WASHINGTON – A contractor working for the CIA has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges stemming from the abuse (search) of a prisoner in Afghanistan, the first civilian to face criminal charges in the case, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Thursday.
An indictment was returned by a grand jury in Raleigh, N.C, for David Passaro "for brutally assaulting an Afghan detainee at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan," Ashcroft said.
Passaro faces two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and two counts of assault resulting in serious bodily injury; each of the four charges carries a maximum penalty of 10 years prison and $250,000 fine. He's scheduled for an initial appearance before a judge later Thursday. Passaro was arrested Thursday morning in Fayetteville, N.C.
The prisoner, who died in June 2003, was identified as Abdul Wali. He was being held at a U.S. detention facility in Asadabad, Afghanistan, about five miles from the border with Pakistan.
U.S. special forces units and Air Force bombers have been active in that area during the past two years, Ashcroft said, since that's where remnants of the Taliban (search) and Al Qaeda "remain active."
Ashcroft would not give the name of the company or person Passaro worked for.
According to the indictment, Passaro knowingly assaulted Wali, which caused serious bodily injury on June 19 and June 20, 2003.
On June 18, 2003, Wali allegedly surrendered himself voluntarily at the front gate of Asadabad Base. Passaro assisted military personnel in detaining Wali, who was suspected of participating in rocket attacks on the base, according to court documents.
Passaro interrogated Wali about rocket attacks on the base on June 19 and 20, according to the indictment. During these interrogations, Passaro allegedly beat Wali using his hands and feet and a large flashlight. Wali died in his cell on June 21.
The case was referred to the Justice Department by the CIA's Office of Inspector General last fall and the case was sent to North Carolina earlier this year for a grand jury investigation.
There are two other cases referred by the CIA involving the November 2003 death of a detainee at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad and the death of Maj. General Abed Hamed Mowhoush, a former commander for Saddam Hussein's air defense.
The charges come amid multiple ongoing investigations by the Defense Department and other agencies into allegations of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. No civilians have been charged yet in those investigations. Seven soldiers face military charges in that scandal.
"The world witnessed a betrayal of our most basic values by a very small group of individuals" when pictures of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison surfaced, Ashcroft said. But "the president of the United States has made clear the United States will not tolerate these types of brutality … and [these acts] are not representative of our men and women in the military and associated personnel serving honorably."
Ashcroft said his agency has received one abuse case referral from the Defense Department and "additional referrals" from the CIA.
"These are ongoing investigations and of course I cannot offer further details at this time," the attorney general said.
"The American people are now familiar with the images of prisoner abuse depicted overseas … [but] today we see a nation dedicated to its ideals of freedom, its respect for human dignity to its insistence on justice and the rule of law."
Democratic lawmakers and other critics say the Bush administration set the legal stage for the abuse by circulating a series of memos that appear to justify use of torture and argue that the president's wartime powers trump laws meant to protect prisoners.
President Bush and Ashcroft have repeatedly insisted that no orders were given to the military or CIA that would violate U.S. anti-torture laws or the protections of the Geneva Conventions (search).
There have been three confirmed deaths of detainees at prisons in Afghanistan, where allegations of abuse include reports from former prisoners of being hooded, being beaten and being sexually abused.
Some 2,000 prisoners have been held at the jails since U.S. troops entered Afghanistan in late 2001 to topple the Taliban regime for granting sanctuary to Usama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network, according to the military.
Fox News' Liza Porteus, Anna Stolley and The Associated Press contributed to this report.