Seven years after a team of CIA officers kidnapped an Islamic cleric in Milan and secretly flew him to Egypt for torture and interrogation, Sabrina de Sousa, an officer who allegedly helped plan the operation, is suing the U.S. government for diplomatic protection. In an interview after a hearing in her case yesterday, de Sousa also said that the target of the extraordinary rendition, known as Abu Omar, did not pose a sufficient terrorism threat to warrant the controversial U.S. action.
De Sousa is one of a two dozen alleged CIA officials whom Italian courts convicted in abstentia for their alleged roles in the February 2003 extraordinary rendition of the Egyptian-born, Milan cleric, Abu Omar. In 2005, Europe issued arrests warrants for de Souza and 21 other U.S. officials allegedly connected to the operation. Milan prosecutors identified the officers through their phone records and hotel bills in the weeks before and after the raid. The arrest warrants prevent de Souza, who resigned from the U.S. government in 2009, from traveling to Europe, where her sister lives.
De Sousa attended a Washington procedural hearing yesterday as part of her civil suit arguing the U.S. government should extend her diplomatic immunity, the Los Angeles Times' Ken Dilanian reports.
De Sousa "said she believed that what the U.S. called an 'extraordinary rendition' of Abu Omar was 'unnecessary' because he did not pose a sufficient threat and had been under investigation by Italian authorities," Dilanian writes.
De Sousa also "called it unfair that the U.S. asserted diplomatic immunity for some of those involved" in the operation, and not others, Dilanian writes.
As for the target of the extraordinary rendition, Abu Omar, whose real name is Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, has said in interviews that he had been tortured for seven months by Egyptian interrogators after the CIA group had kidnapped, drugged him and flew him abroad in February 2003. In 2007, an Egyptian court freed him, saying the terrorism allegations against him were unfounded.
However, De Sousa's legal limbo is likely to continue.
The U.S. government argued in the procedural hearing yesterday that information in the case is classified--and thus can't be disclosed to the judge, Dilanian writes. Therefore, the government contends, de Sousa's civil suit against the government should be dismissed.
(Egyptian cleric Osama Hassan Mustafa Nasr, known as Abu Omar, listens as he sits near western reporters during Amnesty International press conference in Cairo, Egypt, in this April 11, 2007 file picture.: Amr Nabil, File/AP)