Several Army paratroopers testified Thursday they saw an ex-CIA contractor beat an Afghan prisoner during a 2003 interrogation about rocket attacks on a remote base.
Attorneys for the first American civilian charged with mistreating a detainee during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have said their client never hit Abdul Wali, who later died.
Sgt. Kevin Gatten and staff sergeants Matthew Johnson and Donald Rohwer were assigned to guard Wali. All three told the jury they saw David Passaro assault him in some fashion, including hitting Wali repeatedly with a metal flashlight and kicking him in the groin.
“He occasionally hit the prisoner on the forearms or the side of the knee,” Rohwer said. “He would do it if the prisoner said he didn’t know anything.”
A fourth paratrooper, 2nd Lt. David Allen, said Thursday he saw Passaro kick an unresponsive Wali several times as he tried to revive him.
During cross examination Thursday, Gatten said Passaro had several friendly conversations with Wali during the two days of questioning. Two additional paratroopers said they didn’t witness an interrogation or beating.
Passaro, 40, who was a former Special Forces medic working for the CIA as a contract employee, faces four counts of assault and, if convicted, 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.
Gatten said Thursday that at one point during the interrogation, when Wali was alone in his cell, he started talking to his shoes and appeared to be hallucinating. Wali later asked for Passaro, who arrived a short time later and handed the paratrooper a cup that smelled of alcohol. He proceeded to aim a high-intensity light in Wali’s eyes while asking questions.
“Mr. Wali asked why he was hitting him,” Gatten said. “He had been hit and he was down. Mr. Passaro said, you don’t know who’s hitting you. It could be the guard.”
At one point during the questioning, Johnson said, Wali lunged for the soldier’s pistol and later used his hands to simulate pointing a pistol under his chin and appeared to ask that Johnson shoot him.
Another paratrooper who worked as a guard, Staff Sgt. Adolfo Dominguez, also testified that Wali used hand signals asking “me to shoot him.”
Several soldiers said Thursday that Passaro told them Wali was not allowed to sleep while in custody. They said Passaro ordered the soldiers to keep Wali standing in stressful positions, including a chair-like stance with his knees bent and back pressed up against a wall.
“He told us to keep him awake and hydrated — basically physically exhaust him,” said former 82nd Airborne solider Gilbert Monroig. “He wasn’t allowed to rest.”