The Bush and Obama administrations have never acknowledged U.S. involvement in the Nasr rendition, which makes De Sousa’s decision to speak publicly about it significant, Singh said.
“Any public account of what happened and who was ultimately responsible is of considerable interest,” she said. “Despite the scale of the human rights violations associated with the rendition program, the United States hasn’t held a single individual accountable.”
The CIA declined to comment, but a former senior U.S. intelligence official called De Sousa’s narrative “fairly consistent” with the recollections of other former CIA officials with knowledge of the operation. He asked not to be further identified because the matter remains classified.
De Sousa, 57, a naturalized U.S. citizen from India’s state of Goa, was one of 23 Americans convicted in absentia in 2009 by a Milan court for Nasr’s abduction. She received a five-year sentence. An appeals court in 2011 added two more years, and Italy’s Supreme Court upheld the sentence. Nineteen of the Americans, De Sousa said, “don’t exist,” because they were aliases used by the CIA snatch team.
The case drew fresh attention last month when Panama detained Robert Seldon Lady, the CIA’s former Milan station chief, whom the Italian court had sentenced to nine years in prison. But Panama released him within 24 hours and allowed him to fly to the United States rather than wait for Italy to request his extradition.
Another convicted American, Air Force Col. Joseph Romano, who oversaw security at Aviano, the U.S. base from which Nasr was flown out of Italy, received a seven-year term. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano pardoned him in April under U.S. pressure.
The Bush and the Obama administrations, however, have refused to ask Italy to do the same for De Sousa, who insists that she qualified for diplomatic immunity as a second secretary accredited to the U.S. Embassy in Rome.
“It’s always the minions of the federal government who are thrown under the bus by officials who consistently violate international law and sometimes domestic law and who are all immune from prosecution,” De Sousa said. “Their lives are fine. They’re making millions of dollars sitting on [corporate] boards.”
A cleric who preached holy war against the West, Nasr was living in Italy under a grant of political asylum when he was accosted Feb. 17, 2003, by black-suited men on a Milan street as he walked to his mosque. He was bundled into a white van and driven to Aviano, from which he was flown to Germany and then to Egypt.
A member of a banned Egyptian Islamist group, Nasr was being investigated at the time by an Italian anti-terrorist police unit known as DIGOS, which had a warrant to eavesdrop on him. He allegedly had close ties to al Qaida and other Islamist groups and arranged for militants to travel to fight in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.
But DIGOS made no move to arrest Nasr, De Sousa said, because it had no evidence that he was plotting any attacks. He knew that he was being monitored, she said.
Castelli, however, was eager to pull off a rendition, she said, explaining that after 9/11, “everyone around the world” was being pressed by CIA headquarters to “do something” against al Qaida. Castelli, she said, was ambitious and saw a rendition as a ticket to promotion.