RALEIGH, N.C. – A former CIA contractor became enraged when an Afghan detainee wasn't able to answer questions about rocket attacks on a remote base in Afghanistan, a retired Army Special Forces soldier said Wednesday at the ex-contractor's trial.
David Passaro is accused of beating detainee Abdul Wali during two days of questioning in June 2003 about rocket attacks on the base, home to U.S. and Afghan troops. He is the first American civilian charged with mistreating a detainee during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It became clear he (Wali) was not going to be a font of information," said retired Chief Warrant Officer Brian Halstead. "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."
Halstead, who said he was in charge of planning operations in Kunar province at the time of the alleged assault, said he was in the room with Passaro and Wali as Hyder Akbar, the son of Kunar provincial governor Fazel Akbar, tried to translate.
Halstead's account of Wali's interrogation matched that of Akbar, who told the court Tuesday that Passaro was "full of rage" during the questioning. Akbar said Wali insisted he was innocent of the rocket attacks and went to the base after Akbar's father, Kunar provincial governor Fazel Akbar, persuaded him to try and clear his name.
Four days after escorting Wali to the base, Akbar said, he received a call from Passaro asking him to return and pick up Wali's body.
"I feel personally responsible in that he trusted me that he would be Oklahoma at the American base," Akbar said.
During cross-examination Wednesday, the younger Akbar told Passaro's public defender he could not vouch for Wali's whereabouts during the rocket attacks. Defense lawyer Joe Gilbert also asked Akbar about his book, "Come Back to Afghanistan," which includes a chapter about Wali. Akbar, now a student at Yale University, said the book had nothing to do with his reasons for testifying.
Prosecutors have charged Passaro with two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and two counts of assault resulting in serious injury. If convicted, the 40-year-old from Lillington faces up to 40 years in prison.
Passaro is standing trial in a civilian court in his home state under a provision of 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.