We broke the law, admits CIA agent convicted of rendition

By David Usborne, US Editor

Friday 06 November 2009 01:00

One of the Americans convicted in absentia by an Italian court for her part in the 2003 abduction of a Muslim cleric by CIA operatives has acknowledged they "broke the law" and complained she was given insufficient protection by her superiors in Washington.

Sabrina deSousa, employed in the US consulate offices in Milan at the time of the abduction, made clear in an interview with ABC News that she was disgruntled that she and the other 22 Americans who were convicted by a Milan court on Wednesday had been left to fend for themselves by their country.

Ms deSousa, who has not explicitly said she was working for the CIA, was sentenced to five years by the judge in the case. Indeed on the day that the cleric, known as Abu Omar, was taken from the street and whisked first to Germany and thereafter to Egypt, she was out of the city on a skiing break.

The longest sentence, of eight years, was given to the former Milan CIA station chief, Robert Seldon Lady. There seems little likelihood that the convicted Americans will serve their terms, not least because Italy has declined to seek their extradition from the US, partly in the interest of US-Italian relations. It is probably true, however, that the 22 will always run the risk of arrest if they leave the US territory.

Saying she felt "abandoned and betrayed" as the trial unfolded over three years, Ms deSousa said "everything I did was approved by Washington... and we are paying for the mistakes right now, whoever authorised this."

That so many former and current CIA operatives should have been dragged through a foreign court has begun to rankle Capitol Hill. "I think these people have been hung out to dry," complained Republican congressman Pete Hoekstra of the House Intelligence Committee. "They're taking the fall for a decision that was made by their superiors." The CIA will not comment on the case, which is seen as a rebuke to the administration of George W Bush.

In an interview earlier this year with an Italian newspaper, Mr Lady was candid about the seizure of the cleric. "Of course it was an illegal operation," the newspaper quoted him. "But that's our job. We're at war against terrorism".

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