On Christmas Day 2008, a comment by someone identifying themselves as Hesham Abu Zubaydah was submitted on an article I had written many months earlier, entitled, The Insignificance and Insanity of Abu Zubaydah: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Confirms FBI’s Doubts. This was the first of many articles I have written explaining how Abu Zubaydah, the “high-value detainee” for whom the Bush administration’s torture program was specifically developed, was not a senior al-Qaeda operative, as the administration claimed, but was instead the mentally damaged gatekeeper of a training camp, Khaldan, that was independent of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
The comment read, “Yes that is my brother and I live in Oregon. Do you think I should have been locked away for 2 years with no charges for a act of a sibling? I am the younger brother of Zayn [Abu Zubydah’s real name, Zayn al-Abidin Mohamed Husayn] and I live in the USA. Tell me what you think.”
In response, from what I recall, I responded to the comment, but did not hear anything back. With hindsight, I should have pursued it further, but I’m glad to note that, eventually, my friend and colleague Jason Leopold stumbled across the comment, tracked down Hesham in Florida, where he lives with his wife Jody, and began a 14-month investigation that resulted in the publication, yesterday, of EXCLUSIVE: From Hopeful Immigrant to FBI Informant – the Inside Story of the Other Abu Zubaidah, a 15,000-word article by Jason that was published by Truthout, where he is the lead investigative reporter, and where I am an occasional contributor.
This excellent article, accompanied by a video interview of Jason talking to Hesham and Jody, and an additional article about how a Freedom of Information request submitted by Jason attracted the attention of the FBI, reveals most of all how, because of his blood relationship with Abu Zubaydah — who is known to his family as Hani — Hesham has been imprisoned in America, threatened with deportation and made to work for nearly three years as an FBI informant, even though he himself has done nothing wrong, and has no involvement with or sympathies for anything to do with violent jihad.
One of ten children born to Palestinian parents in Saudi Arabia, Hesham is five years younger than Hani, and was only 11 or 12 years old when his brother left home for good, and he recalls him only as a happy-go-lucky guy, and something of a womanizer. At that time, he insists, there was no hint of religious extremism. As a result, it should have been obvious that he was of little use to law enforcement officials or the intelligence agencies, but instead he has been hounded, persecuted and treated abominably, primarily by the FBI.
Hesham arrived in the US in July 1998, when he was 22 years old, and, a year later, moved to Portland, Oregon, where he was living when the 9/11 attacks occurred. It was only afterwards that the FBI paid him a visit. As Jason explains (using the spelling “Zubaidah,” which I have maintained in the quotes from the article):
Hesham said the first time he learned that his brother had been involved in any alleged terrorist activities was immediately after 9/11, when FBI agents showed up at his apartment in Portland with a set of photographs they asked him to identify.
“I didn’t believe it,” Hesham said when he first learned of the allegations that his brother was involved in the planning of the 9/11. “I did not recognize the person in the pictures the FBI showed me. The person in the photographs had a beard and a mustache. My brother used to shave his mustache all the time. They had pictures where he had blue eyes, blond hair and green hair. The person just didn’t look anything like the person I grew up with. I told the FBI, ‘The guy you’re talking about, I don’t know that guy.'”
Hesham says he has been paying a price ever since for having the same name as the suspect in the pictures.
Crucially, Jason continues:
Why didn’t the FBI speak to Hesham before 9/11? It would seem a simple visit to the sibling of the person designated as a notorious al-Qaeda terrorist would be standard law enforcement procedure. But it wasn’t. Rather than interview Hesham, the FBI instead secretly spoke to his wife, about three weeks before 9/11.
John Kiriakou, the former CIA officer who helped lead the operation that resulted in Zubaidah’s capture on March 28, 2002, said he could not believe Zubaidah had a brother living in the United States at a time when the intelligence community was trying to track down and capture Zubaidah.
“That’s just stunning to me,” Kiriakou said in an interview last summer. “Before the raid, our team was trying to find people who knew Zubaidah. We heard he had a brother or a relative in Paris and tried to track him down, but that didn’t pan out. Had I known Zubaidah had a brother in the US, I would have demanded headquarters get the FBI to make immediate contact with him and squeeze as much info out of him as we could about his brother.”
No answer has been forthcoming, although the word that springs most obviously to my mind is incompetence.
As another example of the incompetence that runs through the whole of America’s response to the 9/11 attacks, and which I have been consistently exposing with relation to the supposed intelligence gathered at Guantánamo, Jason also details a phone conversation that Hesham had with his brother, in April 2000, when Hani rang him — probably from Pakistan.
Hesham was at work at the Fast Trip gas station one afternoon in April 2000 when the phone rang.
“Hello,” a voice said when Hesham picked up the phone.
“Who’s this?” Hesham responded.
Hesham had not spoken with his brother for nearly a decade. By then, Hani had been on the radar of US intelligence for years. Hesham was oblivious to the news reports that started to appear in December 1999 linking his brother to Millennium terrorist plots in Jordan and to an Algerian named Ahmed Ressam, who was planning to blow up Los Angeles International Airport and was caught trying to smuggle bomb-making materials into the United States from Canada. Ressam told federal prosecutors and the FBI that Hani was a top al-Qaeda lieutenant, close confidant of Bin Laden and “facilitator” of terrorist attack operations.
Hani was thought to be living in Pakistan at this time, and President Bill Clinton had reportedly asked government officials there to assist in capturing him. The FBI started to step up its surveillance of Hani, monitoring his cellular phone and other communications immediately following the failed plots in Jordan, according to two former FBI counterterrorism agents.
“Hani? Oh my God! I haven’t heard from you for a long time. How ya doin’, buddy?”
“I’m good, I’m good,” Hani said. “I heard you’re not doing good. What’s the matter, buddy?”
“I explained to him what I’m going through,” Hesham said. “I told him I have a girlfriend and a baby on the way but I am pretty stressed out. I have money issues. I don’t have enough money to pay the bills. I missed some car payments.”
“Do you need some help?” Hani asked.
“I don’t need help,” Hesham responded. “I don’t want to ask the family for help. You know how dad is and how he will throw it in my face and say, ‘See? I knew you would fail and come crying to me for help.'”
“It’s OK,” Hani said. “It doesn’t make you less of a man if you ask for help.”
“I really don’t want to do that,” Hesham said.
“You know what, listen, I am going to talk to your sister, and they’re going to try and help you out,” Hani said. “Just take it.”
Hesham said Hani asked him how America was treating him and if he enjoyed living in the United States.
“I love this country,” Hesham told Hani.
During their approximately 15-minute conversation, Hani also asked Hesham about his plan to obtain citizenship.
“Hani said to me, ‘You know, as a Palestinian, you can get refugee status,'” Hesham said. “He stressed that point.”
Hesham said Hani’s voice sounded like he was “happy,” like “what I remember. A fun, good guy.”
“I kind of think he’s away from dad, he moved on with his life and he made his life,” Hesham said.
A few days later, Hesham said Hani called him at his apartment and told him that a sister was going to wire about $1,800 into his bank account. They spoke for another 15 minutes. Hani said he hoped he would have an opportunity to see Hesham. Then they said their goodbyes.
Hesham never spoke with Hani again.
Curiously, Hesham said he never asked Hani what he was up to. He never asked where he was living, where he was calling from, what his phone number was, whether he was married, had kids, or even how he got his phone number.
Hesham’s explanation is that he simply didn’t care.
“I assumed he got my phone number from my parents,” Hesham said. “They called me regularly and I told my mother how stressed out I was.”
Still, considering that Hani initiated the phone call and that his every move at that time was supposedly being monitored by the CIA and FBI, did the National Security Agency (NSA), which at the time was headed by Gen. Michael Hayden, track it and pass the intelligence along to those agencies?
Jason followed up with a Freedom on Information request, as he explains:
I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request last year with the NSA to find out. On February 28, the NSA responded, issuing what is known as a Glomar response to the FOIA. (The term “Glomar response” came into use after the CIA in 1969 denied a reporter’s request for information about the CIA-built ship the Glomar Explorer; the CIA refused to either confirm or deny the ship’s existence.)
“We have determined that the fact of the existence of non-existence of the materials you request is a currently and properly classified matter in accordance with Executive Order 13526, as set forth in Subparagraph c) of Section 1.4. Thus, your request is denied pursuant to the first exemption of the FOIA which provides that the FOIA does not apply to matters that are specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive Order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign relations and are, in fact properly classified pursuant to such Executive Order.”
Five special agents assigned to the FBI’s I-49 squad, which focused on Bin Laden and international terrorism out of the bureau’s New York Field Office, reacted with surprise when told that Hani called the United States in April 2000; the agents said they had no idea the calls had been made. Four officers assigned to the CIA’s Alec Station, which also focused on Bin Laden, said they, too, were unaware Hani made the calls.
Hani’s telephone calls, which the FBI’s Portland field office learned about immediately after 9/11 when Hesham was arrested, was not shared with the so-called “independent” 9/11 Commission or the Congressional 9/11 panel.
Sen. Bob Graham (D-Florida), who co-chaired the joint Congressional inquiry into the 9/11 attacks, said it is “news to him” that Zubaidah not only has a brother who lives in the United States, but that Zubaidah called the United States three times in April 2000 and spoke to his brother twice.
“The 9/11 Commission and our Congressional inquiry would have been very interested in this information,” Graham said. “We should have been told about it so we could evaluate the relative significance of the information, because it could have further contributed to our understanding of what happened before 9/11.”
The phone calls add yet another wrinkle to the official narrative of pre-9/11 intelligence and who knew what and when. The New York Times reported in June 2008 that Hani “was careful about security: he turned his phone on only briefly to collect messages, not long enough for his trackers to get a fix on his whereabouts.”
Before 9/11, Hesham was involved in a disastrous, tempestuous relationship, which ended badly. The woman, Rosalee, his first wife, “sent a letter to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) on May 31, 2001, stating that she wanted to withdraw her petition sponsoring Hesham for citizenship,” and, as Jason notes, that letter was sent the day before White House Counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke told then-CIA Director George Tenet and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that “a notorious al Qa’ida operative named Abu Zubaidah was working on attack plans,” according to Tenet’s memoir, At the Center of the Storm.” As Jason added, however, “no one from the FBI visited Hesham to discuss his brother.”
In August 2001, after further marital problems, Hesham was arrested, and on August 22, 2001, FBI agents interviewed Rasalee, who, as Jason put it, told.”some wild stories about Hesham, according to a copy of the FBI’s interview report. She claimed that Hesham murdered someone at the behest of the Chicago mob, that he brought home crack cocaine and other drugs, and that he was going to return to Saudi Arabia with their daughter. She also provided agents with details about their violent altercation.”
She also talked about Hani. “Per Hesham, his brother Hani Mohamed Abu-Zubaidah is a bomb terrorist,” the FBI report says. “Hani has no contact with his family and his family has no way to contact him unless he wants to talk to them … For this reason, the father wants nothing more to do with Hani.”
Rosalee later confessed that she had lied to the FBI, and said that when she spoke to one of the agents who interviewed her, and said that the allegations she leveled against Hesham “weren’t really true,” the agent replied, “I could kind of tell that.”
Nevertheless, Hesham had finally ended up on the FBI’s radar. A week after the 9/11 attacks, two agents came to visit him, and he was arrested a day later, “charged with violating the conditions of his student visa,” and “placed into removal proceedings and held in solitary confinement.” He “maintained that the FBI and INS wanted to deport him because he was the brother of an alleged al-Qaeda operative. He said about ten different FBI agents interrogated him about his brother ‘a few times a week’ while he was in custody.”
And so Hesham’s nightmare began in earnest. A court case, in which he was poorly advised, led to him spending over two years in prison. On the day his brother was captured (March 28, 2002), a judge ordered him to be deported to Saudi Arabia, but that plan never materialized, as he is not a Saudi citizen. The FBI also turned up to harangue him in prison after his capture, but finally, in April 2003, he was released on probation.
As Jason notes, “Hesham developed a deep hatred for his brother, Hani. He blamed Hani for destroying his life.” As Hesham explained, “Let’s face it, if my last name was not Abu Zubaidah, I wouldn’t be in this position. The FBI wouldn’t be coming to see me all the time. I would probably be a US citizen by now. It’s all because of that guy that my life is fucked up. If he did what the FBI tells me he did, then he should pay. If he is the mastermind terrorist they say, he should be brought to justice. But don’t penalize me for his crimes. I’m a good guy. Screw him, and if my life is fucked up because of him, then fuck him!”
Please see Jason’s article for the rest of Hesham’s story — the positive side, involving him meeting and marrying Jody, his second wife, and the rather darker time when, for nearly three years, he was obliged to work as an informant for the FBI. I hope, for Hesham’s sake, that the publicity generated by this story will prove helpful to him, and I’m glad that my website proved to be the starting point for Jason’s extraordinary investigation.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
It is nearly unbearable for me to accept that the country that held so much promose for the people less than 300 years ago has turned into the exact evil it claimed to abhor.
We hear on the corporate propaganda machine, of the need for “security: to protect us from those who would do us harm because of “their jealousy”.
Jealousy, my ass.
The entire point of the NDAA, Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition (going on for decades, not just Clinton, Bush and Obama), the assassination list held by the CIA and approved by Obama (not that they ever needed the sanction – they have been murdering for decades too), the silencing of Bradley Manning – torture, abuse, denial of due process, prevention of communication and contact – the military tribunals (kangaroo courts) for the purpose of “trying” those charged with “terrorism” and crimes against the US, the attacks on and manipulation of other countries to silence Wikileaks and Julian Assange, the refusal to release those in Guantanamo found innocent of any wrong-doing, the refusal to honor the FOIA requests filed by Jason Leopold, ACLU, Chris Hayes and every other organization trying to bring TRUTH to light, is for the sole purpose of controlling the people and manipulating fear, anger and ignorance in order to do so.
I am ashamed of this government – A government that is no more than a bully and a lie.
I am ashamed of EVERY government that abuses power in order to manipulate and lie to the people.
This is a horror that the entire nation must address.
Still don’t think the pitch forks are in need of sharpening?
I’m not so sure any more
Thanks, Jan. What an excellent analysis. I’m not sure there’s anything I can add. Your passion and insight are much appreciated.
Mary Shepard wrote:
Frightening for so many reasons, one of which is obvious – the incompetence of the 9/11 investigators. But what alarmed me the most was that this innocent man’s life could be so easily hijacked, his rights ignored, and his trust destroyed. It could happen to any American, including me. I am so grateful to him and his wife for sharing their story, and to you and Jason for helping them tell it. I posted Jason’s story on your wall yesterday not knowing if you’d seen it or not; I’m very glad you did. We need watchdogs like you and Jason Leopold; there are so few investigative journalists who are willing to explore the dark world of 9/11, Guantanamo and government secretiveness.
Willy Bach wrote:
Good work Andy. We might not have succeeded yet in closing Guantanamo, but you draw attention to its pernicious web that spreads across the US and probably the world.
Mary, thanks. Very true what you say here.
I wrote this in response to the Jason Leopold article that Andy refers to:
“This is how the FBI makes peoples’ live hell in the ‘land of the free’ with tactics indistinguishable from the old East German Stasi. Watch the video and decide whether you would want a Green Card or whether you’d want out.”
It is perfectly reasonable to oppose the NDAA extensions of power on the basis that they have violated the human rights of very many people without yielding any tangible or worthwhile results. People in the US are not safer, nor do they feel safer with all this entrapment, racial profiling, blackmail, planting of evidence, intimidation and extortion. What they have is a secret police state going beyond control. Obviously, there needs to be an inquiry and stricter rules to reign in this criminal behaviour.
They biggest problem of increasing the budgets of Homeland Security and the FBI (and even the NYPD) is that they respond by increasing their recruitment and the new recruits try to make themselves look busy. If they don’t have anything they make stuff up. The result is what we see here. We also know this is happening in Australia and Britain, possibly other acolyte states too. Sweden, France, Germany come to mind.
May I recommend some examples from Eastern Europe that should cause some ‘sobering-up’ among war on terror enthusiasts:
The Polish film, ‘Little Rose’
The German Film, ‘The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum’
Mary Shepard wrote:
What’s terrifying is that the laws are being tossed out, ignored, re-interpreted, or superceded by new laws that violate the Bill of Rights, the Geneva Conventions and common decency. The laws that protected people are no longer effective. Coupled with a propaganda campaign being sold to the public that all this paranoia is required to protect them from terrorists, it was a perfect set-up to usher in a new era of fascism and intolerance, a dark age that America may never recover from. Common sense is also gone – we know it is impossible to make the world perfectly safe. We cannot look under every rock and inside every suitcase, inside every pair of underwear, for the boogeyman. People will wake up, I hope, when the suffocation caused by this obsession with “security” becomes intolerable. I hope it happens before it’s too late.
Mary and Willy, thank you for the perceptive comments. Thanks also to everyone who has liked and shared this, and I’m delighted to have played a small part in getting Jason’s work out to as wide an audience as possible. In the end, Hesham could have been treated much worse than he was, as the brother of a supposed “high-value detainee,” so the incompetence at the heart of empire obviously saved him on that score. However, the brutality that goes with this incompetence eventually punished him anyway for being related to a terror suspect, and it’s that story – of the imprisonment and then the requirement to be an informer – that I found the most moving, and the most important aspect of the story, as it is a resonant example of the entrapment and abuse of Muslims that is so prevalent in America now.
And Mary, I too hope that point of suffocation you’re referring to – in response to the ever more repressive and paranoid police state – will be reached soon. Your analysis of the implacable fear is spot-on, and symptomatic of people’s general inability to maintain a sense of perspective.
Rene Aalbers wrote:
Still the name zubaidah is seriously linked to some (ex) disturbing individuals such as abu hamza (khaldan), ahmed ressam (darunta), abu khabab al-masri …to name a few.
It’s a fair point, Rene, about individuals who undertook training at Khaldan, but not without some additional context. Training camps first emerged from the US- and Saudi-backed resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and were then allowed to thrive through indifference if nothing else, functioning as a mixture of armed holiday camps for those wanting some militant glamor, a military training camp for the inter-Muslim civil war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, and an incubator for the kind of malleable individuals who could be groomed for acts of international terrorism. Noor Uthman Muhammed, who was a trainer at Khaldan, made that point in a review board at Guantanamo in 2004. As I explained in an article last year, Muhammed said that Khaldan was “a place to get training” that had nothing to do with either al-Qaeda or the Taliban. “People come over to that camp, train for about a month to a month and a half, then they go back to their hometown,” he said, adding that what the people did with the training they received was their own business.
Article here: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2011/02/16/hiding-horrific-tales-of-torture-why-the-us-government-reached-a-plea-deal-with-guantanamo-prisoner-noor-uthman-muhammed/
I just want to interject a thought: It is really evil of Jason to ask for FOIAs to provide legitimate journalism. Shame on you Jason for trying to use factual content. Shame!
I’m done now.
Ha! Very funny, anomaly, but also very true, sadly.
Mary Shepard wrote (in response to 7, above):
They don’t scare me, Rene. I find Barack Obama to be a much more terrifying name than any of the people you mentioned.
Mary Shepard wrote:
Andy, I am also an American Muslim, and I’ve had quite a few experiences in American and in one British airport that I would love to forget, but it is from those experiences that I make my observations about the obsession with terrorism and the choking fear that come from it. For me, the most emotional aspect of Hesham’s story is that despite the deception and mistreatment he received, he loves America and wants to live there. His faith in American justice and his desire to live there in peace deeply touched me because I made the decision a year ago to leave the US and no longer live there. This was based on my feeling of having been betrayed by my country on many levels. Now I’m just plain scared of the US government and because I’m a Muslim, and because I’ve been detained by officials on several occasions in the past (one reason was to interrogate me about the time I spent in Pakistan in 2006) and occasionally write things criticizing the US government, I hesitate to even visit my family. I sincerely hope Hesham and his family have a peaceful life in America.
Thanks again, Mary. I really appreciate the breadth and depth of your analysis, but wasn’t aware until now of how much had come through experience. I’m very sorry to hear about the problems you have had to put up with. Personally, I wish people who don’t have to put up with that sort of harassment – because they’re not Muslims – would have some empathy, and would also reflect on why they’re so prepared to be scared. When told that the glass is half-full, I tend, first of all, to ask if it might not be more accurate to describe it as being half-empty.
Rene Aalbers wrote:
thanks for the comment Andy, but Abu Hamza had more specific goals in mind with Khaldan (Ramzi Yousef-WTC1993), so I find it hard to believe they were ” just getting training” . @Mary: each perception creates its own perspective, so I can relate to your empirical research.
Noor might have been a little disingenuous – or uninformed – regarding the intentions that some of those at Khaldan had, Rene, but it doesn’t fundamentally change the three categories I mentioned, all of which also exist, or have existed at Guantanamo as well – the tourists, the soldiers and the terrorists. Each is considerably different from the other, but the tendency of the US government and the apologists for the arbitrary detention of Muslims has been to ignore those vast differences and to label everyone as terrorists.
Mary Shepard wrote:
It’s more than the harassment at airports – I’m saddened by the whole culture of fear and at the exploitation of 9/11 for the purpose of selling surveillance and stealing human rights. I’m sickened that Muslims are demonized in the same way Communists were a generation ago. I wonder, too, at the collective psychology of America – why it is that there must always be an enemy to fight and a war to win.
Yes, I share the same sorrows, Mary. In the UK, we demonised the Irish a generation ago, and then obligingly repeated that dark era with Muslims after 9/11. I guess politically, America’s big problem remains the dominance of the military-industrial complex, as was apparent from the end of Communism. Who was in charge of what should have been the biggest peace dividend in modern history? Well, Dick Cheney was the defense secretary, and he was pretty determined that there wouldn’t be a peace dividend. Within two years, we had the first Gulf War.
On a darker level, i worry that it’s all symptomatic of us being the most homicidal apes of the lot, and that there’s a huge and pretty permanent urge for slaughter that ties in with power – those who seek it, and those who bow down to it. To me the big struggle within humanity is between cooperation and competition. My camp is the former, but all the dangerous homicidal f*ckwits – excuse me! – are in the other camp.
Mary Shepard wrote:
I just cannot abide cruelty. It’s the cruelty that comes with all this paranoia and fear, the willingness to inflict pain and suffering with impunity that I can’t tolerate. The torture is what I cannot bear, the unspeakable evil of what has been done and is still being done to our fellow humans. Is it a base instinct that compels us? Why are humans the only species that does this? And how is it that those homicidal fuckwits seem to have taken over?
I think that perhaps we can’t bear the weight of our existence, Mary, and I think, to be brutally honest, it’s always been like this. Personally, I think we made great social advances -for women, against racism and against homophobia – in the revolutionary times of the 1960s and 1970s, when the anti-war movement was also massive, but we had Vietnam throughout that time. I don’t think there was ever a break to the warmongering. When Vietnam finally ended, the US was already training death squads in Central and South America.
As I say, I’m into cooperation. I’m a father, so I know the selflessness required to nurture a child. The killers are remorselessly competitive, as well as cruel. We, the nurturers, still need to win the argument, but it’s hard when those we’re up against – our own governments – are armed to the teeth, like all cowardly bullies, and anxious to silence those who dissent.
Jason Leopold wrote:
Thank you very, very much Andy for giving this story attention and for your excellent and insightful analysis. Proud and honored to call you a friend and colleague.
Well, thank you, Jason. Excellent work. And I am also proud and honored to call you a friend and colleague.
Let me leave my thanks Andy to you and Jason.
I am going to take the liberty of addressing Rene. Rene, did you try reading the transcript from Abu Zubaydah’s Combatant Status Review Tribunal?
Personally, I found it credible. For me it confirmed what others have said — Abu Zubaydah had initially told the truth, prior to the use of torture. But go read it for yourself.
He acknowledges knowing Ahmed Ressam. If the Khaldan camp had been a college, then his role was a combination of college registrar, deciding who got in, and college placement officer, helping those who wanted to fight the oppression of muslims in Chechnya, civil-war Yugoslavia, or Palestine.
Abu Zubaydah testified that it was his job to weed out the crazy jihadists. He got to decide who received training at Khalden. He acknowledges he didn’t think Ahmed Ressam was a crazy jihadist, who would attack civilians. In his defense he pointed out that Ahmed Ressam lived in Afghanistan for a further year or so after finishing his training. He figured he wasn’t a radical when he approved him attending Khaldan, and that he was radicalized AFTER attending the camp.
I don’t know who the Abu Hamza you refer to could be. This is a common name, and the USA has accused several individuals with this name of being associated with terrorism — and failed to tell them apart. Four or five years ago, when one Abu Hamza was assassinated by a drone strike, the USA republished a picture they had of him on their “Rewards for Justice” web-page. I only had to look at it for half a second to recognize that it was an image of Abu Hamza el-Masri, the Imam of a mosque described as a “radical” mosque in the UK — except it was a photo dating back to before he lost his eye.
I find it ironic that the NSA, FBI, CIA missed Hani’s call to Hesham, but they claimed, continue to claim, that Bensayah Belkacem should be held indefinitely in Guantanamo because dozens of calls were made between him and Abu Zubaydah in the weeks following the attacks of September 11, 2001 — when Belkacem was broke, and couldn’t afford a phone.
Andy, can I express some doubts about whether Abu Zubaydah was part of Hesham’s name? I won’t claim to be an expert in Arabic naming styles. But I have learned a few things.
The DoD made a horrible mistake by insisting on shoehorning the names of their captives into the European naming style that everyone inherits a surname from their grandfather and father.
In Arabic “Abu” means “father” or “father of”.
There seem to be two parallel naming styles in use — the Abu Hamza el-Masri style, which means “the Egyptian who fathered Hamza”. In the other naming style an individual uses one of his father’s name as a kind of last name, but it is not a surname, he uses his father’s first name as his last name that is not a surname. So, in this Arabic style Omar Khadr, Abdurahman Khadr, Abdullah Khadr and Abdul Karim Khadr — the sons of Ahmed Said Khadr would be named Omar Ahmed, Abdurahman Ahmed, Abdullah Ahmed and Abdul Karim Ahmed.
Jason writes that Abu Zubaydah’s real name was Zayn al-Abidin Mohamed Husayn and that Hesham’s full name was Hesham Mohamed Hussain Abu Zubaidah.
I suspect that their father’s name started with “Mohammed Hussain” or “Mohamed Husayn” — two different transliterations of the same name.
Zubaydah may have been the name of Zayn al-Abidin’s son — ie Zubaydah Zayn al-Abidin. Alternately, it may have been a nom de guerre adopted prior to having any children.
Hesham Mohamed Hussain Abu
Thanks, arcticredriver. Important mention of Abu Zubaydah’s CSRT, available here: http://projects.nytimes.com/guantanamo/detainees/10016-abu-zubaydah/documents/7
I’m also not sure about the origins of Abu Zubaydah’s name, and why it appears to be part of his brother’s family name. I had previously presumed that Abu Zubayadah was a misspellng of Abu Zubaida, meaning that he was the father of a daughter named Zubaida. I’ll try and look into it.
Thanks also for the mention of Belkacem Bensayah. The government still maintains its position, that’s for sure, although the habeas ruling that went against him in November 2008 was reversed and sent back to the District Court to reconsider in June 2010, although no new opinion has been issued.
Apologies. After reading Jason’s article it appears Arabic names are even more complicated than I thought.
Jason’s account of Agent Tidwell showing up to ask Hesham to confirm he really did sign the waiver that would allow a FOI request, that he signed it voluntarily, and without duress or payment, reminds me of a very telling chapter in Clifford Stoll’s “The Cuckoo’s Egg”. It is a very entertaining read about an ordinary guy who gets drawn into the world of cyber-espionage.
Stoll was an PhD student in Astronomony at Berkeley, who had exhausted his grants, before he finished his thesis. He was given a job assisting the full-time, experienced UNIX system administrators at a big research lab in Berkeley, circa 1988. UC Berkeley had been the center of development of the most important offshoot of the original Bell Labs UNIX.
This was during the closing days of the Cold War.
Oddly individuals learn to be a Systems Administrator largely through a kind of apprenticeship, not book learning. Stoll’s first assignment was a very low priority project to reconcile two different accounting systems.
As he traced this problem he first determined it was due to the facility being hacked, by someone clever. By page fifty or so he determined it wasn’t just a clever kid. By clever and methodical work Stoll determined the hacker was hacking in from overseas. By eavesdropping on the hacker’s activities Stoll found that the hacker was very determinedly trying to jump to classified military sites.
At this point Stoll decided that since the FBI had the responsibility for counter-intelligence he should phone up the local FBI office.
Stoll describes trying to explain the history of detecting the cyber-espionage. The local FBI agent listens for a while, and interrupts him — saying. “Back up a minute — this all started when you detected a discrepancy in the accounting system? How much was that discrepancy?”
Stoll acknowledges the discrepancy was just 75 cents. To which the FBI agent tells him — “Well, I’ll tell you what, you phone me back when it gets to half a million dollars.”
Mind you, a hundred pages later, he was being flown to Washington, and was giving briefings to some of the most senior spooks. It is quite an amusing book, as Stoll is pretty much a flower child. As you know the USA has over a dozen different intelligence agencies, and spooks at these agencies kept giving him conflicting direction as to how to keep tracking the Soviet agent. But as Stoll pointed out, none of them had paid a thin dime towards his grant.
The book is a great read. And I think it reveals some persistent weaknesses in the US intelligence establishment.
Oh. Hold the presses. It seems someone uploaded a copy of a one-hour PBS documentary
Excellent. Thanks, arcticredriver, for that fascinating account. I do share your concerns about “persistent weaknesses in the US intelligence establishment.”
Wow good read. Even the comments are awesome. Bill Tidwell came to my house sat in my living room and listened and spoke to Hesham and me for more than a hour. Bill Tidwell said “If this FOIA gets out it will make us look bad”. This agent is a *radio edit*.
Very good to hear from you, Jody. As I mentioned, I do hope that Jason’s article (and now e-book) will help Hesham and you. I’m very glad that you got in touch, and happy that you’re pleased with the quality of the comments.
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: