Long before CIA agents waterboarded him, prized war-on-terror captive Abu Zubaydah praised the 9/11 attacks as “truly magnificent” and sought recruits to fight the Jews and Christians.
“We call them terrorist attacks too because their goal, according to the Quran, is to terrorize Allah’s enemies,” the 30-something Saudi-born Palestinian said, in Arabic, in a never-before-seen screened recruiting video at the war court Thursday.
Islam’s enemies are “Jews or Christians or apostates or Hindus or atheists,” he says, appearing fit in full beard and mustache and traditional Afghan garb. He neither denies nor confirms whether his group, al Qaeda rival “Martyrs Organization,” had a role in the Sept.11, 2001, attacks. “That’s between us and Allah,” he said.
Prosecutors showed the video to a military jury of nine American officers deciding a sentence for a confessed small-arms instructor from Sudan who was captured in Abu Zubaydah’s guest house in Pakistan.
Also given to the jurors: A manual that recommends beheading of infidels.
The video let the Pentagon showcase a portion of the case that the United States has been trying to build against the first valued captive of the post 9/11 era, Abu Zubyadah, whose full name is Zayn al Abdeen Mohammed al Hussein.
Abu Zubaydah was held for four years by the CIA and subjected to a widely considered torture technique called waterboarding — personally approved by then-President George W. Bush — and other harsh interrogation tactics in the American intelligence pursuit of al Qaeda’s inner circle. Bush had the CIA move Abu Zubaydah to Guantánamo for a trial in 2006. He has never been charged.
Legal experts have long considered his case too challenging to prosecute because accounts have described him as insane, perhaps as a result of his interrogation experience. American agents stripped him naked, confined him to a dog cage and waterboarded him to break him.
BACK IN TIME
But the 30-minute video, an interview with a sympathizer, takes viewers to the era after the 9/11 attacks but before his capture. In it, he calls his group The Martyrs Organization, and says he has made the tape to spread his ideology.
Jurors saw a segment at the sentencing hearing of Noor Uthman Mohammed, about 44. He pleaded guilty to terror charges earlier this week in exchange for a possible release by 2014.
But his jury, led by an Army colonel, is to deliberate a sentence that would apply if Noor breached other obligations in his secret plea bargain. Military sources said he must cooperate with future federal and military prosecutions.
In his confession, a narrative written by lawyers called a “Stipulation of Fact,” Noor admits to being a small-arms and artillery weapons trainer at the Khaldan camp near Khost, Afghanistan, until 2000. He signed it with a thumbprint.
He agrees that three terrorists now imprisoned in the U.S. trained at Khaldan before three al Qaeda operations — the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya and the foiled Millennium bombing of Los Angeles International Airport.
But Noor makes clear in the confession that he didn’t train those men or any others later recruited to al Qaeda for terrorist operations. Nor did he join al Qaeda.
Rather he admits Khaldan was a feeder camp for al Qaeda, run by a Libyan veteran of the anti-communist jihad, called Ibn Sheikh al Libi, who got basic training recruits with the assistance of Abu Zubaydah. Both were captured on March 28, 2002 in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in a coordinated CIA-Pakistani intelligence operation.
DAYS OF DESPAIR
Noor agrees Abu Zubaydah’s house was a terrorist hideout and training facility but says he was there learning “Americanized English” from a Saudi-born, U.S.-trained engineer now held at Guantánamo without charge. Noor also admitted that he cooked and kept house for a group of men who fled training camps in Afghanistan after the 2001 U.S. invasion.
There has been no evidence that the lessons got very far. Noor has said virtually nothing beyond “yes” and “no” in Arabic. An interpreter translates for him through a headset at the courtroom. The jury could sentence him to life in prison. He asked for leniency in a written statement crafted with his legal team, led by Army Maj. Amy Fitzgibbons, who last year appealed to Noor’s Navy judge to keep the case after her boss ordered her to quit it.
In it, he described days of despair at the U.S. lockup in Bagram, Afghanistan — painful shackling, blasts of hot and cold, deafening music, and being left naked in sight of female soldiers. “I have done my best to be a compliant prisoner even in the face of the conditions that I have endured,” he said, “to get home to see my family again before my time on this earth ends. I ask that you give me the opportunity.’’