Raleigh, N.C. — Attorneys for a CIA contractor accused of beating an Afghan prisoner in 2003 asked a judge to dismiss the charges Wednesday, saying the government should not be allowed to prosecute him in civilian court.
David Passaro was the first civilian to face prisoner abuse charges stemming from the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has denied any role in the prisoner's death and claims the military made him a scapegoat in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal.
Passaro's attorneys argued that any prosecution of the 38-year-old former Special Forces soldier from North Carolina should be in a U.S. military court or a court in Afghanistan because, they said, he was following government orders. Passaro was recruited by the CIA to conduct interrogations.
"This court should not accept a prosecution that deals with carrying out the commander in chief's orders on the battlefield," James Todd Jr. told the judge.
He also called it a stretch to say the outpost where the prisoner died was U.S. property, which could allow for civilian charges. Justice Department attorney John DePue countered that civilian court is the appropriate venue for a civilian.
U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle did not immediately rule.
The prisoner, Abdul Wali, was being questioned about a series of rocket attacks on the outpost housing U.S. and Afghan troops in the mountains of Afghanistan. Authorities say Passaro kicked and beat Wali with his fists and a flashlight for two days before the prisoner died in a cell.
Passaro is charged with assault and could get 40 years in prison if convicted.
His attorneys have cited remarks by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and White House officials to argue that Passaro was acting on government authority.