A former CIA contractor accused of assaulting an Afghan detainee described himself as a "political scapegoat," saying the Bush administration wanted to hush up the Iraqi Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. In a jailhouse interview with The News & Observer of Raleigh, David Passaro also complained Wednesday that the federal government dragged its feet in providing security clearance for his attorney.
"They needed to make an example out of somebody," said Passaro, 39, of Lillington, North Carolina, who spoke with a reporter against the advice of his attorneys. "After Abu Ghraib, they had to take the focus away from the Department of Defense and Donald Rumsfeld. That's what makes this whole thing political. "
He later said: "The truth is I'm a scapegoat. I'm a political scapegoat."
Nine Army reservists, include Pfc. Lynndie England, were charged with mistreating prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. England was sentenced last month to three years in prison, and two other soldiers also were convicted at trial. The remaining six made plea deals.
Passaro, a former Green Beret and Special Forces soldier, was the first American civilian charged in the prisoner-abuse scandal in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is accused of assaulting Abdul Wali, a suspect in rocket attacks on a military outpost near Asadabad. He is also the first civilian charged under the Patriot Act, which allowed federal prosecutors to pursue cases from military outposts overseas.
Prosecutors say Wali died on June 21, 2003, after being interrogated by Passaro, who is accused of punching, kicking and hitting the prisoner with a large flashlight.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Candelmo said Wednesday that many of Passaro's allegations have been aired in court and ruled on by the judge.
"The government stands by the integrity of its investigation and the validity of its prosecution," Candelmo said.
A secure room was built at the federal courthouse in Raleigh so Passaro and his lawyers could review classified information. The room is supposed to be soundproof, but Passaro said he and his lawyers have to play music to mask their words from people outside.
He also said his lawyers with the federal public defender's office in Raleigh had to wait months for security clearances. Federal Public Defender Thomas McNamara did not return messages Wednesday seeking comment or confirmation of what Passaro said during the interview, reports the AP.