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Posted at 7:45 PM ET, 06/ 4/2010

State Dept. loses round in CIA cover case

By Jeff Stein

A federal judge lent a hand Friday to a former CIA operative who is trying to force the State Department to defend her against an Italian conviction for kidnapping.

Sabrina De Sousa was listed as a diplomat at the U.S. Consulate in Milan when a CIA counter terrorism team picked up Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, a radical Egyptian imam also known as Abu Omar, and whisked him off to Egypt for interrogation.

De Sousa participated in the scheme as a CIA employee, according to Italian prosecutors and a Milan court, which convicted her and 22 other Americans, all but one CIA operatives, on kidnapping charges last year.

They were convicted in absentia and remain free, although they risk arrest on Europol warrants if they travel outside the U.S.

De Sousa had to defend herself at her own expense until she sued the Justice Department for support. She is now now suing the State Department for diplomatic immunity.

In his ruling Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo M. Urbina granted De Sousa’s motion to widen her complaint beyond the State Department to the Department of Justice, the CIA and three former CIA officials.

Urbina dismissed the State Department’s argument that DeSousa’s case was “futile.”

“Given the court’s inability to conclude at this juncture that the proposed amendment would be futile, and in light of the well-established policy of freely granting leave to amend when justice so requires, the court grants the plaintiff’s motion for leave to amend,” Urbina wrote.

“Furthermore, because the original complaint is now superseded by the amended complaint, the court denies as moot the defendants’ motion to dismiss the original complaint, without prejudice to consideration of a renewed motion to dismiss addressing the amended complaint.”

In late Dec. 2009, De Sousa filed papers saying three former CIA officials shared blame for her plight because of their sloppy security practices: Jeffrey Castelli, the spy agency's Rome station chief in 2003, Robert Seldon Lady, its Milan base chief, and Susan Czaska, listed as a "consulate official" in Milan.

Castelli did not respond to a request for comment at the time. Lady and Czaska could not be located. All three have left the CIA.

Urbina’s decision “brings together all the alleged and actual elements of the government that were involved in this,” said one of her attorneys, Bradley P. Moss of the Washington law firm Mark Zaid P.C. “These are the people who destroyed her career.“

"The lawsuit is designed to force the State Department to provide the protection Sabrina was deprived of when it failed to invoke diplomatic immunity for her when she was charged (and later convicted) in the Abu Omar case," Zaid last December.

By Jeff Stein  | June 4, 2010; 7:45 PM ET
Categories:  Intelligence, Justice/FBI, Lawandcourts  
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Unfortunately, Miss Sabrina, and more importantly,her lawyers, know zip about "diplomatic immunity."
It is only the Ambassador, himself, who by international law has immunity. By courtesy, but not by law, the hosting country may extend that to certain members of the Ambassador's staff. And also by tradition, not to consular officers.
The Foreign Ministry of the host country, in this case, Italy, may withdraw the "courtesy" of diplomatic immunity at any time. Same for accreditation as a consular officer, a totally different process than for Chancellery staff, and with different "rights," such as visiting prisoners in jail and issuing passports, which the Chancellery staff may not do.
A US Co0urt may not make Italy do anything, with or without the intervention of the DOS.
I know Miss Sabrina wants to visit her parents in India. I see several choices:
a. travel in a way that avoids the EU. No one is going to look at an Interpol warrant in a transit lounge, and I doubt India cares that much. Royal Jordanian offers flights to India via Amman. Good Choice. Or do the transpacific routs.
b. To be really safe, enjoy the USA. It is your country.

Whatever you do, spending all that money on lawyers is a real waste of your resources. You will lose, if not in the courts then in reality. And use that money to by an Air India first class ticket out of LAX.

Posted by: DCNative41 | June 4, 2010 10:09 PM | Report abuse

The Department of State has just been far beyond completely lame in dealing with this. It's an embarrassment to the country. I'll grant that Italy's court actions were a total political circus, but there really is no fixing their dysfunctional legal system. However there's plenty that the US government could have done, but just didn't care enough to do.

Posted by: Nymous | June 4, 2010 11:23 PM | Report abuse

It seems to me, given the state of affairs in the Department of State, that the department could certainly benefit from a a Joseph McCarthy investigation.

Posted by: georges2 | June 4, 2010 11:56 PM | Report abuse

If Sabrina has credentials or certification from the state department cover or not it needs to be recognized and immunity needs to be granted. Clinton had the chance to invoke it, however, she does not want to have it on her hands later when she continues to run for President. Why put our spies through this? What kind of message are we saying to our most talented youth. the 'slow rolling' this is causing at CIA and in the IC is poisonous. I hope she prevails and i hope her name will be justly presented instead of made out to be a criminal.

Posted by: AlanPremel | June 5, 2010 12:57 AM | Report abuse

Just more braindead incompetence from government dimwits.
I know....let's put our health care in the hands of these morons.

Posted by: graywolf98 | June 5, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

The Department of State has just been far beyond completely lame in dealing with this. It's an embarrassment to the country. I'll grant that Italy's court actions were a total political circus,

Posted by: Nymous
The problem lies in the fact that the CIA screwed up in the first place and all the people's career suffered because of it. Under international law only the Ambassador has diplomatic immunity and staff under the Ambassador are extended that courtesy by the host country which can be taken away at anytime.

IMO she's wasting the court's time and her money to argue her position.

Posted by: beeker25 | June 7, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

Maybe she should be in jail for kidnapping.

Posted by: inverse_agonist | June 8, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

DCNative41 and're wrong. Google the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and it's companion, the Convention on Consular relations. Read it. Educate yourselves. This is the "international law" you are talking about. The head of mission and 'diplomatic staff' have immunity from criminal prosecution unless waived by the "sending country" (that would US). If Ms de Sousa was accredited as a consular official to the Milan consulate, her immunity is rather less and would definitely cover the actions for which she was convicted. If she were (like most Consul Generals and consular staff; the formal distinction is not as common as it once was) considered 'diplomatic staff', then she needn't actively assert 'diplomatic immunity' as it must be waived for a criminal proceeding to take place. Thus, either the Italians violated their treaty obligations in trying/convicting Ms de Souza -or - (and more likely) she did not possess a level of immunity under the conventions that would have shielded her from criminal liability for kidnap, etc.

Posted by: Tin3Tin | June 9, 2010 8:29 AM | Report abuse

Ooops. "immunity is rather less and would definitely NOT cover the actions for which she was convicted."

Posted by: Tin3Tin | June 9, 2010 8:30 AM | Report abuse

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