Former CIA agent and American-Portuguese citizen Sabrina de Sousa is fighting to clear her name since being detained in Lisbon earlier this week as she sought to board a plane 10 years after an Italian court convicted her and 22 others – including an Air Force colonel – over the kidnapping of a terrorism suspect.
The case is chilling as it is bizarre for the fact that none of those convicted seem to have received support from their intelligence agency despite the fact that they were all acting under orders.
“You expect to be protected, that the organization you work for tries everything to help you,” De Sousa told the Washington Post in 2012. “Officially, I was a diplomat, that’s all I can say. But when diplomats or troops take risks, you expect your own government to help.”
De Sousa claims to have had nothing to do with the ‘rendition’ (the practice in which a terror subject is forcibly taken to another country) of radical Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, better known as Abu Omar. Her role was simply as an interpreter, she has said, for a CIA “snatch” team that visited Milan and met with Italian intelligence officials in the early stages of the operation.
Omar was stopped on a street in Milan in 2003, “thrown into a car, taken to a U.S. airbase in Italy and ultimately flown to Egypt, where, according to his wife and Italian prosecutors, he was beaten and given electric shocks to his genitals”, explains the Washington Post.
The case sparked a series of investigations and intrigues within the Italian intelligence community and criminal justice system, according to Wikipedia. And eventually (2009), an Italian judge found 22 CIA agents, a US airforce colonel and two Italian secret service agents guilty in absentia of kidnapping.
Two years previously, the so-called radical cleric had been released by an Egyptian court which ruled his arrest had been unfounded. But since the 2009 convictions – which no Americans have served – Sabrina de Sousa’s life has been under a heavy shadow.
The ‘rendition’ should never have taken place, she explained last week to WP – and “we were all thrown under the bus for it” – but it is time now to draw a line in the sand.
“I didn’t want to sneak into the country,” she told the paper after her detention in Lisbon last Monday. “I’ve got nothing to hide. This thing needs to be resolved. This has gone on for 10 years. It has impacted on my life. I’ve got relatives in Europe, and I don’t see any reason to give that up.”
De Sousa actually flew in to Portugal in April. It was only when she was trying to fly out, on a round trip that would see her ending up in Goa to visit her mother, that she was detained when “authorities noticed that she was wanted in Italy”.
“There was a warrant for me, and they said they couldn’t let me fly,” de Sousa told the WP.
She has since appeared before Lisbon’s appeal court and had her passport taken as she waits to hear if she will be extradited to Italy to serve a six-year sentence.
The “interesting part” of the arrest is the timing, de Sousa adds. “Why now? When I came to Portugal I did not get detained.”
Another interesting aspect is that the case is now firmly back in the public eye with many countries’ media alluding to it, though nothing on record so far from the authorities.
As the Washington Post explains, de Sousa “left the CIA in early 2009, sued the agency and the Justice Department later that year, demanding that she receive diplomatic immunity against the Italian charges.
“A federal judge dismissed her case but lamented that de Sousa’s predicament sends a “potentially demoralising” message to other Foreign Service officers stationed abroad. The CIA declined to comment.”
For now, de Sousa is busy keeping people informed through her Twitter account. Her last tweet refers to: “Several days filming an in-dept interview with Vice News in Lisbon, Portugal”.
That interview is previewed with an informative clip on Vice News online (https://news.vice.com/article/former-cia-officer-detained-in-europe-while-trying-to-clear-her-name-in-rendition-case).
VN reports that Sabrina de Sousa has “enlisted the help of Ana Gomes, a member of the EU Parliament who has previously investigated CIA rendition flights – including several that reportedly touched down on Portuguese soil – and Portugal’s complicity in the programme”.
Is Sabrina de Sousa prepared to go to jail over this, six years after she was convicted in her absence, VN asks? “Of course,” she replied. “But I believe at this point that the public is looking for accountability. Anyone who jails me is going to be complicit in this cover up.”