Sabrina De Sousa stands accused by Italian officials as being one of the chief American agents participating in the alleged extraordinary rendition of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr off the streets of Italy and flying him to Egypt where he claims to have been tortured and imprisoned.
According to the Washington Post, De Sousa seeks diplomatic immunity from prosecution. "De Sousa, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in India, says she was ordered not to travel abroad because of the fear of arrest, preventing her from visiting her mother in India and siblings in Europe. De Sousa quit her job in the federal government in February."
Italian prosecutors, according to the NY Times, claim that De Sousa "was a C.I.A. officer serving under diplomatic cover in the United States Consulate in Milan" at the time of Nasr's abduction — an accusation that she denies. Rather, De Sousa "described herself as a diplomat".
The Post adds when "asked whether she had been a CIA employee, her attorney, Mark Zaid, said De Sousa had been 'a federal employee working for the State Department.'"
Nasr is also known as Abu Omar, a Muslim cleric who was being watched by Italian officials and, for years according to Spiegel, he had preached messages of hate against the United States to fundamentalist Muslims in Milan." Both U.S. and Italian officials thought Omar was a dangerous threat.
To the Italians, Abu Omar was one of the big fish, and his arrest was imminent. But for the CIA he was a target, and the US terrorist hunters didn't want to wait for the rule of law to complete its course. They wanted men like Omar to be taken out of circulation as quickly and quietly as possible.
Nasr was allegedly abducted off a Milan street on February 17, 2003 and flown to Egypt. In 2007, almost four years to the day later, he was released from jail with all charges against him dropped.
That same year arrest warrants were issued for 26 U.S. officials said by Italian prosecutors alleged to be part of Nasr's extraordinary rendition. Italian prosecutor Armando Spataro named De Sousa as one of the four principals. The NY Times adds "Italian investigators found [her] phone number in the cellphone of a C.I.A. officer involved in the rendition... But she insists that she played no role in the episode". De Sousa claims she was skiing 130 miles away.
But some outside observers aren't taking seriously her alibi. The staff at CQ Politics write, "DeSousa is as cool as you'd expect a CIA operative to be in a hot spot... She knows the routine. She mechanically denies her alleged CIA employment and other evidence connecting her to the abduction,gathered by local police."
"I had nothing to do with the planning, and nothing to do with the kidnapping, of this guy," she says.
The CQ Politics article adds that Matthew Cole, who is currently writing a book about the 2003 abduction, states "De Sousa was brought into CIA in the mid-1980's by her then-husband, a career CIA officer named Mike Herbert." According to Cole, she was a freelancer for the CIA before signing on with the agency. While Cole agrees De Sousa wasn't present at Nasr's abduction, he says "she was involved in the early planning and preparatory stages... and had some logistical role in the days leading up to the rendition".
The Times reports that "former agency officials said that she had worked for the C.I.A. in Italy." De Sousa is standing by her alibi and insisting, as a State Department employee, she had nothing to do with what allegedly happend to Nasr. Last week, De Sousa filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Washington asking "the court to order the government to invoke diplomatic immunity, provide her with legal counsel in Italy and pay her legal bills and other costs associated with the case."
The CIA will not comment on De Sousa's status and the State Department will only confirm she was a employee.
But the State Department officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, that they had been very active and "are pursuing every avenue to try to bring this case to a satisfactory resolution." They noted that most of the alleged officers charged in the rendition were not under diplomatic cover and would not qualify for immunity.
De Sousa told the Post that the warrant for her arrest raises concern for U.S. employees working abroad. "If you're going to fight this war on terror, are you going to protect your people?" she asked. "This is a political thing that needs to go away once and for all," she said.
While De Sousa is concerned about being prosecuted in Italian courts, that may be the least of her worries. Because who knows which secretive group will abduct an American off the streets of a foreign city and send him or her off to be tortured?
Having our government use tactics like extraordinary rendition and torture do not make us safer. Rather, I think they open the possibility for such tactics being used on anyone including Americans.