Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
Passaro Indictment Announcement
Thursday - June 17, 2004
Good afternoon. Joining me today are Assistant Attorney General Christopher Wray of the Criminal Division, and U.S. Attorney Frank Whitney of the Eastern District of North Carolina.
This morning, a federal grand jury in Raleigh, North Carolina, has indicted a contractor working on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency for brutally assaulting an Afghan detainee on a U.S. military base in Afghanistan.
David A. Passaro, age 38, a resident of Lillington, N.C., faces two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and two counts of assault resulting in serious bodily injury. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. I note that an indictment is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Passaro was arrested this morning in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and he is scheduled for an initial appearance before a federal magistrate judge in Raleigh today. The charges Passaro faces relate to his alleged activities in Afghanistan working as a contractor on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
As the indictment details, Passaro was in Afghanistan working in support of United States military personnel at a base near the town of Asadabad. The military base was called Asadabad Base.
Asadabad is located in the northeastern province of Kunar. It is a mountainous region, and Asadabad is about five miles from the Pakistani border. During the past two years, U.S. Army Special Forces units and Air Force bombers have been active in the area. It is an area in which remnants of al Qaeda and the Taliban remain active.
As alleged in the indictment, on June 18, 2003, a local Afghani man named Abdul Wali, who was suspected of participating in rocket attacks on the Asadabad Base, surrendered voluntarily at the front gate of the base. Defendant Passaro allegedly assisted military personnel in detaining Wali, who was held in a detention cell at the base.
The indictment alleges that beginning on the day after Wali's detention began, Passaro began interrogating him about the rocket attacks. During these interrogations on June 19th and 20th, 2003, it is alleged that Passaro beat Wali repeatedly, using his hands and feet and a large flashlight. Wali died in a cell on Asadabad Base on June 21, 2003.
Authorities immediately began an investigation, and the CIA formally referred the case to the Department of Justice last fall. After the Criminal Division determined that venue was in the Eastern District of North Carolina, the matter was sent there earlier this year for a grand jury investigation.
The American people are familiar by now with the images of prisoner abuse committed in our detention facilities overseas. Today, a wholly different - and more accurate - picture of our nation emerges. Today, we see a nation dedicated to its ideals of freedom, respect for human dignity, to its insistence for justice, and the rule of law.
Regarding other prisoner abuse allegations, I can report that the Justice Department has received one referral from the Department of Defense, and additional referrals from the CIA. These are ongoing investigations; I cannot offer further details at this time.
I have assigned all of our other ongoing prisoner abuse cases to a prosecution team at the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Any new referrals will also be assigned to that office whose jurisdictional boundaries encompass the Pentagon and the CIA. The Eastern District of Virginia has shown consistently its ability to handle complex cases involving national security, classified information and military intelligence and associated personnel.
I also note that this case would have been more difficult to investigate and prosecute were it not for the USA PATRIOT Act. The Act expanded U.S. law enforcement jurisdiction over crimes committed by or against U.S. nationals on land or facilities designated for use by the United States government.
In the reports of abuse of detainees by United States personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past two months, the world has witnessed a betrayal of America's most basic values by a small group of individuals. Their actions call us to the defense of our values - our belief in decency and respect for human life - through the enforcement of the law.
President Bush has made clear that the United States will not tolerate criminal acts of brutality such as those alleged in this indictment. The types of illegal abuse detailed run counter to our values and our policies and are not representative of our men and women in the military and associated personnel serving honorably and admirably for the cause of freedom.
Those who are responsible for such criminal acts will be investigated, prosecuted and, if found guilty, punished.
I thank Chris Wray, Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Frank Whitney and his team in the Eastern District of North Carolina for their leadership and work in this criminal matter. I also note with appreciation the investigative efforts of the CIA's Office of the Inspector General.