A former CIA agent caught up in the legal fight in Europe over the US’ controversial “extraordinary rendition” program will not have to go to an Italian prison after all. Sabrina De Sousa received a commutation of her conviction and sentence from the president of Italy, hours away from extradition for imprisonment. The commutation reduced her conviction to a misdemeanor and her sentence to three years, making her eligible to serve a sentence of community service in Portugal.
De Sousa’s case had dragged out for almost a decade, and she credited the change of administration for its surprisingly quick resolution — thanking Donald Trump, and castigating Barack Obama:
— Sabrina De Sousa (@Sadiso) March 1, 2017
A former American CIA agent released from prison in Portugal hours before her planned extradition to Italy is thanking President Donald Trump for what she describes as his administration’s intervention in her case.
Sabrina de Sousa told The Associated Press on Thursday that U.S. officials were in contact with authorities in both Portugal and Italy ahead of her release.
This truly has been an eight-year odyssey for De Sousa. Newsweek’s Jeff Stein gives a brief synopsis of the case, and just how the White House may have influenced its apparent conclusion:
De Sousa, who was freed Tuesday from a Portuguese prison where she was awaiting extradition to Italy, has always maintained her innocence in the case, which was the subject of a sensational 2009 trial. She and 25 other Americans, all but one CIA employees, were convicted in absentia for their roles in snatching an Egyptian cleric off a Milan street and transporting him to Cairo. Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known more widely as Abu Omar, says he was repeatedly tortured while under interrogation there. He was released in 2007 and convicted of terrorism charges in absentia by an Italian court in December 2013.
De Sousa, the subject of an international arrest warrant since her conviction, was detained as she tried to transit the Lisbon airport from the U.S. en route to visit her mother in India in October 2015. (De Sousa was born in the former Portuguese enclave of Goa.) She was freed shortly afterward but ordered to stay in Portugal pending a decision on her extradition. …
As is often the case involving the CIA, the U.S. government had nothing to say about De Sousa’s reprieve this week. The CIA has consistently refused to comment on the case. A State Department spokesman referred Newsweek to the White House for comment, but officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Yet Pete Hoekstra, a former Republican representative and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee who took up De Sousa’s cause, claims she would not have been released “without extraordinary help from the Trump administration.” Hoekstra told Newsweek he began lobbying officials in the Donald Trump campaign, and later the transition, to do something about the former officer’s predicament. He had a number of friends in the national security apparatus from his time on the House Intelligence Committee—people like Michael Flynn, the recently departed White House national security adviser, fellow former Representative Mike Pompeo, now director of the CIA, and former Senator Dan Coats, the new director of national intelligence. And it didn’t hurt that he had chaired Trump’s Michigan campaign.
Hoekstra also credits Trump for taking action where Obama didn’t, but at least one former Obama official tells Stein it’s not true:
Hoekstra gives all credit to Trump. “They got done in six weeks what Obama couldn’t get done in seven years,” he said.
A former Obama administration official rejects that claim. “The notion that anything was suddenly solved in the last month is inaccurate,” he told Newsweek on condition of anonymity to discuss the still-highly classified case. “The U.S. government has been working with the Italians on pardons for certain individuals for years.”
Clearly, De Sousa does not agree:
— Sabrina De Sousa (@Sadiso) March 3, 2017
She had told the Washington Post the same thing two days earlier. De Sousa also explained why she has reason to feel particularly bitter about the lack of progress over the last few years:
She credited the Trump administration with taking her case seriously. She highlighted the role of former Michigan Rep. Pete Hoekstra, a Republican, who lobbied the CIA and other agencies to negotiate a deal with the Italians that would prevent her imprisonment.
“The new leadership at the CIA was 100 percent behind Sabrina,” said Hoekstra, a former House Intelligence Committee chairman. “The prospect of a CIA case officer sitting in an Italian jail would not have been a good visual. This has been a festering wound between the U.S and Italy for 13 years and now it’s finally healing.” …
De Sousa, 61, a dual U.S. and Portuguese citizen who lives in Lisbon, said she is elated by the last-minute decision, although she feels it came three months too late: Her mother, Julia De Sousa, died in early December at the age of 90. De Sousa couldn’t be with her.
“The sad thing is, I really wanted this to be resolved awhile ago so I could turn to her and say ‘It’s done,’” De Sousa said in a Skype interview on Wednesday. “People don’t seem to realize how a conviction impacts you and your normal daily life. I couldn’t see my family.”
Perhaps the Newsweek article prompted De Sousa to make sure Trump got the credit, or at least to ensure that Obama didn’t.
Interestingly, De Sousa does not plan to serve out her community service in Portugal, although she does have that option. She has expressed gratitude for the Portugese for their support for her case, but does not believe they should bear the burden any longer. De Sousa says she will negotiate with the Italian government to assign her a location from where she can perform three years of community service. De Sousa still maintains her innocence, claiming that she never did anything more significant for the CIA’s rendition program than work as an interpreter during it, but that she will fulfill the terms of the deal made that keeps her out of prison.