The landmark case dates to Feb. 17, 2003, when Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, a radical Egyptian cleric known as Abu Omar, walked out of his Milan apartment in broad daylight and vanished. Italian authorities used cellphone records made at the time and location of the abduction to determine that CIA officers snatched Abu Omar, drove him to nearby Aviano Air Base and flew him to Egypt. According to Italian court documents, Abu Omar was beaten and subjected to electric shock in a Cairo prison. He was later freed.
Armando Spataro, the Italian public prosecutor who brought the case, said he pursued the Americans because he believes that renditions violate international law. In court papers, Italian investigators say De Sousa was a “CIA agent” who helped plan the kidnapping. De Sousa, who denies having been in the CIA and says she was a State Department consular official, said she played no role in the abduction and was chaperoning her son’s ski trip on the day Abu Omar was taken. Romano, accused of helping secrete the kidnappers and Abu Omar at Aviano Air Base in northeastern Italy, has declined to comment on his role.
De Sousa, Romano and the other convicted Americans never received diplomatic or military immunity. U.S. officials asserted immunity for Romano under NATO’s Status of Forces Agreement, but the Italians disregarded it. De Sousa sued the CIA and the State and Justice departments in federal court, seeking to force the government to give her immunity, but she lost her case. She is appealing.
The CIA declined to comment. Pentagon spokesman George Little also declined to comment.
De Sousa said that the evidence against her was highly circumstantial and that senior U.S. government officials who planned the rendition deserve to be held accountable. Romano said the Italian Supreme Court’s ruling surprised him because prosecutors had asked the judges to drop the charges against him, saying he deserved NATO immunity.
“I am not angry, I am just disappointed. I am saddened,” Romano said Wednesday. “The government of Italy violated [my immunity.] I believe their courts have lost their legitimacy.”