Guantánamo

Agent who interrogated Abu Zubaydah: ‘Where we went wrong as a nation’

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

The FBI agent who first interrogated Abu Zubaydah — the war-on-terror captive who became the guinea pig in the CIA’s post- 9/11 interrogation program — said Wednesday that the case of the captive represents “the A to Z of where we went wrong as a nation.”

The Palestinian prisoner whose real name is Zayn al Abdeen Mohammed al Hussein, 45, is due at the war court Thursday afternoon to testify in the Sept. 11 case about a very narrow topic: Whether he can vouch for claims by an accused 9/11 plotter, Ramzi bin al Shibh, that somebody’s causing noises and vibrations in Guantánamo’s most clandestine prison, Camp 7. The two men are held there with 12 other former CIA “Black Site” captives.

“His case represents the A to Z of where we went wrong as a nation,” said former FBI agent Ali Soufan, who interrogated some of the most prized captives of the war on terror, and considered Abu Zubaydah “a high-ranking terrorist” at his capture. “In a way, it was the original sin that led to the institutionalization of the so-called Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.”

Abu Zubaydah was captured critically wounded in Pakistan in 2002 and subjected to some of the most aggressive enhanced interrogation techniques dreamed up by the CIA in the agency’s bid to break prisoners and get them to spill al-Qaida secrets.

CIA agents subjected him to 83 rounds of waterboarding, sleep deprivation, nudity, confinement in a coffin-sized box — techniques that, the so-called 2014 Senate Torture Report said, did not turn up more intelligence than Soufan and his FBI colleagues got through about two months of traditional interrogations.

“I do not recall a case during the war on terror years that contained more elements of deceit and exaggerations aimed to promote the ill-conceived torture program like the case of Abu Zubaydah,” Soufan also told the Miami Herald, by email.

Soufan, a supervisory special agent from 1997, has traveled the world carrying out interrogations before and after the Sept. 11 attacks. He quit the bureau in 2005 but has returned to Guantánamo to testify at the trials of military-held captives.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2014 Rendition, Detention and Interrogation Program Report also said that, soon after his capture, CIA officers concluded that Abu Zubaydah “should remain incommunicado for the remainder of his life.”

If he testifies in court Thursday afternoon, as planned, it will be his first appearance in a public forum since his capture. The CIA delivered him and 13 other “high-value detainees” to Guantánamo for trials in September 2006. He has never been charged with a crime and has yet to get a date at the Obama-era parole-style Periodic Review Board. Neither has a Somali captive named Hassan Guleed, 42, who was expected to kick off the witness testimony Thursday morning.

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg

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