March 12, 1971 |
|Detained at||CIA black sites, Guantanamo|
|Alternate name||Abu Zubaydah
زين العابدين محمد حسين
|Status||Indefinitely detained without trial|
Abu Zubaydah ( pronunciation (help·info) AH-boo zoo-BAY-dah;[needs IPA] Arabic: ابو زبيدة, Abū Zubaydah; born March 12, 1971 as Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn) is a Saudi Arabian citizen currently held in U.S. custody as an enemy combatant in Guantanamo Bay detention camps, in Cuba. He was arrested in Pakistan in March 2002.
Abu Zubaydah has been in US custody for more than ten years, four-and-a-half of them in the CIA secret prison network. President George W. Bush originally bragged about his capture, as the CIA thought he was a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda. They transferred him among prisons in various countries as part of their extraordinary rendition program. During interrogation in the Bush administration years, Zubaydah was water-boarded 83 times  and subjected to numerous other enhanced interrogation techniques including forced nudity, sleep deprivation, confinement in small dark boxes, deprivation of solid food, stress positions, and physical assaults. These have been prohibited by the Obama administration. Videotapes of some of Zubaydah's interrogations are amongst those destroyed by the CIA in 2005.
In August 2010 it was reported that Zubaydah was first transferred to Guantanamo with three other high-value detainees in September 2003. Concerned that a pending Supreme Court decision might require revealing data about him, the CIA took back custody and transferred the four men from Guantanamo in March 2004.
It was not until September 2006 that these four, together with ten other "high-value detainees" were transferred to Guantanamo. He and other former CIA detainees are held in Camp 7, where conditions are the most isolating. At his Combatant Status Review Tribunal in 2007, Zubaydah said he was told that that CIA realized he was not significant.
"They told me, 'Sorry, we discover that you are not Number 3, not a partner, not even a fighter,' "said Abu Zubaida, speaking in broken English, according to the new transcript of a Combatant Status Review Tribunal held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba."
- 1 Biography and his early years in Afghanistan
- 2 Early activities
- 3 Capture
- 4 What was believed about Zubaydah
- 5 Interrogation of Abu Zubaydah
- 5.1 August 1, 2002 memo
- 5.2 Ensuing interrogation
- 5.3 2003 transfer to Guantanamo
- 5.4 2005 Torture memos
- 5.5 International Committee of the Red Cross report
- 6 Changing depiction of Abu Zubaydah
- 6.1 U.S. government accounts of Abu Zubaydah's importance
- 6.2 Exploitation of Abu Zubaydah's perceived value
- 6.3 Domestic spying program
- 6.4 Growing concerns about Abu Zubaydah's indefinite CIA detention
- 6.5 U.S. government admits Abu Zubaydah was never a member of al Qaeda
- 6.6 Abu Zubaydah's mental health
- 7 Saudi and Pakistani connection allegations
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Biography and his early years in Afghanistan
According to his younger brother Hesham, they had eight siblings. Hesham remembers his older brother "as a happy-go-lucky guy, and something of a womanizer." Born in Saudi Arabia, Abu Zubaydah moved to the West Bank as a teenager, where he joined in Palestinian demonstrations against the Israelis. Abu Zubaydah is reported to have studied Computer Science in Pune, India prior to his travel to Afghanistan/Pakistan at the age of 20 in 1991. He joined the mujahideen in the Afghan civil war. In 1992 Abu Zubaydah was injured in a mortar shell blast. It left shrapnel in his head and caused severe memory loss, as well as the loss of the ability to speak for over one year. Zubaydah eventually became involved in the jihad training camp known as the Khalden Camp, where he oversaw the flow of recruits. He obtained passports and paperwork for men transferring to other training camps or home.
During the early years of the War in Afghanistan, the Bush administration described the Khalden Camp as an al-Qaeda training facility, an assertion used as evidence of an alleged connection to al-Qaeda for Abu Zubaydah and more than 50 other men held as enemy combatants at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. Since 2006, however, this allegation has been contested by the 9/11 Commission Report, Brynjar Lia, head of the international terrorism and global jihadism at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment; and unclassified records from the detainees' tribunal reviews (CSRT)s at Guantanamo.
Abu Zubaydah testified in his Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) that the Khalden Camp was at such odds with al-Qaeda and bin Laden that it was closed by the Taliban in 2001, at al-Qaeda's request. This account was corroborated by two other detainees, Noor Uthman Muhammed, alleged by the U.S. Government to have been the emir, or leader, of the Khalden Camp; and Khalid Sulayman Jaydh Al Hubayshi, a close friend of Zubaydah. In addition, Muhamed's charge sheet refers to the closing of the Khalden camp at the request of terrorist leaders.
Brynjar Lia wrote in his 2008 book that an ideological conflict, between the leaders of the Khalden Camp and the Taliban and al-Qaeda, led to the closing of the Khalden Camp. Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sulayman Jaydh Al Hubayshi, and Noor Uthman Muhammed confirmed this divide in their CSRT testimony. Of the 57 detainees the U.S. Government claims are associated with the Khalden Camp, 27 have been released, including Abu Zubaydah's friend Al Hubayshi.
On September 12, 2009, Colin Freeze, writing in the Globe and Mail, reported on recent interviews with Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi, who has been held without charge in the USA since 2003. He is a Lebanese citizen, US resident, and green card holder. Elzahabi told the Globe and Mail that Abu Zubaydah had served under him when he was a squad commander during the Afghanistan war against the Soviet troops. Elzahabi said that after the Soviet ouster, Zubaydah worked as an instructor at Khalden.
By 1999, the U.S. Government was attempting to surveil Abu Zubaydah. By March 2000, United States officials were reporting that Abu Zubaydah was a "senior bin Laden official", the "former head of Egypt-based Islamic Jihad", a "trusted aide" to bin Laden with "growing power," who had "played a key role in the East Africa embassy attacks." None of these assertions has been corroborated. He was eventually described as a low-level person.
Abu Zubaydah was convicted in absentia in Jordan and sentenced to death by a Jordanian court for his role in plots to bomb U.S. and Israeli targets there. A senior Middle East security official said Zubaydah had directed the Jordanian cell and was part of “bin Laden’s inner circle."
In August 2001, a classified FBI report entitled, “Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.”, said that the foiled millennium bomber, Ahmed Ressam, had confessed that Zubaydah had encouraged him to blow up the Los Angeles airport, and facilitated his mission. The report said that Zubaydah was planning his own attack on the U.S. (This was not made public until 2004.) An unclassified FBI report said Ressam tried to buy a laptop for Zubaydah. When Ahmed Ressam was tried in December 2001, federal prosecutors did not try to connect him to Abu Zubaydah. It did not refer to any of this supposed evidence in its case. After the trial, Ressam recanted his confession, saying he had been coerced into giving it.
On March 28, 2002, CIA and FBI agents, in conjunction with Pakistani intelligence services, raided several safe houses in Pakistan searching for Abu Zubaydah. Abu Zubaydah was apprehended from one of the targeted safe houses in Faisalabad, Pakistan. The Pakistani intelligence service had paid a small amount for a tip on his whereabouts. The United States paid far more to Pakistan for its assistance; a CIA source later said, "We paid $10 million for Abu Zubayda." The Pakistan ISI built a new headquarters on 35 acres outside Islamabad with the money and also bought a helicopter.
During the raid, Zubaydah was shot in the thigh, the testicle, and the stomach with rounds from an AK-47 assault rifle. Not recognised at first, he was piled into a pick-up truck along with other prisoners by the Pakistani forces, until a senior FBI agent identified him. He was taken by the FBI to a Pakistani hospital nearby and treated for his wounds. The attending doctor told John Kiriakou, the co-leader of the CIA group who apprehended Abu Zubaydah, that he had never before seen a patient survive such severe wounds. The FBI and CIA flew in a doctor from Johns Hopkins University to ensure Abu Zubaydah would survive during transit out of Pakistan.
His pocket litter supposedly contained two bank cards which showed he had access to Saudi and Kuwaiti bank accounts; most al-Qaeda members used the preferred, untraceable hawala banking. According to James Risen, "It is not clear whether an investigation of the cards simply fell through the cracks, or whether they were ignored because no one wanted to know the answers about connections between al Qaeda and important figures in the Middle East – particularly in Saudi Arabia." One of Risen's sources chalks up the failure to investigate the cards to incompetence rather than foul play, "The cards were sent back to Washington and were never fully exploited. I think nobody ever looked at them because of incompetence."
When Americans investigated the cards, they worked with "a Muslim financier with a questionable past, and with connections to the Afghan Taliban, al Qaeda, and Saudi intelligence." Risen wrote, "Saudi intelligence officials had seized all of the records related to the card from the Saudi financial institution in question; the records then disappeared. There was no longer any way to trace the money that had gone into the account."
A search of the safehouse turned up Zubaydah's personal 10,000-page diaries, in which he recorded his thoughts as a young boy, old man, and at his current age. What appears to be split personalities is how Zubaydah was piecing his memories together after his 1992 shrapnel head wound. As part of his therapy to regain his memories, he began recording the diary that detailed his life, emotions, and what people were telling him. He split information into categories, such as what he knew about himself and what people told him, and listed them under different names to distinguish one set from the other. This was later incorrectly interpreted by some analysts reviewing the diary as symptoms of split personality disorder.
Abu Zubaydah was turned over to the CIA. Reports later alleged that he was transferred to secret CIA-operated prisons, known as black sites, in Pakistan, Thailand, Afghanistan, Poland, Northern Africa, and Diego Garcia. Historically, renditions of prisoners to countries which commit torture have been illegal. A memo written by John Yoo and signed by Jay Bybee of the Office of the Legal Counsel, DOJ, days before Abu Zubaydah's capture, provided a legal opinion providing for CIA renditions of detainees to places such as Thailand. In March 2009, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee launched a year-long study on how the CIA operated the secret prisons, or black sites, around the world.
Top U.S. officials approved enhanced interrogation techniques
In the Spring of 2002, immediately following the capture of Abu Zubaydah, top Bush administration officials, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and US Attorney General John Ashcroft discussed at length whether or not the CIA could legally use harsh techniques against him. Condoleezza Rice specifically mentioned the SERE program during the meeting, saying, “I recall being told that U.S. military personnel were subjected to training to certain physical and psychological interrogation techniques…”
In addition, in 2002 and 2003, the administration briefed several Democratic Congressional leaders on the proposed “enhanced interrogation techniques.” These congressional leaders included Nancy Pelosi, the future Speaker of the House, and Representative Jane Harman. Congressional officials have stated that the attitude in the briefings ranged from “quiet acquiescence, if not downright support.” The documents show that top U.S. Officials were intimately involved in the discussion and approval of the harsher interrogation techniques used on Abu Zubaydah. Condoleezza Rice ultimately told the CIA the harsher interrogation tactics were acceptable, and Dick Cheney stated, "I signed off on it; so did others." During the discussions, US Attorney General John Ashcroft is reported as saying, “Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.”
What was believed about Zubaydah
According to a psychological evaluation conducted of Abu Zubaydah upon his capture, he allegedly did the following:
- Quickly rose from very low level mujahedin to third or fourth man in al Qaeda.
- Served as Osama Bin Laden’s senior lieutenant.
- Managed a network of training camps.
- Was instrumental in the training of operatives for al Qaeda, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist elements inside Pakistan and Afghanistan.
- Acted as the Deputy Camp Commander for al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, personally approving entry and graduation of all trainees during 1999–2000.
- Approved all individuals going in and out of Afghanistan to the training camps from 1996–1999.
- No one went in and out of Peshawar, Pakistan without his knowledge and approval.
- Acted as al Qaeda’s coordinator of external contacts and foreign communications.
- Acted as al Qaeda’s counter-intelligence officer and had been trusted to find spies within the organization.
- Was involved in every major terrorist operation carried out by al Qaeda.
- Was a planner for the Millennium plot to attack U.S. and Israeli targets during the Millennium celebrations in Jordan.
- Served as a planner for the Paris Embassy plot in 2001.
- Was one of the planners of 9/11.
- Engaged in planning future terrorist attacks against U.S. interests.
- Wrote al Qaeda’s manual on resistance techniques,
Interrogation of Abu Zubaydah
Abu Zubaydah was interrogated by two separate interrogation teams: the first from the FBI and one from the CIA. Ali Soufan, one of the FBI interrogators, later testified in 2009 on these issues to the Senate Committee that was investigating detainee treatment. Soufan, who witnessed part of the CIA interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, described his treatment under the CIA as torture. The International Committee of the Red Cross and others later reached the same conclusion.
Because of the urgency felt about the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, the CIA had consulted with the president about how to proceed. The General Counsel of the CIA asked for a legal opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel, Department of Justice about what was permissible during interrogation.
August 1, 2002 memo
It was later discovered that in August 2002, the Office of Legal Counsel, Jay Bybee and his assistant John Yoo drafted what became known as the first Torture Memo. Addressed to CIA acting General Counsel John A. Rizzo at his request, the purpose of the memo was to describe and authorize specific enhanced interrogation techniques to be used on Abu Zubaydah.
Journalists including Jane Mayer, Joby Warrick and Peter Finn, and Alex Koppelman have reported the CIA was already using these harsh tactics before the memo authorizing their use was written, and that it was used to provide after-the-fact legal support for harsh interrogation techniques. A Department of Justice 2009 report regarding prisoner abuses reportedly stated the memos were prepared one month after Abu Zubaydah had already been subjected to the specific techniques authorized in the August 1, 2002, memo. John Kiriakou stated in July 2009 that Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded in the early summer of 2002, months before the August 1, 2002 memo was written.
The memo described ten techniques which the interrogators wanted to use: "(1) attention grasp, (2) walling, (3) facial hold, (4) facial slap (insult slap), (5) cramped confinement, (6) wall standing, (7) stress positions, (8) sleep deprivation, (9) insects placed in a confinement box, and (10) the waterboard.” Many of the techniques were, until then, generally considered illegal. Many other techniques developed by the CIA were held to constitute inhumane and degrading treatment and torture under the United Nations Convention against Torture and Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
As reported later, many of these interrogation techniques were previously considered illegal under U.S. and international law and treaties at the time of Abu Zubaydah's capture. For instance, the United States had prosecuted Japanese military officials after World War II and American soldiers after the Vietnam War for waterboarding. Since 1930, the United States had defined sleep deprivation as an illegal form of torture. Many other techniques developed by the CIA constitute inhuman and degrading treatment and torture under the United Nations Convention against Torture, and Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The CIA subjected Zubaydah to various forms of increasingly harsh interrogation techniques, including temperature extremes, music played at debilitating volumes, and sexual humiliation. Zubaydah was also subjected to beatings, isolation, waterboarding, long-time standing, continuous cramped confinement, and sleep deprivation.
During Zubaydah's interrogation, President Bush learned he was on painkillers for his wounds and was proving resistant. He said to the CIA director George Tenet, “Who authorized putting him on pain medication?” It was later reported that Zubaydah was denied painkillers during his interrogation.
Zubaydah was one of three high-value detainees to be waterboarded. The Bush administration in 2007 said that Zubaydah had been waterboarded once. John Kiriakou, a CIA officer who had seen the cables regarding Zubaydah's interrogation, publicly said in 2009 that Zubaydah was waterboarded once for 35 seconds before he started talking.
Intelligence sources claimed as early as 2008 that Zubaydah had been waterboarded no less than ten times in the span of one week. Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times within the month of August 2002, the month the CIA was authorized to use this enhanced interrogation techniques for him. In January 2010, Kiriakou, in a memoir, said, "Now we know that Zubaydah was waterboarded eighty-three times in a single month, raising questions about how much useful information he actually supplied."
2003 transfer to Guantanamo
In August 2010 the Associated Press reported that the CIA, having concluded its agents had gotten most of the information from Abu Zubaydah, in September 2003 transferred him and three other high-value detainees to Guantanamo. They were held at what was informally known as "Strawberry Fields", a secret camp within the complex built especially for former CIA detainees. Concerned that a pending Supreme Court decision, Rasul v. Bush (2004), might go against the Bush administration and require providing the prisoners with counsel and having to reveal data about them, on March 27, 2004 the CIA took the four men back into custody and transported them out of Guantanamo to one of their secret sites. At the time, the moves were all kept secret.
2005 Torture memos
The OLC provided additional guidance to the CIA regarding the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah and other high-value detainees. Its May 10, 2005 torture memo said that no more than 60 applications of water could be conducted in a 30-day period during waterboarding. But, that number applied only to those applications of "ten seconds or more."
A U.S. official with knowledge of the interrogation program reported in 2009 to Fox News that many of the applications lasted "a matter of seconds," and it was these less than ten-second applications "that created the huge numbers." He said "[a]ll of those individual pours were scrupulously counted by the CIA, according to the memos, to abide by the procedures set up for the waterboardings."
The May 10, 2005 torture memo discussed the 2004 Department of Justice, Inspector General report, noting,
[T]he waterboard technique… was different from the technique described in the DOJ opinion and used in the SERE training. The difference was in the manner in which the detainee’s breathing was obstructed. At the SERE school and in the DOJ opinion, the subject’s airflow is disrupted by the firm application of a damp cloth over the air passage; the interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth in a controlled manner. By contrast, the Agency interrogator… applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee’s mouth and nose. One of the psychologists/interrogators acknowledged that the Agency’s use of the technique is different from that used in SERE training because it is ‘for real’ and is ‘more poignant and convincing.’” The Inspector General further reported that “OMS contends that the expertise of the SERE psychologist/interrogator on the waterboard was probably misrepresented at the time, as the SERE waterboard experience is so different from the subsequent Agency usage as to make it almost irrelevant. Consequently, according to OMS, there was no a priori reason to believe that applying the waterboard with the frequency and intensity with which it was used by the psychologist/interrogators was either efficacious or medically safe."
The Inspector General of DOJ in its 2004 report on interrogations noted that the use of waterboarding was discontinued in every armed services branch except the Navy SERE training "because of its dramatic effect on the students who were subjects." The CIA Office of Medical Services contradicted this conclusion, saying that
“[w]hile SERE trainers believe that trainees are unable to maintain psychological resistance to the waterboard our experience was otherwise. Some subjects unquestionably can withstand a large number of applications, with no immediately discernible cumulative impact beyond their strong aversion to the experience.”
International Committee of the Red Cross report
In February 2007, the International Committee of the Red Cross concluded a report on the treatment of "14 high-value detainees," who had been held by the CIA and, after September 2006, by the military at Guantanamo. The Red Cross customarily keeps such reports confidential in order to have continued access to prisoners and provide them service, as well as to try to negotiate with officials regarding care. The report was not made public until April 7, 2009. The report is composed of interviews with the detainees.
The ICRC said, "The ICRC wishes to underscore that the consistency of the detailed allegations provided separately by each of the fourteen [detainees] adds particular weight to the information provided." The ICRC described the twelve interrogation techniques covered in the OLC memos to the CIA: suffocation by water (waterboarding), prolonged stress standing position, beatings by use of a collar, beating and kicking, confinement in a box, prolonged nudity, sleep deprivation, exposure to cold temperature, prolonged shackling, threats of ill-treatment, forced shaving, and deprivation/restricted provision of solid food. Zubaydah was the only detainee of the 14 interviewed who had been subjected to all 12 of the interrogation techniques.
He was also the only one of the 14 detainees to be put into close confinement. This was corroborated, in part, by one of the 2005 Torture Memos written by the Office of Legal Counsel, DOJ, which noted "[i]n OMS's view, however, cramped confinement "ha[s] not proved particularly effective" because it provides "a safehaven offering respite from interrogation."
Zubaydah said of his experience with waterboarding:
I struggled against the straps, trying to breathe, but it was hopeless. I thought I was going to die.
During his waterboarding Abu Zubaydah lost control of his bladder; he later told the ICRC that "[s]ince then I still lose control of my urine when under stress."
In 2008 the following politicians and administration officials: Richard Armitage, the former Deputy Secretary of State; Mike McConnell, the former National Intelligence Directorate; Tom Ridge, the former Homeland Security Secretary; and former Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain, declared waterboarding as unequivocal torture.
March 14, 2003 memo
Written by John Yoo to William J. Hartley, general counsel of DOD, at this request, Yoo concluded in his legal opinion that federal laws did not apply to torture and other harsh treatment applied by interrogators overseas. He wrote this five days before the US invasion of Iraq.
May 10, 2005 memo
Another memo addressed the legality of additional interrogation techniques such as nudity, dietary manipulation, abdominal slap, water dousing, and water flicking. It also expanded on the techniques of walling, stress positions, and sleep deprivation, allowing for an additional stress position and extended sleep deprivation up to 180 consecutive hours. The memo also outlined the amount of waterboarding applications a detainee could be subjected to.
The waterboard can only be used with a given detainee during one 30-day period. During that 30-day period the waterboard can be used no more than 5 days. In any given day that waterboarding occurs interrogators may use no more than two “sessions”, with a “session” defined as the time that the detainee is strapped to the board, and that a session can last no more than 2 hours. During any session no more than six applications of water of 10 seconds or more can be used. The total cumulative time of all water applications in a 24 hour period may not exceed 12 minutes.
May 10, 2005 memo (combined interrogation techniques)
Another memo penned on May 10, 2005 authorized the use of the above outlined individual techniques in conjunction with one another, but stressed the importance of constant vigilance on the part of medical observers to ensure the techniques did not cause "severe physical or mental pain."
May 30, 2005 memo
The final memo mentioned Abu Zubaydah several times. It claimed that due to the enhanced interrogation techniques, Zubaydah "provided significant information on two operatives, [including] José Padilla[,] who planned to build and detonate a 'dirty bomb' in the Washington DC area." This claim is strongly disputed by Ali Soufan, the FBI interrogator who first interrogated Abu Zubaydah following his capture, by traditional means. He said the most valuable information was gained before torture was used. Other intelligence officers have also disputed that claim. Soufan, when asked in 2009 by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse during a Congressional hearing if the memo was incorrect, testified that it was. The memo noted that not all of the waterboarding sessions were necessary for Abu Zubaydah, since the on-scene interrogation team determined he had stopped producing actionable intelligence. The memo reads:
This is not to say that the interrogation program has worked perfectly. According to the IG Report, the CIA, at least initially, could not always distinguish detainees who had information but were successfully resisting interrogation from those who did not actually have the information. See IG Report at 83–85. On at least one occasion, this may have resulted in what might be deemed in retrospect to have been the unnecessary use of enhanced techniques. On that occasion, although the on-scene interrogation team judged Abu Zubaydah to be compliant, elements within CIA Headquarters still believed he was withholding information. See id at 84. At the direction of CIA Headquarters, interrogators therefore used the waterboard one more time on Zubaydah.
John McLaughlin, former acting CIA director, stated in 2006, "I totally disagree with the view that the capture of Abu Zubaydah was unimportant. Abu Zubaydah was woven through all of the intelligence prior to 9/11 that signaled a major attack was coming, and his capture yielded a great deal of important information."
A published report in 2006 contended that Abu Zubaydah was mentally unstable and that the administration had overstated his importance. Baloney. Abu Zubaydah had been at the crossroads of many al-Qa'ida operations and was in position to – and did – share critical information with his interrogators. Apparently, the source of the rumor that Abu Zubaydah was unbalanced was his personal diary, in which he adopted various personas. From that shaky perch, some junior Freudians leapt to the conclusion that Zubaydah had multiple personalities. In fact, Agency psychiatrists eventually determined that in his diary he was using a sophisticated literary device to express himself. And, boy, did he express himself.
Changing depiction of Abu Zubaydah
When Abu Zubaydah was captured, the Bush Administration believed he was an unparalleled source of intelligence on al-Qaeda and terrorism plots. He was touted as the biggest catch of the War on Terror until the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The director of the FBI stated Abu Zubaydah’s capture would help deter future attacks.
U.S. government accounts of Abu Zubaydah's importance
As was later reported in 2009, the U.S. government overestimated Zubaydah's importance. Justice Department Officials said in 2009, he was "[t]he above ground support... To make him the mastermind of anything is ridiculous", a "personnel clerk", a "logistics chief", and a "travel agent." The CIA reportedly told Zubaydah during his interrogation that they had learned he was not an al-Qaeda fighter, partner, or even a member.
The allegations included:
- Abu Zubaydah was "sinister" and "[t]here is evidence that he is a planner and a manager as well. I think he’s a major player.” – Former State Department director of counter-terrorism, Michael Sheehan
- Abu Zubaydah was “extremely dangerous” and a planner of 9/11. – John B. Bellinger III in a June 2007 briefing on Guantanamo Bay.
- Abu Zubaydah was a trainer, a recruiter, understood bomb-making, was a forger, a logistician, and someone who made things happen, and made “al-Qaeda function.” – Former CIA station chief, Bob Grenier
- “I don’t think there’s any doubt but a man named Abu Zubaydah is a close associate of UBL’s, and if not the number two, very close to the number two person in the organization. I think that’s well established.” -Donald Rumsfeld
- Abu Zubaydah was “a very senior al Qaeda official who has been intimately involved in a range of activities for the al Qaeda.” – Donald Rumsfeld
- Abu Zubaydah was a “very senior al Qaeda operative.” – Donald Rumsfeld
- Abu Zubaydah was a “key terrorist recruiter and operational planner and member of Osama bin Laden’s inner circle.” – White House spokesman Ari Fleischer
- The capture of Abu Zubaydah was a “very serious blow” to al-Qaeda and that one of al-Qaeda's “many tentacles" was "cut off.” – White House spokesman Ari Fleischer
- Abu Zubaydah was “one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States.” – Former President George W. Bush
- Abu Zubaydah was “one of al-Qaeda’s top leaders” who was “spending a lot of time as one of the top operating officials of al Qaeda, plotting and planning murder.” – Former President George W. Bush
- Abu Zubaydah was “al Qaeda’s chief of operations.” – President George W. Bush
- “Abu Zubaydah was one of the top three leaders” in al-Qaeda. – President George W. Bush
- Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation “led to reliable information”, that Abu Zubaydah was a “prolific producer” of information, and that roughly 25 percent of the information on al Qaeda that came from human sources originated from Abu Zubaydah. – Michael Hayden
- Abu Zubaydah was one of three individuals “best positioned to know about impending terrorist atrocities.” – Michael Hayden
- Abu Zubaydah is someone who was “carefully trained in techniques of disinformation.” – Richard C. Shelby
- Nancy Pelosi, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee would describe Abu Zubaydah as being “very skilled at avoiding interrogation. He is an agent of disinformation.”
While Zubaydah provided important intelligence, his value as an intel source was greatly inflated by the administration, much like his role in the global terror network. The U.S. Government has not officially charged Abu Zubaydah with any crimes.
Exploitation of Abu Zubaydah's perceived value
President Bush personally used Abu Zubaydah’s perceived “value” as a detainee to justify the use of the CIA's harsher interrogation techniques as well as Abu Zubaydah’s detention in secret CIA prisons around the world.
In a speech in 2006, President Bush claimed that Abu Zubaydah revealed useful intelligence when enhanced interrogation was used, including identification of two important suspects and information that allegedly helped foil a terrorist attack on American soil. These claims directly conflict with the reports of the F.B.I. agents who first interrogated Abu Zubaydah. He gave them the names before torture was used, and the third piece of information came from other sources. who had been receiving crucial pieces of information from him without the use of harsher techniques, as well as other government officials.
Iraq War (2003)
The Bush administration relied on some of Zybaydah's claims in justifying the invasion of Iraq. U.S. officials stated that the allegations that Iraq and al-Qaeda were linked in the training of people on chemical weapons came from Abu Zubaydah. The officials noted there was no independent verification of his claims.
The U.S. Government included statements made by Abu Zubaydah in regards to al Qaeda’s ability to obtain a dirty bomb to show a link between Iraq and al Qaeda. According to a Senate Intelligence Committee report of 2004, Abu Zubaydah said "he had heard that an important al Qaeda associate, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, and others had good relationships with Iraqi intelligence." But the year before in June 2003, Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed were reported as saying there was no link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.
In the Senate Armed Services Committee 2008 report on the abuses of detainees, the Bush administration was described as having applied pressure to interrogators to find a link between Iraq and Al-Qaeda prior to the Iraq War. Major Paul Burney, a psychiatrist with the United States Army, said to the committee, "while we were [at Guantanamo] a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful." He said that higher-ups were "frustrated" and applied "more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results."
Colonel Lawrence B. Wilkerson, the former chief of staff for former Secretary of State Colin Powell has said:
"Likewise, what I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002—well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion—its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa'ida.So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney's office that their detainee "was compliant" (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP's office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa'ida-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, "revealed" such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop."
Military Commissions Act (2006)
President Bush referred to Abu Zubaydah in a speech to Congress September 2006 requesting a bill to authorize military commissions, following the US Supreme Court ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006) that held the tribunals as formulated by the executive branch were unconstitutional. Congress rapidly passed legislation that was signed by the president.
Less than one month after Abu Zubaydah’s capture, Justice Department officials said Abu Zubaydah was "a near-ideal candidate for a tribunal trial.” Several months later in 2002, US officials said there was “no rush” to try Abu Zubaydah via military commission.
The U.S. Government has not yet charged Abu Zubaydah.
Domestic spying program
According to reporting in 2005, the Bush administration used Abu Zubaydah’s capture as justification to accelerate development of its domestic spying program to allow quick action on the phone numbers and addresses seized. The NSA expanded its surveillance beyond the numbers seized during Zubaydah’s capture. The spying program was later revamped in order to make it comply to legal opinion.
Growing concerns about Abu Zubaydah's indefinite CIA detention
In 2004 media coverage of Abu Zubaydah began listing him as a “disappeared” prisoner, claiming he had no access to the International Red Cross. In February 2005, the CIA was reported as uncomfortable keeping Abu Zubaydah in indefinite custody. Less than 18 months later, Abu Zubaydah and the thirteen other high-value detainees who had been in secret CIA custody were transferred to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
After his transfer, the CIA denied access to Abu Zubaydah. In 2008, the Office of the Inspector General, Department of Justice, complained that it had been prevented from seeing him, although it was conducting a study of the US treatment of its detainees.
U.S. government admits Abu Zubaydah was never a member of al Qaeda
Top officials in the U.S. government refused to believe Abu Zubaydah was not the operative they believed him to be. The May 30, 2005 Department of Justice memo noted that while on-scene interrogators believed Abu Zubaydah no longer had any information to disclose, CIA Headquarters ordered additional waterboarding.[original research?] The interrogators believed the waterboarding was "unnecessary."[original research?] Orders for the additional waterboarding likely came from Dick Cheney directly.[original research?]Additionally, the Bush White House and CIA officials couldn't believe Abu Zubaydah didn't have additional information. One official stated the pressure from upper levels of government was "tremendous," and that "[t]hey couldn't stand the idea that there wasn't anything new." The official said, "[t]hey'd say, 'You aren't working hard enough.' There was both a disbelief in what he was saying and also a desire for retribution – a feeling that 'He's going to talk, and if he doesn't talk, we'll do whatever.'"
But, in September 2009, the Obama administration acknowledged during Abu Zubaydah's habeas corpus petition, that Abu Zubaydah had never been a member of al-Qaeda, nor involved in the attacks on the African embassies in 1998, nor the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 as exclusively reported by investigative reporter Jason Leopold http://www.consortiumnews.com/2010/040110a.html The motion, filed by the United States Government, states:
Evidence indicating that Petitioner is not a member of al-Qaida or had ideological differences with al-Qaida is not inconsistent with the factual allegations made in the Government's factual return, because the Government has not contended in this proceeding that Petitioner was a member of al-Qaida or otherwise formally identified with al-Qaida. Pg. 35, 36
Respondent [The United States Government] does not contend that Petitioner [Abu Zubaydah] was a "member" of al-Qaida in the sense of having sworn a bayat (allegiance) or having otherwise satisfied any formal criteria that either Petitioner [Abu Zubaydah] or al-Qaida may have considered necessary for inclusion in al-Qaida. Nor is the Government detaining Petitioner [Abu Zubaydah] based on any allegation that Petitioner [Abu Zubaydah] views himself as part of al-Qaida as a matter of subjective personal conscience, ideology, or worldview. Pg. 36
The Government has not contended in this proceeding that Petitioner [Abu Zubaydah] had any direct role in or advance knowledge of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Pg. 82
For example, for purposes of this proceeding the Government has not contended that Petitioner [Abu Zubaydah] had any personal involvement in planning or executing either the 1998 embassy bombings... or the attacks on September 11, 2001. Pg. 34
Charge sheet discrepancies
In 2005, the U.S. Government charged several detainees at Guantanamo Bay and ordered them to stand trial in Military Commission Tribunals. Of the ten detainees charged, four of them, Binyam Mohamed, Ghassan Abdullah al Sharbi, Sufyian Barhoumi, and Jabrad Said bin Al-Qahtani referenced Abu Zubaydah in their charge sheets. Three of the four detainees, Ghassan Abdullah al Sharbi, Sufyian Barhoumi, and Jabran Said bin Al-Qahtani, had identical 2005 charge sheets and referenced Abu Zubaydah in six different paragraphs. The fourth detainee, Binyam Mohamed, referenced Abu Zubaydah five times.
In 2006, before the U.S. Government could hold a trial of the four detainees in a Military Commission Tribunal, the Supreme Court struck down the Tribunals as unconstitutional in Hamdan v. Bush, as they had not been authorized by Congress. Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, giving Bush most of what he asked for. Under the new law, the Department of Defense charged Binyam Mohamed, Ghassan Abdullah al Sharbi, Sufyian Barhoumi, and Jabran Said bin Al-Qahtani in new filings in 2008.
The new 2008 charge sheets contained almost identical charges against each of the four detainees, as were found in their 2005 charge sheets. However, Abu Zubaydah’s name was entirely removed from each detainee’s charge sheet.On October 21, 2008, all charges were dropped against the four men.
Noor Uthman Muhammed, the alleged emir of Khalden Camp, was charged in 2008 with conspiring with Abu Zubaydah against the United States. However, the charges against Noor Uthman Muhammed were dropped on October 21, 2008. The U.S. Government recharged Noor Uthman Muhammed on December 22, 2008.
International cases involving Abu Zubaydah
Several individuals being held or tried internationally, who have been connected by the U.S. Government to Abu Zubaydah, have had their charges dropped, been released, or received other relief from their handlers.
Abousofian Abdelrazik was alleged by the State Department to be closely associated with Abu Zubaydah. In 2008, Canada asked the United Nations to remove Abousfian Abdelrazik from its terrorism watch-list. In June 2009, Canada agreed to repatriate Abousfian Abdelrazik from Sudan where he has been stranded since 2008.
Abu Zubaydah supposedly knew Mohamed Harkat “since the early 90’s” and claimed Harkat ran a guest house in Pakistan. Mohamed Harkat’s attorney sought access to Abu Zubaydah for testimony relating to Harkat’s trial, but the US refused to respond to his requests.
Originally in Harkat’s Canadian trial, however, Abu Zubaydah’s claims were not part of the charges brought against Harkat. After CIA director Michael Hayden’s public admittance of Zubaydah’s waterboarding, Canadian officials deleted all references to Zubaydah’s statements in its public dossier. A spokesman for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service stated “The CSIS director has stated publicly that torture is morally repugnant and not particularly reliable. CSIS does not knowingly use information which has been obtained through torture.” Mohamed Harkat was released on bail by Canadian authorities.
Ahmed Ressam and the Millennium Plot
In April 2001, Ahmed Ressam was convicted of plotting to detonate a bomb at the Los Angeles International Airport. Ahmed Ressam had trained at the Khalden camp before coming to the United States to undertake his mission.
Abu Zubaydah said in his CSRT testimony that he recommended to the leader of Khalden Camp that Ressam be allowed to train there. Abu Zubaydah testified that he facilitated Ahmed Ressam’s travel to the camp, as well as to Algeria once Ressam’s training was complete. The U.S. Government alleged, in Zubaydah’s summary of evidence, that Ressam identified Zubaydah as the leader of the Khalden camp and an associate of Usama Bin Laden “equal to and not subordinate to UBL.” The U.S. Government further alleged that Ressam said Zubaydah had “known of Ahmed Ressam’s operation, although not specifically the date and exact target” and that Zubaydah wanted Ressam to acquire “fraudulently-obtained Canadian passports” for himself and five others, in order to facilitate their travel into the United States to “possibly bomb several cities.”
Zubaydah said he tried to procure Canadian passports for Ressam and other trainees, but not for "terrorist-related activities.”. Zubaydah denies ever having participated in the planning of the Millennium Plot or encouraging Ahmed Ressam to attack American targets or civilians. This connection was not mentioned in Ressam's criminal trial. Ressam's confessions were referred to by his attorney at his sentencing to try to mitigate his sentence, and Ressam later recanted them.
Abu Zubaydah's mental health
Some people are concerned about Abu Zubaydah's mental stability and how that has affected information he has given to interrogators. Ron Suskind noted in his book, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11 (2006), that Zubaydah was mentally ill or disabled due to a severe head injury. He described Zubaydah as keeping a diary "in the voice of three people: Hani 1, Hani 2, and Hani 3" – a boy, a young man and a middle-aged alter ego. Abu Zubaydah's diaries spanned ten years and recorded in numbing detail "what he ate, or wore, or trifling things [people] said." Dan Coleman, then the FBI's top al-Qaeda analyst, told a senior bureau official, "This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality." According to Suskind, this judgment was "echoed at the top of CIA and was briefed to the President and Vice President." Coleman stated Zubaydah was a "safehouse keeper" with mental problems, who "claimed to know more about al-Qaeda and its inner workings than he really did."
Joseph Margulies, Abu Zubaydah's co-counsel, wrote in an OpEd in the LA Times:
"Partly as a result of injuries he suffered while he was fighting the communists in Afghanistan, partly as a result of how those injuries were exacerbated by the CIA and partly as a result of his extended isolation, Abu Zubaydah's mental grasp is slipping away. Today, he suffers blinding headaches and has permanent brain damage. He has an excruciating sensitivity to sounds, hearing what others do not. The slightest noise drives him nearly insane. In the last two years alone, he has experienced about 200 seizures. Already, he cannot picture his mother's face or recall his father's name. Gradually, his past, like his future, eludes him."
Saudi and Pakistani connection allegations
Gerald Posner in his book, Why America Slept: The Failure to Prevent 9/11 (2003) claimed that Abu Zubaydah was duped by U.S. interrogators masquerading as Saudis and using painkillers and sodium pentathol, sometimes called "truth serum". Zubaydah, he writes, thought he was in a Saudi prison, when in fact he was in Afghanistan. Posner says Zubaydah, "relieved" to find he was being quizzed by people he thought were Saudis, provided them with phone numbers for a senior member of the Saudi royal family who would "tell you what to do." The numbers were traced to Prince Ahmed bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz, a nephew of King Fahd.
When the agents accused Zubaydah of lying, he revealed more details of Saudi and Pakistani ties to bin Laden, Posner said. The CIA passed on the information to the related governments. In the space of one week, three of the four persons named by him were dead. Prince Ahmed, 43, died of a heart attack on July 22, 2002. The next day, a car crash killed Saudi Prince Sultan bin Faisal bin Turki al-Saud, 41. A week later, Prince Fahd bin Turki bin Saud al-Kabir, 25, reportedly died "of thirst" while traveling east of Riyadh. Seven months later, a plane crash killed Pakistani Air Marshal Mushaf Ali Mir, his wife and several aides in Pakistan. Posner acknowledged these events could have been coincidences.
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- Jay Bybee and John Yoo Memorandum for John Rizzo Acting General Counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency: Interrogation of al Qaeda Operative U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel, August 1, 2002
- Steven Bradbury Memorandum for John A. Rizzo Senior Deputy General Counsel, Central Intelligence Agency, Office of Legal Counsel Re: Application of 18 U.S.C. Sections 2340-2340A to Certain Techniques That May Be Used in the Interrogation of a High Value al Qaeda Detainee Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel, May 10, 2005
- Steven Bradbury Memorandum For John A. Rizzo Senior Deputy General Counsel, Central Intelligence Agency Re: Application of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2340-2340A to the Combined Use of Certain Techniques in the Interrogation of High Value al Qaeda Detainees Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel, May 10, 2005
- Steven Bradbury Memoradnum for John A. Rizzo Senior Deputy General Counsel, Central Intelligence Agency Re: Application of United States Obligations Under Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture to Certain Techniques that May Be Used in the Interrogation of High Value al Qaeda Detainees Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel, May 30, 2005
- U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Inspector General: A Review of the FBI's Involvement in and Observations of Detainee Interrogations in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, and Iraq Department of Justice, Office of Inspector General, May 2008
- Human Rights First; Tortured Justice: Using Coerced Evidence to Prosecute Terrorist Suspects (2008)
- Human Rights First; Undue Process: An Examination of Detention and Trials of Bagram Detainees in Afghanistan in April 2009 (2009)
- Former CIA “Ghost Prisoner” Abu Zubaydah Recognized as “Victim” in Polish Probe of Secret Prison Andy Worthington
- Abu Zubaydah collected news and commentary at The New York Times
- Works by or about Abu Zubaydah in libraries (WorldCat catalog)