In the days following the 2001 terrorist attack on America, plenty of things were done that probably should not have been. One of these was called ‘rendition,’ the act of kidnapping suspected terrorists and those thought to be connected with them from foreign cities, spiriting them to a secret location and subjecting them to interrogation that often included torture.
The practice was carried out by the CIA despite the fact that it violated every tenant of this nation’s founding charter and was morally and legally reprehensible. In the beginning, it generally found a sympathetic audience among millions of Americans clearly in shock from the tragedy of 9/11.
“Whatever it takes,” became the mantra of the people and their government.
As things cooled down, however, more opposition developed here and abroad and even our allies became alarmed. So much so that the agents involved in carrying out the actual events and even those at the fringes of this policy became vulnerable to prosecution from nations where the action took place. One of these — Italy — has gone as far as to indict and convict in absentia 26 Americans that its courts say were involved in the 2003 rendition of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, a cleric in Milan.
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None of the convicted were expected to suffer any real prison time or other consequences because they were in the United States before the trials took place and some have been pardoned. But it now seems that one CIA employee who appears to have had little or nothing to do with the kidnapping is facing the possibility of four years in an Italian jail. Her crime, she told the Washington Post, was to have served as an interpreter a year before the kidnapping between U.S, and Italian intelligence strategists about the possibility of rendition. She said Abu Omar wasn’t even mentioned. A year later when he was a victim of rendition, she was chaperoning her son’s high school ski trip.
Sabrina De Sousa left the agency and moved to Portugal to be near relatives, knowing the risk. She was arrested at the Lisbon airport and is now facing the probability of extradition to Italy while so far her own government is stonewalling her pleas for intervention. Hillary Clinton, when she was Secretary of State, it seems, never answered her pleas.
Let’s get one thing straight: Rendition was the policy of the highest levels of the American government, from the White House to Congress to the director of the CIA — none of whom face any responsibility for their actions. Those who actually carry out these assignments at the operational level are left holding the bag if things go wrong. Even those whose participation is less than tangential are unprotected.
Under those circumstances, it is a wonder that anyone would accept such an assignment — one that carries a disavowal by those who dreamed up the entire mess.
The De Sousa matter has become a concern for the cloak-and-dagger manipulators. Morale of undercover CIA operatives is endangered by the government’s refusal so far to provide immunity and other protections for her. As I have said, what person wants to toil under those conditions? Failing to extend diplomatic cover for those you have enlisted is inexcusable. Good faith and patriotism is a two-way street.
Italy is an ally, a member of NATO. The Italian government, which obviously had knowledge and participation through its own intelligence operations, has an obligation to advise its courts of this. But justice in a country where the Mafia is still a major factor doesn’t seem to be all that important. The Washington Post was told by the prosecutor in the case that the Italian court doesn’t need a smoking gun to convict.
Swell. In other words, if they just think she is guilty, complete lack of evidence makes no difference. And what about Abu Omar? He was interrogated, tortured and ultimately released.
Meanwhile, a 60-year-old American woman who apparently had nothing to do with his kidnapping is likely to be incarcerated because she wanted to be near relatives.
Dan Thomasson is a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Readers may send him email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.