A former CIA officer convicted in Italy of playing a role in a kidnapping under the agency’s “extraordinary rendition” program said Wednesday that she will be extradited to Italy and sent to prison.
Sabrina de Sousa was convicted in absentia by an Italian court — along with 25 other Americans — of the kidnapping of Egyptian cleric Abu Omar off the streets of Milan 13 years ago.
The kidnapping was part of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program, under which, as The Associated Press puts it, “terrorism suspects were kidnapped and transferred to centers where they were interrogated and tortured.” The program was greatly expanded during the George W. Bush administration, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
De Sousa, who was working undercover for the CIA in Italy at the time of Abu Omar’s kidnapping, denies personal involvement in the abduction. As NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly reported last month, De Sousa says she and her son were on a school trip to the ski slopes in northern Italy, more than 150 miles from Milan, for the entire week during which Abu Omar was abducted.
Of the 26 Americans convicted of the kidnapping, some have since been pardoned, Mary Louise says, and none have yet served time in jail.
De Sousa appealed her conviction to Portugal’s highest court, but the Constitutional Court said Tuesday that her appeal was rejected, the AP says.
“De Sousa says she’s waiting to hear when she will be taken to Italy, where she faces a four-year sentence,” Mary Louise reports. “De Sousa has battled her conviction through lawyers in Washington [D.C.], in Italy, and in Portugal — where she now lives.”
As Mary Louise reported last month, critics of De Sousa point out that if she had stayed in the U.S., “the whole affair would very likely have gone quiet”:
“Instead, De Sousa, who holds both American and Portuguese passports, decided to tempt fate and travel to Europe, when she knew there was a Europol warrant for her arrest.
“Asked why, De Sousa says she became convinced her name would never be cleared unless she forced the issue. She also says she has close family in Europe, including cousins and a sibling.
” ‘As you get older, family becomes more important,’ she says. ‘While some people may think I did something really stupid, I just, you know, this was important to me.’ “
In an email Wednesday, De Sousa told NPR it’s her understanding that she will be heading straight to prison in Italy but that she hopes for some sort of appeal, Mary Louise reports.
De Sousa wrote, “I hope I am able to go to Italy safely, for the purpose of countering the charges against me, instead of being silenced.”
Italian President Sergio Mattarella has granted clemency to other defendants in this case, the AP reports.
De Sousa said she wrote a letter to Pope Francis on Wednesday appealing for help. She writes:
“I was a US government official and diplomat accredited to Italy at the time of the Abu Omar rendition. I was charged and convicted in absentia for his kidnapping, charges that I have tried to counter for over a decade. I was never notified nor was I allowed to defend myself because of secrecy obligations. My attempts over several years to engage senior US officials and members of the Intelligence committees in the Congress of the United States also proved fruitless.
“The absence of due process and the imposition of various versions of state secrets are obstacles that prevent the many unanswered questions about the premise and justification for Abu Omar’s rendition. …
“Your Holiness, you have spoken decisively about the Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program. We need Your Holiness’ voice now more than ever to keep this issue in the forefront for much needed discourse in the court of public opinion. If we do not have a complete understanding of the impact and utility of such programs, it’s entirely possible that similar programs will in the near future be introduced in the name of national security.
“Importantly too Holy Father, I humbly implore Your Holiness’ prayers for many that wish to speak out when confronted with an injustice, that we may have the strength, courage and protections to do so.”