Clandestine operative speaks out for first time about CIA kidnapping and torture during Bush years
“It’s time to talk about this,” says former CIA operative Sabrina De Sousa, who has been convicted in absentia in Italy of the kidnapping of Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar, in Milan in 2003. (Photo: Barbara L. Salisbury/MCT)A former CIA operative is speaking out for the first time about a snatch-and-grab operation in the streets of Milan nearlty a decade ago that led to the victim’s torture and extended imprisonment by saying that high-level Bush officials were systematically shielded from responsibility while lower-level operatives were indicted for the crime.
In a series of interviews with McClatchy’s Jonathan Landay, the CIA’s Sabrina De Sousa described cables between Italian and Washington officials involved with the kidnapping of cleric Osama Mustapha Hassan Nasr (aka Abu Omar) in 2003 and says that both governments cooperated in “scape-goating a bunch of people . . . while the ones who approved this stupid rendition are all free.”
“It’s always the minions of the federal government who are thrown under the bus by officials who consistently violate international law and sometimes domestic law and who are all immune from prosecution,” De Sousa said. “Their lives are fine. They’re making millions of dollars sitting on (corporate) boards.”
The former CIA operative, she resigned from the agency in 2009, says that the rendition program was approved of at the highest levels but that those officials—including President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and CIA Director George Tenet—will never be held accountable.
“I find this coverup so egregious,” she said when asked about her decision to speak out now. “That’s why I find it really important to talk about this. Look at the lives ruined, including that of Abu Omar. And I was caught in the crossfire of anger directed at U.S. policy.”
She also made clear reference to other government whistleblowers in terms of what she thought might be the consequences for voicing her opinions. “You’ve seen what’s happened lately to anyone who has tried to disclose anything,” she said, alluding to people like Bradley Manning and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
As Landay reports:
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.
More than 130 people were “rendered” in this way, according to a February 2013 study by the Open Society Justice Initiative, a U.S.-based group that promotes the rule of law. Many were tortured and abused, and many, including Nasr, were freed for lack of proof that they were hatching terrorist plots, said Amrit Singh, the study’s author.
Human rights groups and many legal experts denounce rendition as violating not only U.S. and international law, but also the laws of the nations where abductions occurred and of the countries to which suspected terrorists were sent. In December 2005, Rice defended renditions as legal, however, calling them a “vital tool” that predated the 9/11 attacks. She denied that the United State “transported anyone . . . to a country where we believe he or she will be tortured.”
The Bush and Obama administrations have never acknowledged U.S. involvement in the Nasr rendition, which makes De Sousa’s decision to speak publicly about it significant, Singh said.
De Sousa has spoken to the media in the past, but always denied she was a member of the clandestine service by saying she was operating in Italy as a ‘diplomat.’
“Despite the scale of the human rights violations associated with the rendition program,” she said, “the United States hasn’t held a single individual accountable.”
Among the specific accusations leveled by De Sousa, McClatchy reports:
– The former CIA station chief in Rome, Jeffrey Castelli, whom she called the mastermind of the operation, exaggerated Nasr’s terrorist threat to win approval for the rendition and misled his superiors that Italian military intelligence had agreed to the operation.
– Senior CIA officials, including then-CIA Director George Tenet, approved the operation even though there were doubts about Castelli’s case – Nasr wasn’t wanted in Egypt and wasn’t on the U.S. list of top al Qaida terrorists.
– Condoleezza Rice, then the White House national security adviser, also had concerns about the case, especially what Italy would do if the CIA were caught, but she eventually agreed to it and recommended that Bush approve the abduction.