updated 8/9/2006 5:35:54 PM ET 2006-08-09T21:35:54

An ex-CIA contractor on trial for allegedly beating an Afghan prisoner had enthusiastically volunteered to interrogate the man about rocket attacks on a remote base housing U.S. and Afghan troops, the top CIA officer at the base testified Wednesday.

David Passaro is charged with beating Abdul Wali during two days of questioning in June 2003 at the base in Asadabad, Afghanistan. He is the first American civilian charged with mistreating a detainee during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The CIA officer, who said he was in charge of CIA operations at Asadabad, testified in disguise and using the pseudonym Steve Jones. He said Passaro asked to take over Wali’s questioning after an initial interrogation produced no information, and that 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.”

‘He was going off’
Earlier Wednesday, a retired Army Special Forces soldier testified that Passaro had become enraged when Wali wasn’t able to answer questions about the rocket attacks, but said 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. “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 Afghanistan’s Kunar province at the time, said he was in the room with Passaro and Wali as Hyder Akbar, the son of provincial governor Fazel Akbar, tried to translate.

‘Full of rage’
Halstead’s account of Wali’s interrogation matched that of the younger Akbar, who testified Tuesday that Passaro was “full of rage” during questioning.

Hyder Akbar said he accompanied Wali to the American base. Four days later, he said, he received a call from Passaro asking him to return and pick up the man’s body.

Akbar, now a student at Yale University, said Wali insisted he was innocent of the rocket attacks.

Prosecutors have charged Passaro, 40, with 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.

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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