Jury Begins Deliberating Case of Ex-CIA Contractor Charged With Beating Afghan Detainee

Jurors began deliberations Wednesday in the case of a former CIA contractor charged with beating an Afghan detainee who later died.

During closing arguments, prosecutor Jim Candelmo told the federal jury that David Passaro beat detainee Abdul Wali with a flashlight "to inflict pain to get him to talk."

But defense lawyer Joe Gilbert told the jury Passaro only tapped Wali with the flashlight and was being unfairly charged because the man later died.

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"Basically, Dave lost the game of musical chairs. We wouldn't be here if this terrorist hadn't died," Gilbert said.

The jury began deliberating before noon, but left the building in a group for about 15 minutes when the courthouse was evacuated during a false fire alarm.

Passaro, 40, is accused of beating Wali during questioning about rocket attacks on a remote base where Passaro was stationed in 2003 along with U.S. and Afghan troops. He is not charged in Wali's death. He could be sentenced to up to 40 years in prison if convicted.

"Dave did not intend to hurt Abdul Wali," Gilbert said. "Dave's intent was to find (Wali's) associates. ... Dave's intention was to save the United States. They didn't prove Dave did anything other than serve his country."

Passaro is the first American civilian charged with mistreating a detainee during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He 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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Candelmo told the jury that fingerprint evidence links Passaro to the flashlight that the government believes was used to hit Wali.

Wali's head was covered with an empty sandbag and his hands were bound when Passaro kicked "him with sufficient force to lift him off the ground," the prosecutor said.

"That's extreme physical pain," Candelmo said.

Gilbert denied the government's contention that Wali was beaten mercilessly for 48 hours and argued that photos taken of the body "disprove the government's case."

Pathologists testifying for the prosecution and the defense disagreed over whether photos of Wali's body and testimony from guards show that the prisoner probably died from beatings. No autopsy was conducted; a CIA investigator said Wali's father wouldn't even tell them where he is buried.