Sun, Jun 20, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Portrait emerges of man charged in Afghan death

NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE , LILLINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA

David Passaro, shown in this undated family photo, is charged with assaulting an Afghan detainee who died after two days of beatings.

PHOTO: AP

It hardly surprised David Passaro's neighbors or a former wife that he should be arrested for beating an Afghan man in custody last year, becoming the first civilian charged in the US military's widening prison abuse scandal.

His first wife said Passaro, a former Army Special Operations soldier who worked for the CIA in Afghanistan, hit her when he drank too much. His second wife, who is separated from him, filed court papers asserting Passaro had been "verbally abusive and threatening" to her. His neighbors in Lillington said Passaro, following a dispute over their dogs, fired a bullet through the windshield of their empty car while their children played nearby.

In 1990, Passaro was fired from the police force in Hartford, Connecticut, after he was arrested for beating a man in a parking lot brawl, officials said. Passaro later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge and paid a US$115 fine.

Passaro is accused of beating an Afghan detainee, Abdul Wali, with his hands, feet and a large flashlight inside a northern Afghan prison last June 19 and 20. Wali died the next day, apparently of a heart attack, officials have said. Passaro was charged Thursday with four counts of assault and faces 40 years in prison.

His family and lawyer argue that Passaro, 38, is not a violent man. They contend the complaints from his estranged wife and his ex-wife are exaggerated or untrue. They say the fight that got him fired from the Hartford Police Department was provoked by the other man. And they assert that he never fired his gun at his neighbor's car.

"You're going to hear that David has a gung-ho and high-charging, butt-kicking side to him," said his younger brother, Stephen Passaro.

"It doesn't mean you're bad or you're wrong, it's just how you're perceived. Unfortunately David has this high-charging side and I have it too. Everything we do, we put in 110 percent," Stephen Passaro said.

Passaro's supporters also assert that he deserves special credit for serving the country in dangerous hot spots around the world. Passaro, working with both the military and the CIA, was repeatedly granted clearances to handle secret information.

"That generally doesn't happen unless you have a pretty spotless record," Gerald Beaver, Passaro's lawyer, said.

The CIA conducted a background check of Passaro last year while he was working as a civilian medical planner for the Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

The examiners concluded that Passaro's marital problems and firing from the Hartford Police Department were not serious enough problems to warrant rejecting his application to work with the agency.

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