Former CIA officer Sabrina De Sousa faces extradition to Italy over Abu Omar ‘extraordinary rendition’ kidnapping
Sabrina De Sousa was arrested in Portugal in October after being convicted over Egyptian cleric’s extraordinary rendition
A former undercover CIA officer is to be extradited to Italy following her conviction over the 2003 extraordinary rendition of a terror suspect to Egypt.
Sabrina De Sousa, a dual US and Portuguese citizen, was arrested in Portugal last October and has since lost three appeals against being handed over to Italian authorities. Her extradition is scheduled for 4 May.
At the heart of the case lies the kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr – known as Abu Omar – who was snatched off the streets of Milan by the CIA, allegedly with the help of Italian officials, and sent to Egypt, where he was allegedly tortured.
The case was investigated by an independent prosecutor in Italy, leading to the conviction in absentia of De Sousa and 21 other CIA operatives and high-ranking officials . At the time, the case was seen as the only exhaustive investigation of the illegal counter-terrorism practice known as extraordinary rendition, and exposed US allies’ role in helping to execute the strategy.
Convictions of members of the Italian military intelligence agency Sismi were later overturned by Italy’s high court on the grounds of “state secrecy”.
De Sousa told the Guardian she would voluntarily meet Italian authorities and said she was “encouraged” her case might get a second look by Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, who can pardon her.
“I am very encouraged by recent developments,” she said in a phone interview on Sunday night. “I will voluntarily meet with Italian authorities to provide further sensitive information, because before we were not allowed to defend ourselves and now I am going to do that if it is required.”
The US embassy in Rome declined to comment.
Italy was condemned in February for its role in the kidnapping by the European court of human rights, which ordered the country to pay €70,000 (£55,000) in compensation to Abu Omar, and €15,000 (£12,000) to his wife.
While De Sousa was working in Italy, she was registered as a Department of State officer of the US consulate in Milan, giving her diplomatic immunity. But she was actually an undercover CIA officer.
She has insisted that she played a minor role in the early-stage discussions about renditions in general and was not specifically involved in the kidnapping of Abu Omar. She believes that she should have been offered diplomatic immunity and that she has become a thorn in the side of the CIA, her former employer.
De Sousa has claimed senior officials had allowed lower-ranking employees to serve as scapegoats in the case, instead of accepting responsibility for the still-classified extraordinary rendition policy.
Her arrest was partly the result of her own risky decision to travel from the US to Portugal late last year to visit family. Italy has never sought her extradition from the US, but De Sousa had been the subject of an outstanding European arrest warrant and was detained last October when she tried to leave Portugal to fly to India, where she also has family.
The case has raised a host of complicated political questions and created a delicate situation for the government of Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, which has been landed with a case it never sought or supported. The foreign ministry and interior ministry did not return requests for comment.
In her interview with the Guardian, De Sousa said the US government had been instrumental in convincing the Italian president to issue partial pardons to two other officials last year – former CIA Milan station chief Robert Seldon Lady and Betnie Medero – but had not previously advocated on her behalf.
Any pardon of De Sousa, even under possible US pressure, would likely be viewed critically in Italy, given enormous press attention in the unrelated case of the torture and murder of the Italian student Giulio Regeni, possibly at the hands of Egyptian authorities.
De Sousa denied that the Regeni case could interfere with her own, despite the fact that Mattarella – a highly respected public figure – could open himself up to accusations of hypocrisy if he pardoned an American who was convicted in an Italian court in a case involving torture, while at the same time calling for justice for an Italian killed in Egypt.
De Sousa said her US lawyer, Abbe Lowell, was in touch with US agencies about the case and that her Italian lawyer had presented “clarifying technical and legal issues” to Mattarella’s office and the Italian ministry of justice.
She also claimed that the European arrest warrant against her had formally guaranteed that, upon extradition, she would be notified of her four-year sentence and have the right to a retrial or appeal if there was new evidence in her case.
She also acknowledged that she does not know what will happen next. “To be very honest, I am looking at a complete and total unknown, because this has never happened to a federal employee and no CIA officer has ever been extradited,” she said.
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