convicting a U.S. military officer of NATO for deeds committed on Italian soil.”

Joseph Romano was security chief of northern Italy’s Aviano air base where the abducted Egyptian Muslim cleric, Osama Moustafa Hassan, was taken before being flown out of the country and eventually to Egypt.

The trial was the first in the world involving the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme to abduct terror suspects and transfer them to third countries where torture is permitted.

The abduction took place in 2003 while Mr. Hassan was walking down a street in Milan, where he preached. The cleric was hustled by car off to Aviano and then transferred to a U.S. military base in Germany, before being flown to Egypt, where he said he was tortured. He was eventually released.

Mr. Romano’s defence said he was never formally notified of charges. Twenty-three Americans were convicted, all in absentia, and Italy’s highest criminal court last year upheld the convictions.

That top court decision paved the way for extradition requests by Italian authorities, but so far none have come from Premier Mario Monti’s government, staying on in a caretaker role following elections earlier this year. Mr. Napolitano, as President, has the power to grant pardon, and he issued Romano’s pardon a month before his seven-year-term expires.

End to approach

The presidential palace statement said that in deciding to pardon Mr. Romano, the president had “above all, taken into account the fact that the President of the United States, Barack Obama, immediately after his election, put an end to an approach of handling the challenges to national security” that were put into place after the September 11 attacks, “a precise and concrete” moment in history.

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