Washington: A judge threw out a former State
Department official`s lawsuit demanding diplomatic immunity
against charges she helped kidnap a terrorism suspect in Italy
but said the US government`s handling of the case sends a
"potentially demoralising" message to American civilians
US District Judge Beryl Howell said yesterday the facts
of the case brought by Sabrina De Sousa were troubling, but
she`s bound by the law to dismiss the lawsuit.
De Sousa was one of 26 US officials tried in absentia in
2009 for the alleged kidnapping of Muslim cleric Osama
Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar.
It was the first trial in any country stemming from the
CIA`s "extraordinary rendition" programme, which involved
moving terrorist suspects from one country to another for
interrogation outside the bounds of the criminal justice
Italian prosecutors said De Sousa, a naturalised US
citizen born in India, was a CIA officer working under
diplomatic cover and was one of four main US officials
responsible for coordinating Nasr`s capture from a Milan
street on Feb 17, 2003. Prosecutors said he was taken to his
home country of Egypt, where he was held and allegedly
tortured before eventually being released.
De Sousa said she was a foreign service officer at the US
consulate in Milan and denied that she worked for the CIA. She
said that at the time of Nasr`s capture she was vacationing at
a ski resort nearly 210 kilometres away and was not involved.
But an Italian court convicted De Sousa and sentenced her
to five years in prison. She has complained that the case
makes it impossible for her to see her family in India because
she risks extradition to Italy if she leaves the United
She resigned her job over the State Department`s refusal
to give her immunity and sued to try to force the department
to provide it.
Government lawyers responded to De Sousa`s suit by
arguing that the courts have no authority to intervene in what
is a foreign policy decision that must be left solely up to
the executive branch. They also argued that the option of
diplomatic immunity exists to benefit the nation applying it,
not an individual government worker subjected to foreign legal
The judge agreed.
But, she wrote, "The facts underlying this case are
troubling in many ways." She pointed out that De Sousa was
convicted of a crime, not for any personal gain, but allegedly
on behalf of the US government and that her requests for
assistance to fight the charges were denied.