Covert Action

The Washington Post on the Abu Omar Case---And Its Consequences

By Benjamin Wittes
Thursday, July 12, 2012, 7:15 AM

This is a wonderful piece of journalism. The Washington Post's Ian Shapira today has a long feature on one of the CIA officers convicted in Italian courts for the kidnapping and rendition of radical Egyptian cleric Abu Omar---and its subsequent impact on her life. It is richly reported, perplexing in certain respects, and not a little bit moving. It opens:

 The ex-CIA operative knew she was taking a risk when she booked her flight from Washington to India. Sabrina De Sousa was still getting used to the idea that she was an international fugitive, with a European arrest warrant issued in her name.

She figured she’d be safe, as long as the plane didn’t make an emergency stop anywhere in Europe. Anyway, she had to go. She needed to see her aging mother and tell her for the first time about all of it: The kidnapping of a radical Egyptian Muslim cleric from the streets of Milan in 2003. Her indictment in Italy in 2007 alleging that she had been involved in his disappearance. Her resignation from what she carefully describes as a “U.S. government job” in 2009.

“I have a problem. It’s a bit of a political thing,” De Sousa remembers explaining to her mom three years ago, as they sat in the family’s cliffside villa, with views of the ocean, in Goa. “There was an incident in Italy. It involved what the Italians consider a crime.”Her mother, Julia De Sousa, asked: “What kind of crime?”

“It was kidnapping” the daughter said. “Don’t worry. I am not a criminal.”

Her mother, then 82, looked perplexed. She placed her hand on her daughter’s knee and asked: “How did it come to this?”

At 56, Sabrina De Sousa’s life has come to be defined by a landmark criminal case that has been playing out in Italy for much of the past decade, ever since prosecutors began investigating the disappearance of an Egyptian cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar.