U.S.: Detainee Begged For Death

David Passaro
CBS
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 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 either 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, Passaro faces up to 40 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

The prosecutor said 82nd Airborne soldiers will 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 is dangerous and poses a flight risk, with aliases, hidden assets and extensive training in covert military operations.

The former Army special operations soldier was working as a CIA contractor while on leave from a civilian job with the Fort Bragg-headquartered Special Operations Command.

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

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

Separately, the lawyer for a soldier accused in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal said Friday the military might be incapable of handling the case because key players will not step forward for fear of incriminating themselves.

The comments by the lawyer of Spc. Sabrina Harman came a day after her company commander testified that the head of military intelligence at Abu Ghraib was present the night a plan was hatched to cover up the death of a detainee, apparently during questioning in November.

Harman, 26, of Lorton, Va., faces possible court-martial for her alleged involvement in abusing Iraqi detainees at the facility outside Baghdad. She appeared Friday for the second day of an Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing, called to determine whether facts in the case are sufficient to warrant a court-martial or other action.

Harman's attorney, Frank Spinner, told a pool reporter after the hearing that he "has no doubt that Iraqi detainees have been physically abused on a wide scale" that would be "beyond the military's ability ever to prosecute."

"The chain of command — they know it, too — and the problem is that people won't step up and admit it," Spinner said. "To do it now would only subject them to prosecution."

On Thursday, Harman's company commander, Capt. Donald J. Reese, testified that he was asked to go to a shower room at the prison one night in November and found a group of intelligence personnel standing around the corpse of a bloodied detainee.

Col. Thomas M. Pappas, Abu Ghraib's commander of military intelligence, was among those who were there, discussing what to do with the body, Reese said.

"I'm not going down for this alone," Pappas said, according to Reese. No medics were called.

Reese told the court that an Army colonel named "Jordan" sent a soldier to the mess hall for ice to preserve the body overnight. An autopsy of the detainee the following day determined he died of a blood clot resulting from a blow to the head, Reese said.

The testimony did not further identify the colonel. However, the Taguba report on prison abuse at Abu Ghraib notes that Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan was the head of the interrogation center at the prison.

Reese said in his testimony that military intelligence clearly controlled the cellblock where Harman's platoon worked the night shift with other members of her platoon.

An Army report obtained by The New Yorker magazine quotes Harman as saying her job was to keep detainees awake.

"My MPs, they were directed by the (military intelligence) people for what they wanted and how they wanted it," he said.

Harman is one of six soldiers still facing charges in the scandal that emerged in April when photographs depicting the abuse appeared on CBS News' 60 Minutes II.

Pappas, Jordan and Reese do not face criminal charges at present. No soldier with a rank above staff sergeant has been charged, although the Denver Post reported this week that two chief warrant officers will soon be charged.

However, all three officers were singled out for criticism in the Taguba report. Taguba recommended each man be reprimanded for offenses like "failing to ensure that Soldiers under his direct command knew and understood the protections afforded to detainees in the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War."

Also Friday, the Army replaced Maj. Gen. George Fay with a more senior general as chief investigator of military intelligence practices at the Abu Ghraib prison.

The new lead investigator is Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Jones, deputy commander of the Army Training and Doctrine Command. Army officials said the decision to put Jones in charge was not a reflection on Fay's performance but an effort to resolve a protocol issue in the investigation.

At issue was the need to interview Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez as part of the investigation. Sanchez is the top American commander in Iraq, and the Army wanted a lead investigator who was at least equal in rank to the three-star Sanchez. Fay is a two-star. Jones technically is senior to Sanchez because he has held his three-star rank slightly longer.