Moral Low Ground


Ex-CIA Agent Sabrina De Sousa, Convicted in Italy Rendition Case, Arrested in Portugal

Sabrina De Sousa (Photo: Democracy Now!)

A former Central Intelligence Agency agent wanted in Italy after being convicted of illegally kidnapping an Egyptian cleric who was sent to Egypt under the Bush-era extraordinary rendition program has been arrested in Portugal.

Sabrina De Sousa, now 61 years old, was one of 26 Americans convicted in absentia by an Italian court in 2007 for the 2003 kidnapping of Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar. The suspected terrorist was walking to his Milan mosque for noon prayers when he was nabbed by CIA agents. Nasr was then transported to Egypt in a controversial George W. Bush-era practice known as extraordinary rendition, the extrajudicial transfer of detainees from one country to another. While in Egypt, Nasr was brutally tortured —  he was raped twice, his genitals were shocked with electricity and he was beaten so badly that he lost hearing in one ear — before being released after a judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to warrant his continued detention. An Italian court later convicted Nasr in absentia and sentenced him to six years in prison for terrorism-related activities.

CIA surveillance photo of Abu Omar before his 2003 abduction and extraordinary rendition in Italy.

De Sousa, who posed as a diplomat while working undercover for the CIA in Italy, was sentenced to four years behind bars for her role in Nasr’s rendition. The New York Times reports De Sousa, a native of India who is also a dual citizen of the United States and Portugal, was briefly detained in Portugal in October 2015 under a European arrest warrant. She was arrested on Monday as she attempted to leave Portugal to visit relatives in India.

NBC News reports De Sousa will be extradited to Italy to serve her prison sentence following a Portuguese court’s order. Her Portuguese lawyer, Manuel Magalhaes e Silva, told reporters his client had lost her two-year fight against extradition. Silva expressed concerns over legal proceedings in Italy.

“Last May, a Portuguese court ruled that she could be extradited to Italy on condition that she would be granted a second trial, as she was convicted in absentia,” he said. “But the Italians are now saying that this won’t be the case as her lawyer attended the trial until the end even if she wasn’t there, so she should just serve her four years sentence.”

The US government said it was “deeply disappointed” by the conviction and sentencing of its former agent. “This is a matter that US officials have been following closely,” acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement. “We have asked our European counterparts what their next steps may be, but we are not in a position to detail those discussions.”

Former CIA Milan station chief Robert Lady, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in Nasr’s rendition, was arrested in Panama in July 2013 before being released the following day. In December 2015, Italian President Sergio Mattarella reduced the sentences of Lady and another CIA operative convicted in the case. Silva said De Sousa’s Italian lawyer has already reached out Mattarella to ask for an official pardon.

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