Sunday, August 06, 2006

Unintended Consequences

Of the Patriot Act, but not the ones they warned us about.

A former Special Forces medic, working in Afghanistan under contract from the CIA, allegedly beat a detainee, who later died. Yet for years he was unreachable because of his not-quite-military, not-quite-civilian, not in America status. Now he's about to go on trial in a civilian court in North Carolina

To bring charges against Passaro, who as a civilian isn't subject to military justice, prosecutors turned to the USA Patriot Act, arguing the law passed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks allows the government to charge U.S. nationals with crimes committed on land or facilities designated for use by the U.S. government.

When U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle agreed last year, prosecutors received a license to enforce the nation's criminal laws in "any foxhole a soldier builds," said Duke University law professor Scott Silliman.

"Until 2005, Passaro ... was unreachable in federal courts," said Silliman, who runs Duke's Center on Law, Ethics and National Security. "What we're seeing is Congress moving to ensure there is criminal accountability for civilians accompanying the forces."

Silliman said the law represents a dramatic expansion of the reach of federal prosecutors, whose jurisdiction most experts believed was limited to places like embassies and consulates, and not locations like the remote U.S. base in Afghanistan where detainee Abdul Wali turned himself in to U.S. forces.

"What the Patriot Act said was that part of Afghanistan is now part of our ... jurisdiction," Silliman said. "The charge of assault is as if it had occurred in Raleigh. All you have to show it's an assault."