The extraordinary case of former CIA intelligence officer Sabrina de Sousa, the Portuguese-American citizen fighting a four-year jail sentence handed out in Italy over a decade ago for a crime even the victim says she did not commit has taken another exceptional curve – but one that sees her remaining free and in Portugal long after the date by which she should have been extradited back to Italy.
What lies behind this latest development is uncertain.
All that de Sousa knows for sure is that a letter from the Italian government, received in Portugal “a couple of weeks ago” seems to have stopped everything.
It is possible that the letter, described by Expresso as “strange”, reveals that de Sousa will in fact have no grounds for appeal, or a retrial, if she is sent back to Italy.
If this is the case, it will mean that previous guarantees given by the Italian judiciary were effectively bogus, and thus Portuguese judges could overrule the decision made at the beginning of the year to extradite de Sousa over a controversial ruling that saw her and more than 20 others – including an American Air Force colonel – convicted for the 2003 kidnapping of a terrorism suspect.
It could also have huge implications for anyone else caught up in what are dubbed by those in the business as RDI cases (standing for Rendition, Detention and Interrogation: government-sponsored abductions that see their victims forcibly transported from one country to another, for the purposes of interrogation).
This one is particularly chilling for the fact that the ‘victim’ at the centre the rendition has already come out in support of de Sousa, saying that she is innocent.
Talking to the Guardian newspaper in April, Abu Omar said: “Sabrina and the others are scapegoats. The US administration sacrificed them. All of those higher up in the hierarchy are enjoying their immunity… they should be convicted in this case. They should face trial.”
Thus it remains to be seen what happens next. But for now, Sabrina de Sousa is enjoying what is technically ‘borrowed time’ on Portuguese soil as she and her lawyers attempt to turn this case round, and expose the darker side of what it can mean to work for one’s government.
As she said when this story broke last year: “You expect to be protected, that the organisation you work for tries everything to help you” (click here).
But the reality has been totally opposite. When de Sousa left the CIA in 2009, she tried to sue both it and the Justice Department, demanding diplomatic immunity over the rendition. When she lost, a federal judge agreed that it sent a “potentially demoralising” message to other Foreign Service officers stationed abroad.
Today, the 60-year-old said she finds it hard to be optimistic, when her lawyers are faced with legal challenges at almost every step.
The worst of it is that the ability to defend is “non-existent”, she explains, because proceedings are “covered selectively by state secrets in Italy” so that her defence can often only argue on technicalities.