He's the only CIA Contractor to be Convicted in a Torture-related CaseWatch the video See the video and lesson plan
TEXT ON SCREEN: December 9, 2014
ARCHIVAL (CNN, 12-08-14):
NEWS REPORT: The Obama Administration braces for an explosive report on the Bush Administration’s use of torture.
NARRATION: More than a decade after instituting new harsh interrogation techniques, extensive details about their use were revealed…
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 12-10-14):
NEWS REPORT: Brutal techniques that went far beyond the law…
ARCHIVAL (ABC NEWS 12-14-14):
NEWS REPORT: Stress positions, standing sleep deprivation, nudity…
NARRATION: … leading to questions about whether the C.I.A. had gone too far, and calls for accountability.
ARCHIVAL (CNN, 12-11-14):
JIM ACOSTA: Should C.I.A. officials be prosecuted?
NARRATION: But in 2004 the Justice Department did charge one man with such a crime.
ARCHIVAL (NBC 06-17-04):
TOM BROKAW: American authorities have arrested a C.I.A. contractor…
ARCHIVAL (WRAL 05-15-06):
He’s accused of beating a detainee with a flashlight….
ARCHIVAL (CNN, 06-17-04):
NEWS REPORT: Passaro was indicted on four counts of assault.
DAVID A. PASSARO (FORMER C.I.A. CONTRACTOR): When they told me I was being investigated for torture, I was floored.
NARRATION: What does this case tell us about how America’s war on terror was interpreted on the ground?
DAVID A. PASSARO: Man, I wasn’t hired to be nice to these terrorists. I was there to get a job done, I was there to elicit the truth and keep movin’.
ANATOMY OF AN INTERROGATION
NARRATION: In the summer of 2003, U.S. forces were heavily engaged in efforts to root out the Taliban in Afghanistan.
David Passaro, a former Army Ranger, signed up to go to the front lines as a contractor for the C.I.A.
DAVID A. PASSARO: I went to work for the agency as a paramilitary officer to combat terrorism.
NARRATION: Among his responsibilities was to find an insurgent who had been harassing a remote U.S. outpost in Afghanistan with rocket fire.
DAVID A. PASSARO: It came under fire quite often. We were unsure who it was coming from.
NARRATION: Intelligence received from a nearby village soon focused on one man – a farmer named Abdul Wali.
To help find Wali, investigators turned to the provincial governor, and his 18-year-old son, an Afghan-American named Hyder Akbar.
HYDER AKBAR: Abdul Wali reached out to my father and said that he’s not involved and he’d like to clear his name. Abdul Wali was very scared, so my father sent me along with him. We were driving down towards the American base. I was very assuring to Abdul Wali because I was, you know, American myself. And knowing what I knew of my country I felt very confident.
NARRATION: Upon arriving at the base, Wali and Akbar met with U.S. investigators.
HYDER AKBAR: We sat down. There’s a fan above us, and we started the discussion. And pretty quickly, Dave Passaro’s behavior made me very uncomfortable. The way I would describe it is like I almost felt like there’s a guy that felt like he was playing a role in a movie. “Let’s do this. Who are you, Abdul Wali?”
NARRATION: Akbar says he felt uncomfortable, refused to translate anymore and left the base.
HYDER AKBAR: Even when you’re just translating, Passaro’s words to Abdul Wali are mine, and I don’t want to be saying these words to him.
NARRATION: Wali was then taken to the base detention center.
DAVID A. PASSARO: I had an old, rickety, broken wooden chair, and so I ended up taking that, and took a board, and when I walked into his-his little cell, I started screaming, and yelling, “Get over here.” And start slapping the board on the chair, and broke the chair, all in an attempt to try to frighten him. And I believe it worked, because when they took that sandbag off his head, under my direction, he had one eyeball in the center of his head, about that big. So, I realized he was probably going to take us seriously, from that point forward.
NARRATION: Passaro said that he had never been taught how to interrogate a suspect…but learned in the Army what to do if he was captured by the enemy.
DAVID A. PASSARO: The training is very intense. Stress positions. Total humiliation. That’s the only thing I could fall back on.
I didn’t want him sleeping anymore than two to three hours a night. One of the stress positions was something called the air chair. That’s just hold his arms out until he decided he would change his demeanor. Every time he would sit there, he would do this, and he would drop his arms to his elbows. Well, that’s not the air chair. And then I would tap his arms, to tell him to get his arms back up, underneath.
At one point he lurched out after me. And I slapped him. It was just a quick response. My hands were right here, and it was just to get him off of me. Is that assault? It could be construed as assault, but in the War on Terror, and in Afghanistan, in Asadabad, that’s not assault.
NARRATION: After three days of interrogation, Wali collapsed. Despite efforts to revive him, he died. No autopsy was performed.
DAVID A. PASSARO: I’m not going to say anybody lost any sleep when Abdul Wali died. I didn’t, and I still don’t.
HYDER AKBAR: This was a man who had turned himself in voluntarily. It wasn’t the traditional way that people kind of justify torture, you know, the, the ticking time bomb situation. This is not a situation like that.
NARRATION: Two years earlier, after September 11th, Americans were consumed by the fear that terrorists would strike again.
ARCHIVAL: (CSPAN, 1-29-02):
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Like ticking time bombs, set to go off without warning.
NARRATION: Alberto Mora, who was general counsel of the Navy at the time, recalls with dismay how quickly pressure built in Washington to rewrite the rules.
ALBERTO J. MORA (GENERAL COUNSEL OF THE UNITED STATES NAVY, 2001-2006): There was a feeling that, through the sheer brutality that the al-Qaeda members who were responsible for that and were plotting further attacks had essentially opted out of the human race and were subject to almost any kind of treatment that could-could be leveled against them.
NARRATION: In mid-2002, with Osama Bin Laden still at large and other terror attacks feared, the C.I.A. asked the Administration for permission and legal justification to use so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” against suspected terrorists in certain situations.
ALBERTO R. GONZALES (WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL 2001-2005): We knew this was going to be a big step. And we all agreed this was the right thing to do for this country. We were comfortable in the application of these enhanced techniques to the most serious, the worst of the worse. There was a procedure put in place, safeguards had to be met.
NARRATION: But Passaro, who wasn’t authorized to use enhanced interrogation techniques, says the Administration’s attitude was interpreted more broadly on the ground.
DAVID A. PASSARO: America was angry, and they believe that the C.I.A., and the military would actually be able to go out, and do their jobs now, with maybe a little bit more laxed, relaxed procedures. That was my belief. That’s kind of what’s filtered on down to us.
NARRATION: After Wali’s death, Passaro’s contract wasn’t renewed and he returned to a civilian job at Fort Bragg.
Then in April of 2004…
ARCHIVAL (CBS EVENING NEWS, 4-28-04):
DAN RATHER: It was American soldiers serving as military police at Abu Ghraib who took these pictures…
NARRATION: In the wake of Abu Ghraib came new reports, including that other suspicious deaths of C.I.A. detainees were already under investigation by the C.I.A… among them, Abdul Wali’s.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 5-6-04):
NEWS REPORT: A third C.I.A. prisoner died last June in Afghanistan, also after a severe beating.
NARRATION: Seven weeks later, Passaro was arrested.
ARCHIVAL (CSPAN, 6-17-04):
JOHN ASHCROFT PRESS CONFERENCE: This morning, a grand jury in Raleigh, North Carolina has indicted a contractor working on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency for brutally assaulting an Afghan detainee.
DAVID A. PASSARO: I was floored. I was working for the government, combating terrorism, with the authority to kill terrorists, the training to kill terrorists, and the direction given to kill terrorists. And here they are arresting me for assault?
I believe 100% that Abu Ghraib, when it kicked off and finally came to public’s awareness, that they had to show they were going to hold the C.I.A. accountable, so they had me.
NARRATION: The Department of Justice portrayed Passaro as an outlier, a man with a dangerous temper who was operating outside of C.I.A. rules in his zeal to break Wali down.
ARCHIVAL (WRAL, 8-9-06):
REPORTER: One special forces officer testified earlier today that David Passaro was quote “red in the face, spit flying, yelling at this guy.”
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 06-17-04):
NEWS REPORT: He was an abusive husband who was fired from the police department for beating someone up.
NARRATION: Passaro’s defense attorneys countered that their client was a patriot being prosecuted for just doing his job.
DAVID A. PASSARO: After 9-11, President Bush got on national television, and said, “Not only are we going to go after the terrorists, but we’re going to go after those that harbor the terrorists. And we will do so under any—or with any means necessary.”
I can remember Dick Cheney saying the same thing, man. Cofer Black, the gloves are off. In other words, all the rules and regulations no longer applied.
HYDER AKBAR: I didn’t find it too difficult to testify in the trial. I felt a sense of personal responsibility to be able to do whatever I can to figure out what exactly had happened.
I think there’s enough blame to go around. We were incredibly naïve. There’s some blame to be placed on the U.S. military for allowing an individual like Dave Passaro to be in such a sensitive situation. And then, I think that, of course, Dave Passaro for actually, you know, beating this man.
ARCHIVAL (WRAL, 8-17-06):
NEWS REPORT: Jurors came back with the decision.
ARCHIVAL (WRAL, 8-17-06):
NEWS REPORT: David Passaro was convicted of beating Afghan farmer Abdul Wali.
NARRATION: Witnesses testified that Passaro had repeatedly hit Wali with a flashlight and kicked him in the groin, and there was no conclusive evidence presented that Wali was a terrorist.
Passaro was sentenced, and served more than six years in prison.
Now out, he still maintains he did nothing wrong.
DAVID A. PASSARO: Anything that I did to Abdul Wali, none of that constitutes torture. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have done anything different.
NARRATION: To some, this case showed that C.I.A. interrogators were being held to strict standards. But, in 2014, a senate report revealed that Passaro was far from the only interrogator to have stepped out of bounds. And it criticized the entire C.I.A. interrogation program
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 12-9-14):
RENEE CHENAULT-FATTAH: C.I.A. interrogations of terror suspects after 9/11 went far beyond legal boundaries.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 12-10-14):
NEWS REPORT: The interrogations did not produce intelligence that mattered.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 12-14-14):
NEWS REPORT: Stress positions, standing sleep deprivation, nudity and repeated waterboarding.
ALBERTO R. GONZALES: I try not to get into discussion about what is or what is not torture because if you believe it’s torture, there’s nothing I can say to dissuade you of that. When I think about torture it’s broken bones, electric shocks to genitalia. It’s pulling your teeth out with pliers. It’s cutting off a limb. That’s torture. Is water-boarding at the same level? I’d say, probably not.
ALBERTO J. MORA: We’ve disfigured the definition of torture. We’ve also sought to shield those who were responsible both for the application of the torture and for the decision to apply torture. We’ve changed the definition, and we’ve dispensed with the concept of accountability.
NARRATION: Despite other detainee deaths during C.I.A. interrogations, Passaro remains the only interrogator connected to the C.I.A. ever brought to task in an American court.
HYDER AKBAR: It’s hard for me to have any sympathy for Dave. I’m more inclined towards finding out about these other cases, and seeing who else needs to be punished for what they had done there.
NARRATION: Akbar says that what happened in that interrogation room has changed the course of many lives – including his own.
HYDER AKBAR: I was driving. We got ambushed. You can see the car’s on fire.
NARRATION: During a visit to Afghanistan, unknown assailants fired on his car.
HYDER AKBAR: When I got back to Kabul, I began to receive calls from Abdul Wali’s brother about the attack, and taunts and things, saying, you know, “You managed to escape this time,” and “I’ve been looking for you.” I only knew Abdul Wali for three hours in my whole life. And now I have to deal with his brother for the rest of my life.