A Look at the Case of the ex-CIA Officer Being Extradited to Italy for Her Role in a 2003 Rendition

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Other Writing
Publication Date: 
February 24, 2017

[This post has been updated to reflect the fact that the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Italy’s involvement in the rendition violated its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.]

News outlets are reporting that Portugal will surrender ex-CIA officer Sabrina De Sousa—a dual U.S.-Portuguese citizen—to Italy in connection with the extraordinary rendition and mistreatment of an Egyptian cleric known as Abu Omar.  The move reflects the fact that De Sousa has exhausted her final appeal in Portuguese courts. The subject of a European Arrest Warrant (more on this below), De Sousa will be the first U.S. government agent to face jail time abroad (a potential four-year sentence) for President George W. Bush’s extraordinary rendition program. The Italian criminal proceedings join other legal efforts before the European Court of Human Rights and elsewhere challenging the involvement of European states in the U.S. rendition program (see our coverage here), including yesterday’s judgment that Italy breached Abu Omar and his wife’s rights to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, right to liberty and security, right to family life, and right to a remedy.

By way of background, the underlying case stems from the 2003 rendition of an Egyptian cleric, Osama Mustapha Hassan Nasr (known as “Abu Omar”). Abu Omar was picked up on the street in Milan and flown from one NATO airbase to another and finally onward to Egypt, where he was allegedly interrogated and tortured. De Sousa claims she was supervising her son’s ski trip on the day Abu Omar was captured and that her only involvement in the rendition was as a translator between the “snatch team” and Italian authorities.

In 2007, Italy issued an indictment against more than 25 U.S. implicated personnel, mostly from the CIA, for their involvement in Abu Omar’s kidnapping and transfer to Egypt.  A version of the Italian complaint is available here. In 2009, De Sousa and her co-accused were tried and convicted in absentia   (Some Italian personnel were also prosecuted for their role in this rendition, although these cases were hindered by the application of the Italian state secrets doctrine). She alleges that the CIA barred her from communicating with her court-appointed lawyer in Italy and initially refused to hire a private lawyer on her behalf. As the Italian proceedings were underway, De Sousa unsuccessfully petitioned and sued then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Department of State/CIA for failing to invoke consular immunity (for “official conduct”) on her behalf. (Her complaint—which indicates she was a Foreign Service officer with the Department of State—is here; the court’s opinion is here).  Her FOIA requests for documents about the rendition were rejected (the pleadings are here). The guilty verdict was affirmed by an Italian appeals court in 2012, although a political decision was made not to seek the defendants’ extradition. As I explain here, this is not a universal jurisdiction cases, since the crimes are alleged to have been committed within Italian territory.

Read the full post at Just Security

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