By John Kiriakou
Abu Zubaydah was the first prisoner subjected to a harsh CIA interrogation program now regarded as torture. (U.S. Central Command via AP)
“High-value detainee” Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Husayn—better known as Abu Zubaydah—described to his attorney in a 2009 statement, only recently released to the public, details of the torture he underwent at the hands of the CIA at a secret site overseas.
EXPERIENCE: John Kirikou Challenges American Injustice System (Multimedia)
As sickening as they are, the torture details are not new. Zubaydah talks about the 83 times he was waterboarded, once so severely he had to be resuscitated. He describes being confined for extended periods in a small box meant for a dog, and being beaten, deprived of sleep, denied solid food and interrogated endlessly. But we know all this from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, released in December 2014 as a heavily redacted executive summary.
Zubaydah’s statement, published by Vice News, actually buries the lead. The most important thing in the article is that Abu Zubaydah was the wrong guy.
When Zubaydah was captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in March 2002, the Bush administration lauded the operation and crowed that the CIA had caught al-Qaida’s No. 3 operative. Indeed, then-President George W. Bush ordered the CIA to begin torturing Zubaydah within a few months of his capture. But he didn’t have any actionable intelligence. He didn’t provide the CIA with any information that disrupted attacks or saved American lives.
We know from the Senate report that CIA torturers tried every way from Sunday to get Zubaydah to talk. He did talk. He just didn’t know anything.
I acknowledge that Abu Zubaydah was a bad guy. He led al-Qaida’s training camps in southern Afghanistan, despite having never actually joined the organization. He managed al-Qaida’s “House of Martyrs” in Peshawar, Pakistan, where would-be jihadis gathered before going to Afghanistan. He served as a logistician for al-Qaida, providing travel documents, money and safe houses for fighters who wanted to go home.
What Zubaydah did not do, though, was help plan the Sept. 11 attacks. He did not plot with al-Qaida fighters in the West to launch new attacks on the United States and its allies. He did not bomb the USS Cole. He did not blow up American embassies in West Africa. And he never pledged fealty to Osama bin Laden.
So why is the CIA holding him at Guantanamo and treating him as one of the world’s most dangerous criminals? Why did the CIA say, according to the torture report, that Abu Zubaydah should “remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life?” Why isn’t he being released?
That’s the discussion the Obama administration should be having. Zubaydah is not the international archcriminal that Bush, then-Vice President Dick Cheney and then-CIA chief George Tenet said he was. They were wrong. As a result, Zubaydah has endured torture, solitary confinement, transfers to secret prisons around the world and unlawful detention. He has never been charged with a crime. He has never faced his accusers in a court of law. He has never been allowed to defend himself.
That’s unconstitutional. It’s un-American. Abu Zubaydah either should be charged with a crime or released. There are no other alternatives.