Ex-Contractor Guilty of Assaulting Detainee
Friday, August 18, 2006
A federal jury in North Carolina yesterday convicted former CIA contractor David A. Passaro of assaulting a detainee he interrogated at a remote U.S. military base in Afghanistan in 2003. It was the first time an American civilian has been held criminally responsible for abusing a prisoner captured during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Jurors found Passaro guilty of felony assault and three counts of misdemeanor assault for using interrogation tactics that included beating Abdul Wali, 28, with a metal flashlight in June 2003. But Passaro was not charged with killing Wali, who died shortly after the interrogations, because there was no evidence linking his death to the beatings. Wali was suspected of being involved in rocket attacks against the U.S. base near the border with Pakistan.
The case was the first -- and so far only -- criminal case brought by the Justice Department against a civilian for detainee abuse despite numerous investigations into the actions of CIA operatives and civilian contract interrogators assigned to elicit information from terrorism suspects around the globe. Passaro's case emerged publicly in June 2004, a year after the crimes and just weeks after the abuses at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison surfaced.
Passaro, who has said publicly he believes he is a scapegoat for failed U.S. interrogation policies, could face as much as 11 1/2 years in prison at sentencing.
CIA Director Michael V. Hayden informed agency employees of the verdict by e-mail yesterday.
"I think it is very important for all of us to bear in mind that Passaro's actions were unlawful, reprehensible, and neither authorized nor condoned by the Agency," Hayden wrote. Hayden wrote that Passaro's actions "were totally inconsistent with the normal conduct of CIA officers and contractors."
The CIA's inspector general is reviewing other cases, and at least two have been referred to a Justice Department task force looking at potential U.S. civilian crimes in the war zones. Officials with the U.S. attorney's office in the Eastern District of Virginia, where the task force is located, have said that more than a dozen civilian cases are being investigated. While some officials expect more prosecutions as a result of the task force's work, the investigations have often met with difficulty because of a lack of evidence and problems identifying victims and even defendants.
Acting U.S. Attorney George E.B. Holding said in Raleigh, N.C., yesterday that the verdict sent a message that "no one is above or beneath" U.S. laws, according to the Associated Press, which quoted Passaro's defense lawyer as saying that Passaro was "disappointed."