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CIA secrecy at issue in beating case

From Jim Polk

David Passaro

• Gallery: Abuse at Abu Ghraib prison  (Contains graphic content. Viewer discretion advised.)
• Indictment:  U.S. v. Passaro  (FindLaw, PDF)external link
• Timeline: Iraq abuse case
U.S. Army

RALEIGH, North Carolina (CNN) -- A federal judge agreed Wednesday to set up procedures to help keep secret what the CIA may have been doing in the mountains of Afghanistan when one of its independent contractors allegedly beat a detainee who died a day later.

David Passaro, 37, a former Green Beret on leave from a civilian job with the Special Forces command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, is facing trial on four counts of assault involving assault with a dangerous weapon, resulting in serious bodily injury.

U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle said he would wait until after September 30 to set a trial date.

The indictment said Passaro was "a contractor working on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency" and was involved in "paramilitary activities" in the remote Kunar province in the mountains of Afghanistan when the detainee died.

Passaro's lawyers told the court they would need security clearances before Passaro would even discuss the case with them.

"He hasn't told us anything. ... We know very little about what happened," one attorney said.

The judge agreed to allow the government to set up a secure location where the defense can view sensitive evidence once it's cleared, and lawyers can work out summary statements, if necessary, to present the information in court without compromising CIA secrets.

The area where Passaro was assigned is thought to remain a haven for remnants of al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The United States is still hunting terrorist leader Osama bin Laden there and elsewhere.

Boyle said he would schedule Passaro's arraignment for the week of August 2.

Passaro was working as a civilian medical specialist for the Army's Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg when he was given unpaid leave last summer to take a CIA assignment in Afghanistan.

The charges say that a month later Passaro beat a detainee with a flashlight two straight days during questioning about rocket attacks at the Asadabad base. The detainee, Abdul Wali, died the next day. The cause of his death remains unknown, which is why Passaro is charged with assault.

Passaro is being held without bail. The prosecution has argued he is a flight risk.

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