About Abu Zubaydah, forever prisoner

This screengrab of the Guantánamo captive Abu Zubaydah was taken from a video interview he made sometime between the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and his March 28, 2002 capture by U.S. intelligence agents in Faisalabad, Pakistan.
This screengrab of the Guantánamo captive Abu Zubaydah was taken from a video interview he made sometime between the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and his March 28, 2002 capture by U.S. intelligence agents in Faisalabad, Pakistan. MIAMI HERALD SCREENGRAB

▪ Born Zayn al Abdeen Mohammed al Hussein in Saudi Arabia on March 12, 1971.

▪ Captured critically wounded in a March 28, 2002 gun battle in Faisalabad, Pakistan.

▪ His lawyers said in a 2008 court filing that before he got to Guantánamo in September 2006 the CIA held him prisoner in Pakistan, Thailand, Diego Garcia, Poland and North Africa, probably Morocco.

▪ Leaked and declassified intelligence reports show the CIA subjected him to some of its most aggressive “enhanced interrogation techniques,” EITs, while in secret overseas custody, including 83 rounds of waterboarding, sleep deprivation, being kept nude, confinement to coffin-like boxes as well as to crouch in a cage. FBI agent Ali Soufan said that, before the interrogations turned aggressive, Abu Zubaydah divulged the identity of “mukhtar,” the code-name for the 9/11 mastermind — Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

▪ In June 2016, Soufan told the Miami Herald that the case of Abu Zubaydah constituted “the A to Z of where we went wrong as a nation.”

▪ In 2006, after his transfer to Guantánamo, President George W. Bush called him a prized captive who required “an alternative set of procedures.” Zubaydah discussed his capture on June 6, 2002, claiming he was al-Qaida’s chief of operations — a description that would be discredited.

▪ At Guantánamo he’s been confined to a secret prison called Camp 7 since 2006, where he has suffered seizures. By 2016, defense lawyers described him as respected block leader, a mediator of sorts with the guards. A February 2017 intelligence profile cast him similiarly, and described as a well-behaved prisoner.

▪ In January 2010, a federal task force recommended he be considered for trial. He’s never been charged with a crime. In October 2016, the Obama administration’s multi-agency Periodic Review Board declared him a “forever prisoner.” The three-paragraph decision said it considered his “past involvement in terrorist activity to include probably serving as one of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted facilitators.”

▪ An audio recording released by the Defense Department captured him speaking in English, and telling a military panel at Guantánamo in March 27, 2007 that he was not a member of al-Qaida. “I never conducted nor financially supported nor helped in any operation against America,” he said. Instead, he said he advocated “defensive jihad” against infidel forces invading Muslim lands, such as Bosnia and Chechnya, during the two-hour hearing.

▪  At the sentencing hearing for an al-Qaida foot soldier in February 2011, Guantánamo prosecutors screened a precapture video of him celebrating the jihad.

Zayn al Abideen Mohammed al Hussein, known as Abu Zubaydah, in his photo from his 2008 Guantanamo prisoner profile provided to McClatchy Newspapers by the Wikileaks organization.

▪ A Guantánamo profile of him released to McClatchy by the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy group in 2011 showed him wearing an eye patch. He has a false eye that he can remove from his socket, according to people who’ve seen him do it. Former CIA contract psychologist James Mitchell, who both waterboarded and interrogated the captive, wrote in his memoirs “Enhanced Interrogation” that Zubaydah told him he got an eye infection that made him go blind during precapture plastic surgery by a Pakistani doctor. Mitchell does not say when or how the eye itself was removed.

▪ A 2011 McClatchy analysis of Guantánamo documents obtained by WikiLeaks showed that his interrogations were used to implicate more than 125 of 779 captives held at the prison camps.

▪ In 2013 the news channel al-Jazeera published English translations of his Arabic-language diaries, which the U.S. translated to exploit during his CIA interrogations.

▪ In December 2014, the Senate Intelligence Committee released its so-called Torture Report on the interrogation program that held Abu Zubaydah. It said, among other things, that the CIA concluded he was not a member of al-Qaida and that CIA records “do not support” claims that he “was one of the planners of the September 11 attacks.” He “ never provided the information for which the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques were justified and approved,” the report found.

▪ Then intelligence committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein announced on the Senate floor that he had been subjected to “non-stop interrogation and abuse, 24/7” for 17 days in August 2002, “multiple forms of deprivation and physical assault.”

▪ The report found that the use of the so-called Enhanced Interrogation Techniques did not work, disputing CIA claims they were “effective.” Abu Zubaydah did not name “operatives in the United States,” or provide “information to stop the next attack,” either during those 17 days or subsequently, the report found.

▪ It also found that, based on an intelligence review, U.S. agents got more raw intelligence from him during his first two months of interrogations by the FBI before the CIA took charge and subjected him to the EITs.

▪ In May 2015 the European Court of Human Rights ordered Poland to pay him 130,000 euros (about $147,000) for allowing his torture on Polish soil. Attorneys have similar litigation against Lithuania pending.

▪ One finding by the Senate Rendition, Detention and Interrogation Program Report was that, soon after his capture, CIA officers concluded that he “should remain incommunicado for the remainder of his life.”

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg