Judge dismisses lawsuit in Italian kidnapping case
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Last Updated: Saturday, January 07, 2012, 00:19
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 serving overseas.

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 system.

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 States.

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 action.

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.


First Published: Saturday, January 07, 2012, 00:19

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