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Witnesses Say They Saw Passaro Beat Afghani Detainee

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RALEIGH, N.C. — An ex-CIA contractor charged with beating an Afghan detainee who later died hit the man with a flashlight dozens of times during two days of questioning and kicked in him the groin with enough force to "launch him off the ground," witnesses testified Wednesday.
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    Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Johnson and a CIA interpreter using the pseudonym Farooq Ali were the first witnesses to say they actually saw David Passaro beat detainee Abdul Wali over the course of two nights of interrogation in June 2003. Passaro is the first American civilian charged with mistreating a detainee during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    "Wali wouldn't give any answer that was what Mr. Passaro wanted at the time," said Johnson, a paratrooper then assigned to the Army's 82nd Airborne Division.

    Johnson said he was assigned to guard Wali once he was brought into the detention area at a remote base housing U.S. and Afghan troops. In describing the interrogation, Johnson said Passaro at various times grabbed Wali by his shirt and slammed his face to the wall and floor, smacked his head with an open hand and hit him with a metal flashlight.

    "Dave kicks him -- a straight kick to the groin," Johnson added. "There was enough force to launch (Wali) off the ground."

    When Passaro took over the interrogation, Johnson said, Passaro told the paratrooper "he was going to be the person in charge.

    "His rules were different from our rules," Johnson recounted Passaro saying. "His rule was not to cause any permanent injury."

    Ali, an agency interpreter who used the pseudonym and appeared behind a blue privacy screen in the courtroom to keep his identity secret, said Passaro hit Wali with a flashlight whenever getting an answer he didn't like.

    "I do not remember exactly how many times (Passaro swung)," said Ali as he demonstrated what he saw for those in front of the privacy screen. "It could be 20 times or 30 times, between that."

    Passaro, a 40-year-old from Lillington, faces two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and two counts of assault resulting in serious injury. If convicted, he could face up to 40 years in prison., but defense attorneys have said the former Special Forces medic never hit Wali and gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the day he died.

    The testimony from Johnson and Ali was also the first to describe in detail what occurred as Passaro questioned Wali, who had been persuaded by the provincial governor to try and clear his name in a series of rocket attacks on the base in Asadabad, Afghanistan. Other witnesses had only told the court that Passaro was "full of rage" during the initial questioning of Wali and had told them he struck him.

    The top CIA officer at the base -- who testified in disguise and using the pseudonym Steve Jones -- said Wednesday that Passaro enthusiastically volunteered to take over Wali's questioning after an initial interrogation produced no information. Jones said he allowed Passaro to continue his questioning until learning Wali was "not doing well. He was down in his cell and he was groaning.'"

    Wali died later that day. According to Jones, Passaro said he had knocked the prisoner down once during his two days of questioning and that Wali had been caught with a makeshift key trying to open his shackles.

    "He mentioned to me that he had to defend himself," Jones said. "He said Wali had attempted to lunge at him and he had to knock him down."

    Earlier Wednesday, a retired Army Special Forces soldier testified that Passaro become enraged when Wali wasn't able to answer questions during an initial interview about the attacks, but said during cross-examination he never saw Passaro strike the prisoner.

    "It became clear he (Wali) was not going to be a font of information," said retired Chief Warrant Officer Brian Halstead, who said he was in charge of planning operations in Afghanistan's Kunar province at the time. "Dave starts getting mad, real mad. Dave starts hollering. Dave is screaming at this guy. ... Red in the face, spit flying, finger-poking. He was going off."

    Passaro is standing trial in his home state under a provision of the USA Patriot Act allowing charges against U.S. citizens for crimes committed on land or facilities designated for use by the U.S. government.

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