Local News

Witness: Afghan Man Looked Battered After Interrogation

Posted August 10, 2006

— An Afghan detainee "looked like he had just gotten into a fight" after two days of questioning by an ex-CIA contractor now on trial for assaulting the prisoner, an Army paratrooper testified Thursday.

  • Interactive:

    David Passaro Timeline

    82nd Airborne Division Sgt. Kevin Gatten's story about David Passaro's June 2003 interrogation of Abdul Wali at a remote base in Afghanistan corroborated that of a fellow paratrooper, Staff Sgt. Matthew Johnson. Both were assigned to guard Wali and told the jury they saw Passaro repeatedly hit him with a metal flashlight and an open hand, and kick him in the groin.

    "He'd get a couple of steps away from him and soccer kick him," Gatten said of Passaro. "It was enough to lift you off your feet."

    Passaro is the first American civilian charged with mistreating a detainee during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Prosecutors are using the USA Patriot Act, which allows charges against U.S. citizens for crimes committed on land or facilities designated for use by the U.S. government, to try him on four counts of assault. Passaro faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted.

    Prosecutors have said the 40-year-old from Lillington, while working for the CIA, beat Wali during two days of questioning about rocket attacks on the base housing U.S. and Afghan troops. Wali later died. Passaro's attorneys have said the former Special Forces medic never hit Wali and gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the day he died.

    Several witnesses have said Passaro became enraged when Wali wasn't able to answer questions about the attacks during initial interviews. The top CIA official at the base has testified that Passaro enthusiastically volunteered to take over the interrogation, which led to two nights of questioning in a detention cell at the base near Asadabad, Afghanistan.

    Two soldiers testified Thursday that they saw Passaro beat Wali, kicking him several times while he was on the floor and striking him with a heavy flashlight.

    "He occasionally hit the prisoner on the forearms or the side of the knee," Staff Sgt. Donald Rohwer testified. "He would do it if the prisoner said he didn't know anything."

    Also, Johnson, Gatten and a third paratrooper testified that Passaro said Wali was not allowed to sleep while in custody, and he ordered the soldiers to keep him standing in stressful positions, including a chair-like stance with his knees bent and back pressed up against a wall.

    "He told us to keep him awake and hydrated -- basically physically exhaust him," said former 82nd Airborne solider Gilbert Monroig. "He wasn't allowed to rest."

    Gatten said that at one point, when Wali was alone in his cell, he started talking to his shoes and appeared to be hallucinating. Wali later asked for Passaro, who arrived and then aimed a high-intensity light in the man's eyes while asking questions.

    "Mr. Wali asked why he was hitting him," Gatten said. "He had been hit and he was down. Mr. Passaro said you don't know who's hitting you. It could be the guard."

    At another point, Johnson said Wali lunged for Johnson's pistol. He later used his hands to simulate a pistol with the barrel under his chin and seemed to be asking that Johnson shoot him. Wali was moaning throughout the interrogation, Johnson said.

    "It was like a mournful cry," Johnson said. "I know I won't forget it."

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