- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 17, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A CIA contractor was indicted yesterday in connection with the beating death of a prisoner in Afghanistan — the first civilian to face criminal charges related to U.S. treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The four-count indictment was handed up in Raleigh, N.C., against David A. Passaro, 38, for the June 21, 2003, death of a prisoner in U.S. custody. Attorney General John Ashcroft said Mr. Passaro was accused of “brutally assaulting” the man while questioning him over two days.

The prisoner, identified as Abdul Wali, was being held at a U.S. detention facility in Asadabad, in the Kunar province of Afghanistan. Court documents say Mr. Wali had surrendered and was being questioned by Mr. Passaro about frequent rocket attacks directed at the U.S. facility, close to the Pakistani border.

Mr. Ashcroft said al Qaeda and Taliban fighters were common in that part of the region.

Mr. Wali died in his prison cell after Mr. Passaro beat him “using his hands and feet and a large flashlight” during two days of interrogations, according to the indictment.

Mr. Passaro, of Lillington, N.C., was to appear in federal court in Raleigh. The indictment does not say whether he worked for a specific company but says he was in Afghanistan “on behalf of the CIA, engaging in paramilitary activities.”

The CIA often uses independent contractors who are hired for short-term assignments. Although they sometimes are recruited by and work through a private company, they also can be contracted directly by the agency. The contractors are known as “green badgers” for the color of their ID cards. Regular employees have blue badges.

Mr. Wali’s is among three detainee deaths being investigated by the Justice Department and the CIA’s inspector general in Iraq and Afghanistan, where charges of abuse include reports from former prisoners of hoodings, beatings and sexual humiliation. The Justice Department declined to bring charges in a fourth death.

The indictment charges Mr. Passaro with two counts each of assault and assault with a dangerous weapon — the flashlight. He faces up to 40 years in prison and up to a $1 million fine if convicted. Federal law allows civilian charges to be brought against U.S. citizens for crimes overseas if they are not under military jurisdiction.

“We take allegations of wrongdoing very seriously, and it is important to bear in mind that CIA immediately reported these allegations to the agency’s inspector general and the Department of Justice,” said CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield.

“While we cannot comment on specifics of this case, given that it is currently before the courts, the CIA does not support or condone unlawful activities of any sort and has an obligation to report possible violations of the law to the appropriate authorities,” Mr. Mansfield said. “This was done promptly.”

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