An American contractor working for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges related to the beating death of a prisoner in Afghanistan. The man is the first civilian to face criminal charges related to the detainee abuse scandal.
The four-count indictment charges 38-year-old David Passaro with beating an Afghan detainee being held last year at a U.S. detention facility in Asadabad, in Afghanistan's northeastern Kunar province.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said that the prisoner, identified as Abdul Wali, was being questioned about rocket attacks directed at the U.S. base housing the jail.
"The indictment alleges that beginning on the day after Wali's detention began, Passaro began interrogating him about the rocket attacks," said Mr. Ashcroft. "During these interrogations on June 19 and June 20, 2003 it is alleged that Passaro beat Wali repeatedly using his hands and feet and a large flashlight. Wali died in a cell at Asadabad base on June the 21, 2003."
The indictment charges Mr. Passaro with two counts each of assault and assault with a deadly weapon. If convicted he faces up to 40 years in prison. He was arrested Thursday in the U.S. state of North Carolina.
The indictment does not say whether Mr. Passaro worked for a specific company, but says he was in Afghanistan "on behalf of the CIA, engaging in paramilitary activities."
The charges come amid multiple ongoing investigations by the U.S. Defense Department and other agencies into allegations of prisoner abuse at detention facilities in Afghanistan and in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.
No civilians have yet been charged in the Iraqi abuse scandal, but the U.S. military filed charges against seven soldiers.
Attorney General Ashcroft says the indictment of Mr. Passaro proves that America will prosecute those involved in alleged illegal activity overseas.
"The American people are by now familiar with the images of prisoner abuse committed in detention facilities overseas," he added. "Today a wholly different and frankly more accurate picture of our nation emerges. 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."
In Afghanistan, about 2000 prisoners have been held in jails since U.S. troops entered the country in late 2001 to topple the Taleban regime for granting sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorist network.