Fourth Circuit affirms CIA contractor detainee abuse conviction

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] on Monday affirmed [opinion, PDF] the conviction of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] contractor David Passaro [JURIST news archive] on assault charges related to the abuse of an Afghan detainee [JURIST report]. The court found that the district court had properly exercised maritime and territorial jurisdiction [18 USC § 7 text] over Passaro's actions while he was employed by the CIA at Asadabad Firebase [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] in Afghanistan. Although the court rejected the construction of "military ... mission" used by the US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina [official website] as too narrow, the duration and nature of the site's use, and improvements made to the fortification lead the Fourth Circuit "to conclude that it possesses all the qualities of a permanent U.S. military base abroad, albeit on a smaller scale ...." In determining "whether a federal court has jurisdiction over ... an American citizen for committing brutal assaults abroad," the court found that:


Congress has determined that individuals committing such crimes on the premises of United States military missions abroad are subject to prosecution in United States federal courts. The Executive has determined to bring the first such case against David Passaro. We are satisfied that Passaro received a fair trial from a conscientious jury, in a court that had jurisdiction to try him.

While upholding the conviction, the court found error in the district court's application of the "dangerous weapon" enhancement of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines [official materials], and remanded the case for re-sentencing. Passaro was found guilty in 2006 and sentenced [JURIST reports] in 2007 to 100 months in prison on charges that he beat Abdul Wali during an interrogation in northeastern Afghanistan. Wali subsequently died in US custody.

On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reported that US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile; JURIST news archive] was expected to appoint a special counsel who will be tasked with investigating the alleged abuse of detainees and other terrorism suspects by CIA interrogators. Last month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] sent an open letter [text; JURIST report] to Holder in order to "express [the organization's] strong support for opening a criminal investigation into abusive interrogation practices by the US government since the attacks of September 11, 2001." In April, Democratic members of the US House Judiciary Committee sent Holder a letter urging him to appoint a special counsel [JURIST report] to investigate torture allegations made against Bush administration officials.
In February 2007, HRW welcomed Passaro's conviction, but accused the US of consistently failing to investigate [JURIST report] allegations of detainee abuse.

 

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