A Palestinian terrorism suspect once described by President Bush as a trusted deputy of Osama bin Laden has denied membership in al Qaeda, telling U.S. officers at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, that his version of Islamic holy war forbade 9/11-style attacks on civilians.
Moreover, the Palestinian captive known as Abu Zubaydah also became the third "high-value" detainee to claim he confessed to crimes he didn't commit because of CIA torture, according to a censored transcript released by the Pentagon on Monday.
"I never conducted nor financially supported nor helped in any operation against America, " said Zayn al Abidin Hussein, who has been widely identified by his nom de guerre, Abu Zubaydah.
Instead, he said he advocated "defensive jihad" against infidel forces invading Muslim lands, such as Bosnia and Chechnya, according to the transcript of a two-hour March 27 status hearing.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Abu Zubaydah is among 14 high-value prisoners at Guantánamo now undergoing military review of their "enemy combatant" status, a gateway to potential trial by a military commission.
When Abu Zubaydah went before the panel of senior officers -- two men and a woman -- he admitted to running the Khalden training camp in Afghanistan as well as a Pakistani guesthouse for would-be Muslim warriors.
But he said he had fundamental ideological differences with bin Laden about how to wage holy war and, in fact, ran a rival training program, refusing to train "fanatical" Algerians, and only considered the military legitimate targets.
"I get angry if they target civilians, such as those in the World Trade Center, " he said, referring to the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on New York.
In September 2006, advocating legislation for a Guantánamo war court, President Bush described Abu Zubaydah as "a senior terrorist leader and a trusted associate of Osama bin Laden" who survived wounds suffered during his capture because of CIA-orchestrated medical treatment.
He resisted interrogations, Bush said -- until the CIA employed "an alternative set of procedures" and he spilled a series of al Qaeda plots.
But in the transcript, he said he had no prior knowledge of the 9/11 attacks, and said it put all Arabs in Afghanistan at risk of U.S. attacks.
"I only met [bin Laden] in the year 2000, " he said, expressing approval of the attack on the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, as a military target. But, "I'm not his partner and I'm not a member of al Qaeda."
He cast himself as an admirer of some aspects of American culture, but an enemy because of strong U.S. support for Israel, whose creation bred a Palestinian refugee crisis, he said.
"In other words, dear members of the military, I am against you, " he told the panel.
A Pentagon spokesman said the military was investigating the detainee's claim of torture. "We're investigating it fully, and that's all I can say, " said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler.