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Federal trial begins for CIA contractor charged with Afghan detainee abuse

[JURIST] The federal trial of David Passaro [Raleigh News and Observer materials], a CIA contractor accused of abusing a detainee in Afghanistan [indictment; JURIST report], began Monday in Raleigh, North Carolina. Passaro was charged in 2004, and has maintained that the government is using him as a scapegoat in the wake of the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal [JURIST news archive]. Passaro is the first and only civilian to be charged in connection with detainee abuse in Iraq or Afghanistan. Last year, US District Judge Terrence Boyle [official profile] allowed prosecutors to bring a case against Passaro under the USA Patriot Act [JURIST news archive], saying that the US can charge nationals with crimes committed at facilities used by the US government. In February, Boyle ruled that Passaro can present evidence to show that he followed government orders [JURIST report] when he allegedly abused the detainee. In a separate ruling last week, Boyle ruled that until Passaro shows who approved his actions, Passaro cannot gain access to sealed documents [AP report], including a memo that Passaro says outlines interrogation tactics allowed by the Justice Department.

Much of the evidence that prosecutors and defense lawyers plan to use is classified by the government, including the names and titles of some witnesses, but the government has revealed that three paratroopers will testify that they saw Passaro beat Abdul Wali [Wikipedia profile], who later died in US custody. Though Passaro has not been charged in Wali's death, he does face two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and two counts of assault resulting in a serious injury, and could face up to 40 years in prison and a $1 million fine. During closed proceedings Monday morning, attorneys for the government tried to prevent Passaro's lawyers from calling CIA employees as witnesses. Passaro's attorney complained that the government is trying to deny Passaro due process by claiming that much of the evidence is classified, even though at least one witness has appeared on national television to discuss the case. AP has more.

5:56 PM ET - Boyle ruled Monday that several CIA employees, including former CIA director George Tenet, would not be required to testify in Passaro's trial, though the judge did agree to allow the defense to subpoena at least six witnesses. In addition, Boyle deferred ruling on whether Passaro could subpoena four other witnesses. The list of witnesses who will be subpoenaed remains classified, and it is not clear whether Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, whose testimony Passaro's lawyers have said they will seek, is among those who will receive a subpoena. AP has more.

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