Local News

Passaro Found Guilty Of Prisoner Abuse

Posted August 17, 2006 7:36 a.m. EDT

— A federal jury convicted former CIA contractor David Passaro Thursday on four assault charges in connection with the 2003 beating of an Afghan detainee who later died.

Passaro, 40, of Lillington, was charged with beating Abdul Wali during questioning about rocket attacks on a remote base where Passaro was stationed in 2003 along with U.S. and Afghan troops. Prosecutors said Wali was repeatedly beaten with a flashlight and was twice kicked in the groin during two nights of questioning. He died the following day.

Passaro was convicted on two counts each of assault with a dangerous weapon and inflicting serious bodily injury. He will be sentenced later, when he faces up to 11½ years in prison.

"Today, a North Carolina jury sitting here in Raleigh delivered a message to the world, and that is that no one is above or beneath the laws of the United States of America," acting U.S. Attorney George Holding said. "This should be a message to the world that wherever U.S. laws are ruling today, justice will be done."

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    David Passaro Prisoner Abuse Case

    In a case that attracted international attention, Passaro was the first American civilian charged with mistreating a detainee during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He stood trial in North Carolina under a provision of the USA Patriot Act allowing U.S. citizens to be charged for crimes committed on land or facilities designated for use by the U.S. government.

    The jury had reached a partial verdict Wednesday night after more than six hours of deliberations, but jurors said they were at an impasse on other charges. U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle instructed the jury to continue deliberating until it reached a verdict on all charges.

    Jurors spent another 45 minutes Thursday morning on deliberations before returning the guilty verdicts. But they found Passaro guilty of simple assault -- misdemeanor charges -- on three of the assault counts and guilty of a felony on only one of the four charges.

    Passaro showed no emotion as the verdicts were read.

    "Dave is disappointed, of course. However, I'm really honored to have had a chance to represent Dave and people like Dave," defense attorney Joe Gilbert said. "I look forward to representing him with zeal as we go into the sentencing phase."

    Gilbert declined to say whether Passaro planned to appeal.

    Members of Passaro's church, Flat Branch Presbyterian Church in Bunn Level, watched from the gallery as the verdict was read. A retired minister leading the small group said they continue to support him.

    "I'll continue visiting him. When a guy goes down, you don't walk away from him," Bert Pitchford said. "David will be strong. He has good faith."

    Lawyers painted vastly different pictures of Passaro during the trial.

    Prosecutor Jim Candelmo said Passaro beat Wali "mercilessly for 48 hours before he died" in an effort to get information about rocket attacks on the Asadabad base in remote northeastern Afghanistan.

    "This is a flashlight," Candelmo told the jury. "It is used by many of you and me to illuminate a path in the darkness.... He used it as a bludgeon.

    "Why is he hitting him? To inflict pain to get him to talk."

    But Gilbert argued that Passaro merely tapped Wali with the flashlight.

    "Basically, Dave lost the game of musical chairs," he said. "We wouldn't be here if this terrorist hadn't died."

    Other supporters also said they believe Passaro was just doing his job.

    "He's not doing that to intentionally destroy the guy. He's just trying to get information," Pitchford said.

    Candelmo said fingerprints from the flashlight batteries linked Passaro to the crime. Pathologists testifying for the prosecution and the defense disagreed over whether photos of Wali's body and testimony from guards show that the prisoner probably died from beatings.

    "The assault took place 8,000 miles away from here," Holding said. "The person assaulted was an Afghan farmer.... But because it was done at a U.S. base with an American flag flying over it, that victim found a little bit of justice here today."