UPDATE: One of the 23 American citizens convicted in an Italian court of kidnapping a Muslic cleric in 2003 says the CIA "broke the law" when it ordered the operation.


Sabrina DeSousa, a former CIA operative, told ABC News that the agency and the US government "betrayed and abandoned" her and the other US government employees who orchestrated the kidnapping as part of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, which saw terrorism suspects shipped to countries where they could be tortured within the confines of local law.

DeSousa a said she and the 22 other defendants in the case "are paying for the mistakes right now, whoever authorized and approved this."

ABC News reports:

Representative Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), a member of the House Intelligence Committee told ABC News that the trial was a disaster for CIA officers like DeSousa on the frontline.

"I think these people have been put out there. They've been hung out to dry. They're taking the fall potentially for a decision that was made by their superiors in our agencies. It's the wrong place to go."

ORIGINAL STORY FOLLOWS BELOW

Twenty three Americans have been convicted in absentia, after an Italian court found them guilty of kidnapping in the CIA rendition of a Muslim cleric, the Associated Press reports. Three other Americans were acquitted.

The New York Times reported earlier today, "Italian prosecutors have charged the American officials, all but one of them alleged to be agents of the Central Intelligence Agency, and seven members of the Italian military intelligence agency, in the abduction of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, known as Abu Omar, on Feb. 17, 2003. Prosecutors say the cleric was snatched in broad daylight, flown from an American air base in Italy to a base in Germany and then on to Egypt, where he claims he was tortured."

According to the Times, "The Italian counterterrorism prosecutor Armando Spataro is seeking 13-year jail terms for Jeff Castelli, a former C.I.A. station chief in Rome, and Nicolò Pollari, a former head of Italian military intelligence, for their suspected roles in the abduction. He is seeking 12-year terms for Robert Seldon Lady, who as C.I.A. station chief in Milan is accused of having coordinated the operation, and Sabrina De Souza, who worked in the United States Embassy in Rome and is accused of having worked closely with Mr. Lady."

Charges against Pollari and his deputy, as well as three other Italian defendants, were dropped "because Italy withheld evidence, contending it was classified information." Pollari is also known as the Italian official who first brought to the attention of the White House claims that Saddam Hussein had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger.

Lady, a veteran of covert CIA operations in Latin America during Iran-Contra, was given the longest sentence, but his whereabouts are currently unknown. Lady said of the kidnapping in an interview last spring, “Of course it was an illegal operation. But that’s our job." He also claimed, ""I am not guilty. I am only responsible for following an order I received from my superiors."

The Times notes that the case, which has been going on for three years, is the first to challenge the legality of the practice of "extraordinary rendition" and is "widely seen as a referendum on Bush administration foreign policy." The government of Premier Silvio Berlusconi, however, has refused to seek extradition of any of the Americans, making it questionable whether the guilty verdicts can be enforced.