Updated at 4 p.m. ET
A former officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, Sabrina De Sousa, was released from custody Wednesday after Italy’s president granted her partial clemency over a 2003 kidnapping that was part of the agency’s extraordinary rendition program.
De Sousa was convicted in absentia — along with 25 other Americans — by an Italian court in the abduction of radical Egyptian cleric Abu Omar off a street in Milan. Several of those convicted have since been pardoned.
As NPR has previously reported, De Sousa left the CIA in 2009 and moved to Portugal in 2015, where she was detained on a European arrest warrant. She was soon released but remained in Portugal.
Last year, Portugal’s highest court ruled that De Sousa should be extradited to Italy.
De Sousa was moments from stepping onto a plane to Italy when President Sergio Mattarella announced his decision Tuesday night to reduce her four-year prison sentence by a year. NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly reported that, now, De Sousa may not go to prison at all and could instead perform community service, although it is unclear in which country that would happen.
“Peter Hoekstra, former chair of the House Intelligence Committee, has been in contact with De Sousa’s husband and layers,” she reported.
Hoekstra told NPR that De Sousa had been held for nine days in Portugal before the Italian warrant for her arrest was lifted and that she was negotiating with Italian authorities about potentially doing community service in Portugal, where she lives with her family.
The 2003 kidnapping with which De Sousa was charged was part of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, under which the agency permitted its employees to seize people they suspected of ties to terrorist activity and fly them to be interrogated at CIA-controlled sites.
But as NPR’s Daniel Schorr put it in 2007, “European governments don’t take kindly to kidnapping.”
Although De Sousa would have known about the program in her capacity as a CIA officer — she condemned the program as “totally counterproductive” in an interview with the BBC — she has maintained that she did not take part in the 2003 kidnapping.
As Mary Louise reported:
“Here’s the back story: On a chilly day in February 2003, a radical Egyptian cleric known as Abu Omar, who was a terrorism suspect, was snatched off the streets of Milan. … On the day in question, though, [De Sousa] says she was nowhere near Milan. Instead, she was on the ski slopes of northern Italy, chaperoning her son’s school trip, she says.
” ‘I accompanied my child with other parents to a ski area, and we were there the entire week,’ De Sousa told NPR, in a phone interview from Lisbon. ‘This is about 300 kilometers [186 miles] away.’ ”
The man who was abducted, Abu Omar, was held at an American base in Germany before the U.S. government returned him to Egypt, where he said he was tortured but eventually released.
Last year, Omar told The Guardian that he didn’t think De Sousa and the 25 other Americans convicted in Italy were the right people to blame for his kidnapping.
“The U.S. administration sacrificed them,” he told the newspaper. “All of those higher up in the hierarchy are enjoying their immunity. These people higher up, without doubt they should be convicted in this case. They should face trial.”