A former CIA agent told the media today that she will be extradited to Italy after being convicted in absentia for her alleged role in the kidnapping and “rendition” of radical Egyptian preacher Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, a.k.a. Abu Omar, who was snatched off the street in Milan in 2003.
“If the process is finalized,” The Hill reports, “she would become the first person to ever be charged, extradited and jailed over the CIA’s ‘extraordinary rendition’ program, which was carried out under the Bush administration to seize suspected terrorists and bring them to another country for interrogation.”
But while the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program has been widely criticized, it quickly becomes apparent that the case of Sabrina De Sousa, the former agent now facing extradition from Portugal, is complicated. Stephanie Kirchgaessner of the Guardian reports:
De Sousa, a vocal critic of the CIA and US government, has said she is a low-level and innocent scapegoat who has been sacrificed by the US government while high-ranking officials who executed the extraordinary rendition programme have received impunity.
There have been no public signs of support for her case by the US government. A spokesman for the US embassy in Rome declined to comment.
Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, granted partial pardons to two other defendants in the Abu Omar case late last year, but has so far not responded to a request for clemency by De Sousa.
The former CIA officer, who was working in Italy under diplomatic cover, has said she took part in early stage discussions of the extraordinary rendition programme in general but not specifically about Abu Omar. She has denied any involvement in his kidnapping.
De Sousa, who is Catholic, told the Guardian that she has written a letter to Pope Francis, urging him to denounce the rendition programme employed by the CIA after the 11 September terror attacks against the US.
And the pope is apparently not the only influential public figure who De Sousa has appealed to. In 2012, according to the Washington Post, “after Italy’s highest criminal court upheld her conviction, De Sousa’s attorney at the time wrote a letter to Hillary Clinton, then the secretary of state, asking her to authorize an inquiry into the case. De Sousa said she never heard back.”
This might seem surprising, as De Sousa has been speaking out for years, and reportedly “De Sousa is one of only a handful of former CIA officers who’ve spoken openly about the secret renditions in which suspected terrorists overseas were abducted without legal proceedings and then interrogated by other nations’ security services.”
As late as 2006, Clinton took the stance that interrogation techniques that “depart from standard international practices” could be appropriate in “very, very limited circumstances,” but she has been trying to reshape her position on the issue since at least 2007.
During this year’s presidential campaign Clinton has attempted to draw a contrast between herself and Republican Donald Trump, who has called for waterboarding terrorism suspects. “We don’t need to resort to torture,” Clinton reportedly said.
Given this attempt to recast herself as an opponent to Bush-era anti-terror tactics, it may seem illogical that Clinton would not come to the defense of De Souza, who has reportedly “accused Italian leaders of colluding with the United States to shield (George W.) Bush, (Condoleezza) Rice, (George) Tenet and senior CIA aides by declining to prosecute them or even demanding that Washington publicly admit to staging the abduction.”
These people, or at least Bush and Rice, are in partisan terms Hilary Clinton’s sworn political enemies, yet even her professed disdain for torture apparently can’t convince her to score some easy political points against the GOP. What can explain this? Perhaps Clinton really does oppose the optics of torture and “enhanced interrogation,” but her relationship with the intelligence community is clearly complex.
In late March former CIA Director Michael Hayden reportedly said that between Clinton and Trump, from a national security perspective, Clinton would be “best prepared from day one” and defended Clinton’s record at the State Department.
“By the way, a lot of my friends will point to Benghazi and a whole bunch of other things, but this is an experienced diplomat, an experienced woman, who seems to have taken these questions seriously,” said Hayden, who has not only come up with creative methods for defending enhanced interrogation techniques, but joked about putting former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden on a kill list.
With the election narrowed down to two candidates, it appears the intelligence establishment has made its choice. And, like President Obama before her, she may favor drone strikes over “enhanced interrogation.”
Trump, for his part, has proposed a range of extreme anti-terror plans, including waterboarding, banning Muslims from entering the United States, and killing terrorists’ families.
So as low-level officials take the fall for higher-ups who authorized what have perhaps been some of the CIA’s most misguided programs, Americans face a regrettable presidential election choice.
On the one hand is a status quo-defending career politician who will clearly say whatever is necessary to win, including pushing aggressive anti-terror initiatives, while in practice doing nothing to protect those who do the government’s dirty work, except at the highest levels. On the other is a reality TV star who redefines the phrase “loose cannon” and appears to have a dangerously simplistic view of the world and American foreign policy. Both options are far from ideal.