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Federal judge dismisses ex-State Department employee's diplomatic immunity suit

A judge in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Thursday dismissed [order, PDF] a lawsuit brought by a former State Department [official website] employee demanding diplomatic immunity against charges she participated in the kidnapping and rendition of a terrorism suspect abroad. The former State Department employee, Sabrina De Sousa, brought the suit after being tried in absentia in 2009 in an Italian court for the alleged kidnapping of Muslim cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr. De Sousa was one of 23 US officials convicted of the alleged kidnapping [JURIST report] in 2009. In her suit, De Sousa argued that the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] should be required to grant her immunity in the case. Lawyers for the government argued that courts have no authority to interfere with its foreign policy decisions. The district court dismissed the suit stating that the question of the "plaintiff's entitlement to immunity ... is a political question that lies beyond the competence of this Court." Although the court held it was bound by law to dismiss the suit, it expressed concerns about the government's handling of the case, saying it may send a message to "civilian government employees serving this country on tours of duty abroad ... [that is] a potentially demoralizing one."

In December 2010 an Italian appeals court upheld the convictions [JURIST report] of 23 former CIA agents convicted in the 2003 kidnapping and rendition [JURIST news archive] of terror suspect Nasr, increasing their sentences. De Sousa's original five-year sentence was increased to seven years. Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was seized on the streets of Milan in 2003 by CIA agents with the help of Italian operatives, then allegedly transferred to Egypt and tortured by Egypt's State Security Intelligence before being released [JURIST reports] in February 2007. In September 2009 the DOJ filed a motion to dismiss [JURIST report] the lawsuit brought by De Sousa seeking diplomatic immunity against the Italian charges. The CIA's rendition program has been the source of much controversy and litigation. In 2009 President Barack Obama announced [JURIST report] the US would continue its practice of sending terror detainees to third countries for interrogation with increased oversight by the State Department to prevent torture.

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