Wednesday will mark a disappointing day for the men and women in our intelligence community. One of their own, Sabrina De Sousa, a former CIA case officer, barring unforseen actions, will be extradited from Portugal to Italy.
She is being sent to Italy this week because she is being charged with committing a crime for doing what the National Security Council—her government— led the CIA to do in 2003. The NSC directed the CIA to snatch a potentially dangerous individual off the streets of Milan and render him to Egypt for interrogations and ultimately prosecution on terrorist charges.
It is important to note that Sabrina was nowhere near the snatch when it occurred. She was 100 miles away on a skiing holiday with her family.
But this isn’t a story about the miscarriage of justice by the Italian Court system, although, that is the case. All indications are that elements of the Italian government -- at a minimum -- approved this, and maybe even participated with the CIA in the rendition.
This also isn’t about how unbelievably disappointing the behavior of our supposed allies, Portugal and Italy, has been towards the new Trump administration. Although, much could and should be written on that, too.
The real story here is that America abandoned Sabrina de Sousa and her husband, a 30-year U.S. army veteran.
Originally convicted in absentia in 2009 by the Italian legal system, America, until recently, has done very little to defend and support Sabrina and her family since. They have lived under the shadow of these convictions for years. Now she’s on her way to face punishment in Italy.
Roughly eighteen months ago Sabrina took a risk returning to Portugal. During her trip, Sabrina was arrested and instructed not to leave.
Portugal has detained her ever since.
The Obama administration did nothing for seven years following Sabrina's conviction. They did nothing while she was detained in Portugal. Meanwhile, President Obama released prisoners from GITMO. The White House handed out pardons. Not a finger was lifted to assist Sabrina.
CIA Director Brennan visited Portugal twice in 2016. Sources in the Portuguese intelligence community indicate that Sabrina’s case was never even discussed.
Sabrina will be extradited to Italy. All her legal appeals are exhausted. She has already been in Portuguese prisons for the last several days.
This is absolutely another part of the mess Obama left behind for the incoming Trump administration. Sabrina is much like the Pakistani doctor who helped and enabled the successful Bin Laden raid.
Today he continues to sit in a Pakistani jail.
Bin Laden is dead, but a key asset in taking down the terror mastermind continues to languish in an ally’s jail cell.
Sabrina is now in the same situation.
Sabrina suffers while those who approved the mission back in the Bush administration travel the world secure in the knowledge that they don’t have arrest warrants hanging over their heads.
In many ways, the Italians convicted the wrong person. First and foremost, Sabrina was never guilty. But the Italians didn’t have the courage to nail those truly responsible – those in the American government and in their own government – who bear responsibility for what happened in 2003.
Thankfully, the Trump administration is working diligently to resolve this issue, finally providing support to Sabrina. In just five weeks, they’ve done more to help her than the Obama administration had done in seven years.
Everyone knows that jailing Sabrina is unacceptable. The Italians, the Portuguese, and the Americans all recognize that she is a political pawn in a much larger dynamic. This after all is a political issue, not a legal one.
Sabrina is not a pawn. She is a real person with a family. She just wants to live her life to the fullest. It’s time she be allotted her freedom. It’s time for the countries involved to resolve their disputes independent of Sabrina. Sabrina shouldn’t be held hostage.
Bottom line: It is wrong for countries to hold Sabrina “accountable” while the big fish swim around freely.
Pete Hoekstra is the Shillman senior fellow at the Investigative Project on Terrorism. He is the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and is author of "Architects of Disaster: The Destruction of Libya."