US asks judge to dismiss diplomatic immunity suit

By NEDRA PICKLER (AP) – 16 hours ago

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government has asked a judge to throw out a lawsuit brought by a former State Department official demanding diplomatic immunity against charges that she helped kidnap a terrorism suspect in Italy.

Sabrina De Sousa is one of 26 U.S. government officials being tried in absentia for the alleged kidnapping of Muslim cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar. It is the first trial in any country stemming from the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, which involved moving terrorist suspects from one country to another for interrogation outside the bounds of the criminal justice system.

Governments can invoke immunity for their diplomats to protect them from prosecution in a host country. The United States has neither waived nor invoked immunity for the officials in the Italian case, but it has officially ignored the prosecution.

Government lawyers argued in a legal filing late Monday that the courts have no authority to intervene in what is a foreign policy decision that must be left solely up to the executive branch. They also argued that the option of diplomatic immunity exists to benefit the nation applying it, not an individual government worker subjected to foreign legal action.

A judge's order that the United States assert immunity in the Italian courts "would inject the court into matters of foreign policy, international diplomacy, and treaty practice which are not the province of the judiciary," Justice Department lawyers wrote in a motion to dismiss the case brought by De Sousa.

Her lawyer, Mark Zaid, said the U.S. government is trying to abandon his client in the face of an overseas trial.

"It is a disturbing shame that the U.S. government's efforts in the Italian rendition case are to fight against one of its former diplomats rather than protect them from foreign prosecution," Zaid told The Associated Press. "This litigation should give pause to anyone who desires to serve our country overseas for they may find themselves abandoned when determined politically expedient."

Italian prosecutors say De Sousa, a 53-year-old native of India, was a CIA officer working under diplomatic cover and was one of four main U.S. officials responsible for coordinating Nasr's capture from a Milan street on Feb. 17, 2003. Prosecutors say he was taken to his home country of Egypt, where he was held and allegedly tortured before eventually being released.

De Sousa says she was a foreign service officer in Milan and denies that she worked for the CIA. She says at the time of Nasr's capture she was vacationing at a ski resort nearly 130 miles away. The United States has never officially acknowledged involvement in Nasr's capture.

Last May, she sued in U.S. District Court in Washington to try to force the State Department to give her immunity and government-funded legal counsel in Italy. So far, she has been represented by a court-appointed attorney with whom she has had no contact.

Last week, the Justice Department agreed to pay for an Italian lawyer for De Sousa, although the trial is now wrapping up with closing arguments expected to being Sept. 23.

De Sousa resigned her job in February because of the department's refusal to give her immunity and because she was denied permission to travel to India to visit her family. She said she was told that she risks arrest and extradition to Italy if she leaves the United States.