By Matthew Bigg
A CIA contractor beat an Afghan prisoner so badly he pleaded to be shot to end his pain, prosecutors said on Monday at the start of a trial that raises questions about the treatment of detainees by U.S. interrogators.
David Passaro, a former Special Forces medic who worked under contract with the CIA, is the first civilian to be charged with abusing a detainee in the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Passaro beat Abdul Wali for "two solid nights," leading him to plead with prison guards to shoot him to end his suffering, prosecutor Michael Sullivan said in an opening statement. Wali died of his injuries.
"At one point he (Passaro) lined up on Wali as though he was going to kick in a football game and kicked him full in the groin. Abdul Wali was lifted into the air," said Sullivan.
Among other injuries, Wali suffered a suspected fractured pelvis that would have made it impossible for him to urinate, he said.
Passaro is charged with four counts of assault and accused of using his hands, feet and a large flashlight to beat Wali, an Afghan detainee, who died two days after the interrogation in June 2003.
Sullivan held aloft a 2-ft (60-cm) black metal flashlight for jurors and said Passaro used it to beat Wali, telling prison guards he was acting under "special rules" to use force during the night-time interrogation.
"That was not true … Passaro had no ‘special rules’," Sullivan told jurors, putting up on a screen what he said was a directive that regulated interrogations in Afghanistan and prohibited "direct physical contact."
Passaro, dressed in a gray suit and tie, took notes and conferred with defense lawyers during the proceedings.
Guidelines given to interrogators have been an issue since a scandal broke at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison in 2004 and numerous prisoners released from the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba also say they were tortured or abused.
Critics say U.S. government guidelines on what constitutes torture issued since the September 11 attacks have led to confusion and created a climate in which abuses of detainees have flourished.
Passaro worked at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan that was frequently subject to rocket attacks. Wali, a suspect in the attacks, turned himself in voluntarily at the gates of the base and was then interrogated, according to the indictment.
Passaro maintains his innocence and his lawyers presented him as a good soldier who was doing his duty in dangerous circumstances and went out of his way to offer care to Wali, making sure he had water and food.
After Wali lost consciousness Passaro performed mouth-to-mouth in an unsuccessful bid to revive him, assistant federal public defender Joseph Gilbert said in an opening statement.
"Dave is guilty only of trying to serve his country," Gilbert said.
During the trial defense lawyers are likely to argue that techniques Passaro used in the interrogation were consistent with CIA guidelines approved by his superiors. Gilbert said on Monday his client was not trained in interrogation.