RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
To Europe now and the strange saga of a former CIA spy. Her name is Sabrina De Sousa. And she left the agency back in 2009. She lives in Portugal now. And it is from there that she could be extradited, as early as this week, for her role in helping kidnap an Egyptian cleric 13 years ago. An Italian court convicted De Sousa along with 25 other Americans in absentia. Now she may become the first CIA officer handed over to Italy and possibly shown the inside of an Italian prison cell. NPR's Mary Louise Kelly has the story.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: This whole case revolves around one day back in February, 2003, when Abu Omar was snatched off the streets of Milan. The abduction was part of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, a program Sabrina De Sousa knew about as an undercover officer. On the day in question though, she says she was on mom duty chaperoning a school trip.
SABRINA DE SOUSA: And I accompanied my child with other parents to a ski area. And we were there the entire week.
KELLY: So you were not in Milan or anywhere near Milan.
DE SOUSA: No, I was not. And this was about 300 kilometers away.
KELLY: De Sousa, speaking to me there from Lisbon, says whatever the rights and wrongs of the rendition program, she was carrying out orders in good faith. And she argues that what has happened since amounts to the U.S. government abandoning a CIA officer to foreign prosecutors.
DE SOUSA: So you have an operation that is authorized, you know, at the very senior levels of our government. And it's considered legal in the U.S. but a violation of international law and human rights outside the U.S. The U.S. position today is to neither confirm nor deny that the kidnapping, the trial or even the conviction of 26 Americans ever took place.
KELLY: It is true the Obama administration has been extremely reluctant to say anything publicly about the episode. Here's what happened when a reporter tried to raise it yesterday at the State Department briefing.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can I ask you about the case of ex-CIA officer Sabrina De Sousa who...
KELLY: State Department spokesman John Kirby shut her down.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JOHN KIRBY: As a general matter, you know, we don't talk about extradition cases. I don't have anything specific on this for you, for right now - sorry.
KELLY: The CIA also declined to comment. One U.S. official who did speak to NPR but who asked not to be identified, said, quote, "it's not that De Sousa has been abandoned. We're certainly doing everything we can. But there's only so much we can do when it comes to the legal proceedings of other countries." De Sousa's critics point out that had she stayed in the U.S, the whole affair would likely have gone quiet. Instead, De Sousa decided to tempt fate, a point I raised in our interview.
Some people will listen to this and say, well, she was asking for it. She chose to travel to Europe when she knew there was a warrant outstanding there for her arrest. What's your response?
DE SOUSA: Well, I'm glad you asked that question.
KELLY: De Sousa says she became convinced her name would never be cleared unless she forced the issue. She also says she has family, cousins, a sibling in Europe.
DE SOUSA: And, you know, as you get older, family becomes more important. And so while some people may think I did something really stupid, I just - you know, this was important to me.
KELLY: De Sousa's case raises broader questions, such as what diplomatic protections CIA officers should enjoy. De Sousa says she wonders what signal is being sent to future CIA employees about how far their government will go to protect them.
DE SOUSA: I mean, in the past, it was here's your black passport. And, yes, here's your letter of accreditation. All is good. The letter specifically says that the country that you're assigned in will not prosecute you, et cetera, et cetera. And then you watch this whole thing unfold over 10 years. And I don't think there is an answer for this right now. What protections are there?
KELLY: De Sousa faces a prison sentence of 4 years. U.S. officials say they will continue, quietly, to work her case. And her lawyer in Washington, Abbe Lowell, tells NPR that while an extradition order kicks in tomorrow, quote, "whether and how that gets carried out is an open question."
Meanwhile, the cleric kidnapped back in 2003, who was imprisoned and then released, has also weighed in. Abu Omar just gave an interview to The Guardian newspaper. He says Sabrina De Sousa was a scapegoat and should be pardoned. Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News, Washington.
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