SAN JOSE, Costa Rica —
Italy conducted an aggressive investigation and charged 26 CIA and other U.S. government employees despite objections from Washington. All left Italy before charges were filed in the first trial in the world involving the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, under which terror suspects were abducted and transferred to third countries where many were tortured.
All of the U.S. suspects were eventually convicted but only Seldon Lady received a sentence — nine years in prison — that merited an extradition request under Italian legal guidelines.
He disappeared for years, offering sporadic comments to the media, until he reappeared in the public eye this week.
Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli is a right-leaning populist who took office in 2009 and was widely seen as alienating the Obama administration when he first took power with an authoritarian leadership style and attempts to exert control over Panama’s legislative and judicial branches.
But Martinelli grew closer to the U.S. as he publicly distanced Panama from leftist governments such as Venezuela and Cuba and expanded ties with the U.S. in trade and security cooperation. The latter was in full evidence this week when Panama, operating largely on U.S. intelligence, detained a North Korean ship carrying Soviet-era weapons from Cuba to North Korea in apparent violation of U.N. sanctions.
A bilateral free trade agreement went into effect in 2012 and the two countries have also signed a raft of security cooperation agreements including U.S. training of Panamanian security agents and American use of Panama’s airports and airspace for anti-drug flights. The countries also signed a 2010 deal expanding information sharing about goods and people passing through Panama’s international airport, a regional hub long exploited by drug traffickers and other criminals.
Economic ties founded in the U.S. construction and decades-long management of the Panama Canal remain essential to Panama’s economy; U.S. investment in Panama is greater than in the rest of Central America combined and has helped give Panama one of Latin America’s fastest growth rates.