CIA worker guilty of abuse

August 18, 2006|By JULIAN E. BARNES | JULIAN E. BARNES,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- A civilian CIA contractor accused of beating an Afghan detainee, who later died in custody, was found guilty of assault charges yesterday, becoming the first person affiliated with the spy agency to be convicted in a post-Sept. 11 abuse case.

David A. Passaro, a 40-year-old former police officer sent by the CIA to Afghanistan, was accused of violently beating Abdul Wali during an interrogation in 2003, hitting him with a flashlight and brutally kicking him. Wali, suspected of firing rockets at a U.S. military base, died of his injuries.

Passaro, who was not accused of murder, was instead charged with several counts of assault. The jury found him guilty of felony assault and three misdemeanors. Although he could face up to 11 1/2 years in prison, he is likely to serve between two and four years under federal sentencing guidelines.

Earlier in his career, Passaro was found guilty of a misdemeanor charge in the beating of a man while serving as a police officer in Hartford, Conn., an offense that could increase his prison time.

Witnesses at the trial in Raleigh, N.C., testified that Passaro had said that as a CIA contractor, he was allowed to use interrogation techniques that soldiers were not. But prosecutors argued that CIA contractors were not allowed to use physical force without approval of superiors and that Passaro was not authorized to use physical methods.

Passaro's defense attorneys tried to argue that top officials had allowed tougher interrogation techniques, but much of that line of questioning was cut off by the judge.

At least 20 other cases involving CIA agents or military contractors have been referred to the Department of Justice, according to human rights organizations. But advocates said yesterday that they believe it is growing increasingly unlikely that anyone will be indicted in those cases.

"We should applaud the verdict, and applaud the fact that the Justice Department chose to prosecute," said Priti Patel, a lawyer with Human Rights First who observed the trial. "But there are larger issues the trial raises. If the U.S. is serious about ending the abuse of detainees, the CIA needs to issue clear guidance to its agents and contractors."

In an e-mail message to CIA employees, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the agency director, wrote: "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."

But human rights organizations said yesterday that prosecutors have failed to hold higher-level CIA and military officers accountable, focusing instead on low-level soldiers and operatives.

Julian E. Barnes writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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