For the past decade, Sabrina De Sousa has been enmeshed in a Kafkaesque fight to clear her name in connection to an illegal CIA operation that has never officially been acknowledged to exist. Today we're hosting a Q & A with the alleged CIA agent, starting at 2pm.
De Sousa's saga began in 2003, the height of the War on Terror, when a radical Muslim cleric named Abu Omar was kidnapped from the streets of Milan, Italy as part of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program. Omar was brought to Egypt for interrogation, where he claims he was tortured by Egyptian authorities, and imprisoned for four years. What made this particular case remarkable is the fact that it came spectacularly to light in 2009, when Italian prosecutors charged and convicted 23 Americans for their role in the kidnapping.
One of those people is Sabrina De Sousa. An Italian court convicted De Sousa in absentia of being a CIA agent who helped coordinate the kidnapping and sentenced her to five years in prison. She's been reported to be ex-CIA by multiple outlets, but when asked she's careful to say only that she was "listed as a State Department officer" with the U.S consulate in Milan at the time. However, she is unequivocal in asserting that she had no connection to Abu Omar's kidnapping. De Sousa didn't know Omar was being kidnapped that day in 2003, she says, and was on a ski trip in the Alps with her kids at the moment of the kidnapping. "This is a bit of scapegoatery" for an embarrassing and illegal CIA operation gone wrong, De Sousa says.
Most of De Sousa's fellow convicts have faded into obscurity, but De Sousa has launched a public campaign to clear her name, giving numerous interviews and appealing to State Department officials for help. De Sousa is driven in part by the effect the case has had on her personal life: A European arrest warrant hanging over her head has made visiting her family in India an onerous affair; she's had trouble finding a new job with her unusual international fugitive status. But she also sees her case as a warning sign to other U.S. government employees and military personnel abroad: that when things go wrong, the U.S. will throw you under the bus.
"I think the number one thing that needs to become public is that Washington is not going to have anyone's back," she says. "I'm an accredited diplomat. And that's why other people should know what's going on: Washington's going to throw them out to the battlefield without any protection anymore."
Her battle hasn't gotten much easier as the case has faded from the headlines. A lawsuit she filed in 2009 in an effort to force the government to invoke diplomatic immunity for her was dismissed last year, though the judge called her case "potentially demoralizing" for other U.S. employees abroad. The U.S. government still has not acknowledged the extraordinary rendition program, and the Obama administration has been as unwilling to discuss the Bush administration's misdeeds as it is its own secret drone program.
"I would like my name cleared, number one," De Sousa says. "And to do that the president has to at least acknowledge this rendition."