Image Sabrina DeSousa

Former CIA officer extradited to Italy to serve 4 year prison sentence for kidnapping

Former CIA Foreign Service Officer Sabrina De Sousa (61) will be handed over to Italian authorities in the coming week to serve a 4 year prison sentence after having been convicted in absentia for alleged involvement in the US Intelligence community’s rendition and enhanced interrogation programs. A Portuguese court agreed to the extradition request on Tuesday.

Mrs. De Sousa is one of 26 Americans connected with a Central Intelligence Agency operation in Italy to abduct and interrogate Egyptian cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, on February 17th, 2003. After being abducted in Milan by U.S. and Italian intelligence agents, Omar was then brought to Egypt for interrogation, where he claims he was tortured by Egyptian authorities, and imprisoned for four years. Omar was not charged with any crime, and in February 2007, he was released.

The European Court of Human Rights would later, in February 2016, unanimously rule that Italy had to pay Omar and his wife $127,000 for suffering and costs. This came after he had been convicted in absentia of terrorism, in December, 2013, by an Italian court for offenses before his abduction, and sentenced to 6 years in prison. According to the indictment at his trial, at the time of his rendition, Omar had been under investigation for a year as part of a broader inquiry into Islamist militancy based in Milan. Prosecutors claimed he had collaborated with 13 others between 2000 and 2003 “with the aim of carrying out acts of terrorist violence in Italy and abroad”.

Surveillance photo of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, who was subject to “extraordinary rendition” in Feb. 2003, and released in Egypt in Feb. 2007.

The CIA U.S. Intelligence rendition program, under which terror suspects were kidnapped and transferred to centers where they were interrogated and exposed to “enhanced interrogation techniques,” was part of the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism strategy. The program played a part in the attempts to locate Osama Bin Laden in 2011. Former President Barack Obama ended the program years later.

In 2004, an Italian prosecutor had launched a high profile criminal investigation into the alleged kidnapping of Omar, nicknamed “Imam Rapito” (or “kidnapped Imam”), and by July 2006, the prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for De Sousa, whom he identified as one of four U.S. officials mainly responsible for the kidnapping.

Around the time De Sousa’s arrest warrant was issued in 2006, De Sousa claims she wrote to then Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice requesting that the U.S. government invoke diplomatic or consular immunity and provide her with legal representation to counter the charges in the Italian criminal case. She did not receive any response.

De Sousa claims that in early 2009, she then wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton requesting official government assistance with the Italian case, but she again did not receive a response. De Sousa would later be provided defense counsel in Italy by the U.S. government after filing a lawsuit against the U.S. State Department in 2009. On November 4, 2009, an Italian judge issued convictions for 23 U.S. officials, including De Sousa.

De Sousa, who was assigned to the U.S. Consulate in Milan at the time of the kidnapping, has maintained that she played no role in it, was unaware of it, and that she is merely a scapegoat for an embarrassing and illegal CIA operation that went wrong. De Sousa claims that at the time of the kidnapping, she was vacationing at a ski resort over 100 miles from Milan.

The message that this scenario sends to civilian government employees serving this country on tours of duty abroad is a potentially demoralizing one.

– U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell

De Sousa’s lawsuit against the U.S. State Department and the CIA alleged that these agencies violated her constitutional rights by failing to assert diplomatic or consular immunity on her behalf in the Italian courts, and by allowing defamatory information about her to spread unchecked (Amended Complaint). In the lawsuit she alleged that the State Department “constructively permitted inaccurate and defamatory information” regarding her “to be publicly reported world-wide and to be utilized as a basis for her criminal conviction.” De Sousa alleged that this information “publicly impugned” her reputation, and that she was no longer able to travel outside the United States at the risk of arrest and criminal imprisonment.

DeSousa’s case was dismissed at the pleading stage in January 2012, primarily on procedural grounds (e.g., “This type of claim presents a political question that this Court cannot answer”), and her appeal was denied. The court’s decision noted that, “The facts underlying this case are troubling in many ways. The plaintiff served the government and the people of the United States in the Foreign Service for a decade. During the course of her service to this country, she was accused and convicted in absentia of committing a crime in a foreign nation, not for any personal gain, but at the alleged behest of the United States government. According to her allegations, she requested the government’s assistance to counter the charges against her in Italy, but received none and was instead “[e]ffectively abandoned and left to fend for herself.”

The court continued, “when the plaintiff sought judicial review in this Court, the government did little to minimize the “logistical obstacles” presented by the need to protect against the inadvertent disclosure of classified information, but rather denied her counsel the use of a secure computer to draft filings and “threatened” the continuation of her counsel’s security clearance … The message that this scenario sends to civilian government employees serving this country on tours of duty abroad is a potentially demoralizing one.”

In October 2015, De Sousa was briefly detained at the Lisbon airport in Portugal on her way to her home country of India. Her passport was confiscated, and she was ordered not to leave the country while the Portuguese courts decided if she was to be extradited to Italy. The decision went all the way to the Portuguese Supreme Court and Constitutional Court.

In June, 2016, the courts finalized her extradition, and in February, 2017, De Sousa was taken into custody to be transferred to Italian custody.

De Sousa, Barbara L. Salisbury 

De Sousa holds both American and Portuguese citizenship, and passports. She was allegedly traveling on her Portuguese passport at the time of detainment in October, 2015.

The U.S. government expressed concern with De Sousa’s treatment in a statement. “We are deeply disappointed in her conviction and sentence,” said acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner. “We have asked our European counterparts what their next steps may be, but we are not in a position to detail those discussions.”

DeSousa v. US State Dept. Opinion 1-2012


Anthony A. LoPresti, LIMA CHARLIE NEWS

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