updated 6/25/2004 3:44:45 PM ET 2004-06-25T19:44:45

Three U.S. soldiers will testify that a former CIA contractor beat an Afghan detainee with a heavy flashlight 10 to 30 times and kicked the man so hard that he came off the ground and later begged to be shot, a prosecutor said Friday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Candelmo described the alleged assault in arguing that the contractor, David Passaro, should be detained until his trial. He is the first American to face civilian charges over prisoner abuse in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Defense attorneys asked that Passaro be released into the custody of a neighbor, a Special Operations soldier at Fort Bragg. No ruling was immediately issued.

Passaro, 38, faces four counts of assault and assault with a dangerous weapon — the flashlight — on Abdul Wali, 28, who died three days after the alleged attack last June at a U.S. base in the Afghan town of Asadabad.

If convicted, he faces up to 40 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Trained in covert operations
Candelmo said 82nd Airborne soldiers would testify that during one interrogation session, Passaro left the room and Wali begged one of the paratroopers guarding him “to please shoot me before the defendant returned.”

Candelmo argued that Passaro was dangerous and posed a flight risk, with aliases, hidden assets and extensive training in covert military operations.

Prosecutors introduced taped telephone sessions from the county jail in which Passaro allegedly spoke in code to his girlfriend, Bonnie Heart, about how to find hidden money and his passport.

“Maybe you need to just sit down and think about it,” Passaro said in one conversion that prosecutors say was a signal to her that the money was hidden in a chair cushion. Other conversations involved his passport, which was in a bank safe deposit box.

When questioned by defense attorneys, Heart said Passaro never discussed using an alias or a disguise or fleeing. She said she did not think he would do that because he was devoted to his son, whose mother was Passaro’s second wife.

Passaro, a former Army Special Operations soldier, was working as a CIA contractor while on leave from a civilian job with the Special Operations Command, headquartered at Fort Bragg.

Defense lawyers have cited an Afghan governor’s comment that Wali died of a heart attack, but a spokesman for the governor recently said he suspected heart problems only because U.S. officials insisted that the man was not mistreated.

U.S. officials say an autopsy was not conducted to find the cause of death.

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