Local News

Passaro Case Tries To Balance Fair Trial, National Security Issues

Posted July 21, 2004

— Both sides in the case of a former CIA contractor accused of beating an Afghan detainee want an order in place to prevent the potential release of national security secrets.

David Passaro, of Lillington, is charged with beating Abdul Wali with a steel flashlight in 2003. Wali later died.

Federal prosecutors filed a motion to prevent Passaro from revealing national security secrets. Passaro would be required to disclose what classified information he would expect to enter as evidence.

"Arguably, a defendant could contend that he or she would need to release classified information for his or her defense," U.S. Attorney Frank Whitney said. "There's a way of sanitizing certain classified information.

"We might want to say country 1 or country 2 versus identifying a specific country," Whitney said.

Evidence in the case is not limited to Afghanistan. Wake Forest police Detective Bonnie Heart, Passaro's girlfriend, has had her home searched and her phone conversations with Passaro taped.

The case comes as more prison abuse incidents are making headlines and the government has been making statements.

"President Bush made clear the United States will not tolerate criminal acts of brutality such as those alleged in this indictment," U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said at a press conference June 17.

Prosecutors in Raleigh can try the Passaro case with the Patriot Act that was enacted after the events of Sept. 11.

"Without the Patriot Act, there would be serious questions whether we had jurisdiction to bring charges about the conduct in Afghanistan," Whitney said.

It is up to a judge to determine whether evidence in the Passaro case is relevant or whether a summary would be acceptable in its place.

An arraignment in the case is scheduled for the week of Aug. 2. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys will have to enter pre-trial motions and classified and non-classified information by Sept. 30. A trial date may be set after Sept. 30.

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