Incommunicado Forever: The Colossal Injustice of Torture Victim Abu Zubaydah’s Ongoing Imprisonment Without Charge or Trial at Guantánamo


Abu Zubaydah, photographed before his capture in Pakistan on March 28, 2002. Subsequently held in secret CIA prisons for four and a half years, he has been held at Guantanamo, without charge or trial, since September 2006. It’s been some time since I wrote about Abu Zubaydah (Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn), one of 14 “high-value detainees” transferred from secret CIA prisons to Guantánamo in September 2006, beyond discussions of his important case against the Polish government, where he was held in a secret CIA torture prison in 2002 and 2003. This led to a ruling in his favor in the European Court of Human Rights last July, and a decision in February this year to award him — and another Guantánamo prisoner and torture victim, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri — $262,000 in damages, for which, just last week, a deadline for payment was set for May 16, even though, as the Guardian noted, “neither Polish officials nor the US embassy in Warsaw would say where the money is going or how it was being used.”

I wrote extensively about Abu Zubaydah from 2008 to 2010, when there was generally little interest in his case, and I have also followed his attempts to seek justice in Poland since the investigation by a prosecutor began in 2010, leading to his recognition as a “victim” in January 2011, just before I visited Poland for a brief tour of the film I co-directed, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” with the former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg.

I have continued to follow Abu Zubaydah’s story in the years since, as other developments took place — when Jason Leopold, then at Al-Jazeera America, got hold of his diaries, which the US authorities had refused to release, and last December, when the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the CIA’s torture program was released, and one of Abu Zubaydah’s lawyers, Helen Duffy, wrote an article for the Guardian, entitled, “The CIA tortured Abu Zubaydah, my client. Now charge him or let him go.” This followed the revelations in the report that, if he survived his torture, his interrogators wanted assurances that he would “remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life,” and senior officials stated that he “will never be placed in a situation where he has any significant contact with others and/or has the opportunity to be released.”

Abu Zubaydah has always been one of the most significant prisoners in the “war on terror”, not because of what he did, but because of what was done to him. The torture program was developed for him, leading to him being waterboarded 83 times, and it evidently severely damaged him physically and mentally, from the hints dropped by his lawyers over the years. In addition, the Bush administration publicly claimed that he was a significant member of al-Qaeda, when that was untrue — and, it seems, both the torture and the lies told about him means that he will probably never be charged, although there is no prospect of him being released either.

As the executive summary of the torture report revealed, his interrogators wanted assurances that, if he survived his torture, he would “remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life,” and senior officials responded by stating that he “will never be placed in a situation where he has any significant contact with others and/or has the opportunity to be released.”

The fact that we know anything at all about Abu Zubaydah is in many ways remarkable. Although documents have been leaked (like his diaries, and, years before, the account of his imprisonment and torture by the CIA that he gave to the International Committee of the Red Cross), and other accounts have, eventually, been made publicly available (like the executive summary of the CIA torture report), every word that he has uttered to his lawyer since he arrived at Guantánamo nearly nine years ago remains classified — as does every word uttered to their lawyers by any of the “high-value detainees.”

This secrecy — designed, cynically, to prevent the men’s torture being publicized — is disgraceful, and it is, I think, no less disgraceful that this blanket censorship of the CIA’s torture victims has been so shamefully under-reported in the mainstream media.

As a remedy, I recommend — and am cross-posting below — a detailed and revealing report about Abu Zubaydah by Raymond Bonner, a former reporter for the New York Times, which he wrote for ProPublica and Politico, and which was published two weeks ago, looking particularly at the obstructions to his habeas corpus petition over the last seven years.

I hope you find it useful, and will share it if you do.

‘Incommunicado’ Forever: Gitmo Detainee’s Case Stalled For 2,477 Days And Counting
By Raymond Bonner, Special to ProPublica, May 12, 2015

The Senate torture report chronicled the CIA’s interrogation of high-profile detainee Abu Zubaydah, but the justice system’s treatment of his habeas corpus petition has largely escaped notice.

Since being seized in a raid in Pakistan in 2002, Abu Zubaydah has had his life controlled by American officials, first at secret sites, where he was tortured, and since 2006 in a small cell in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. And, thanks to one of the strangest, and perhaps most troubling, legal cases to grow out of the War on Terror, it appears he’s not going to be leaving anytime soon — which was exactly the plan the CIA always wanted. Not even his lawyers understand what’s transpired behind closed doors in a Washington, D.C., courtroom.

In June of 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that detainees at Guantánamo had the right to challenge their imprisonment in federal court and that their cases should be handled “promptly” by the judicial system. The next month, lawyers for Abu Zubaydah, a detainee whose torture and waterboarding in secret prisons was among the most notorious of the Bush years, filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging his detention.

The progress of that case has been anything but prompt. While more than 100 Guantánamo detainees have been released since then, and the military tribunals of even more high-profile detainees like 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed are moving forward in Guantánamo’s courtrooms, the federal judge hearing Zubaydah’s case has failed to rule on even the preliminary motions.

The seemingly intentional inaction has left even experienced court observers baffled. Richard W. Roberts, the U.S. District court judge handling the suit, is not a particularly slow-moving judge. His median time for resolving entire cases is slightly over two years; Zubaydah’s initial plea has already been pending 6 years 9 months and 12 days.

Because the entire file has been kept secret, it’s not possible to know why Roberts, who is the chief judge of the D.C. circuit, has let Zubaydah’s case languish. But this much is clear: Keeping Zubaydah from telling his story is exactly what the CIA wanted from the moment it began to torture him. And it’s exactly what they promised they’d do in 2002 during one of the darkest chapters of the War on Terror. (He was one of the first al-Qaeda suspects to face the harsh new regime implemented by the CIA following 9/11 — a regime that FBI agents at the scene tried to prevent.)

Soon after the agency’s contractors began their program of “enhanced interrogation’’ at the secret black site in Thailand — placing him in a coffin-size box; slamming him against wall; depriving him of sleep; bombarding him with loud music; as well as waterboarding — they sent an encrypted cable to Washington.

The CIA interrogators said that if Zubaydah died during questioning, his body would be cremated. But if he survived the ordeal, the interrogators wanted assurances that he would “remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life.”

Senior officials gave the assurances. Zubaydah, a Saudi citizen, “will never be placed in a situation where he has any significant contact with others and/or has the opportunity to be released,” the head of the CIA’s ALEC Station, the code name of the Washington-based unit hunting Osama bin Laden, replied. “All major players are in concurrence,” the cable said, that he “should remain incommunicado for the remainder of his life.”

The decision to hold Zubaydah “incommunicado” was disclosed by the Senate report on torture, which was released last December. But the judicial inaction on his case has received virtually no public attention.

In all, Roberts has failed to rule on 16 motions, 13 of which have been filed by Zubaydah’s lawyers. Several of those allege misconduct by the government.

Roberts’ judicial inaction runs the gamut: Zubaydah’s motion for an un-redacted copy of his own diary, which the government seized, has sat for six years without any ruling by the judge. His habeas corpus petition was sealed at the request of the government. Zubaydah’s lawyers filed to have it declassified. It remains classified.

A lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has been at the forefront of lawsuits to gain the release of Guantánamo detainees, says he has been baffled by the judge’s inaction. “It appears to be highly unusual,” says the lawyer, J. Wells Dixon, who has represented several Guantánamo detainees, but is not involved in the Zubaydah case. In contrast to Zubaydah’s case, Dixon said that 64 Guantánamo detainees who filed habeas petitions have seen their cases adjudicated.

Rooted in English common law, the principle of habeas corpus is a cornerstone of the American legal system. In England, it served as a check on the king’s power to lock someone in the dungeon and throw away the key. Dixon noted that the Supreme Court has said habeas was designed to be a “swift and imperative remedy.”

Yet Judge Roberts appears content to let Zubaydah’s case languish. Compared to his handling of other cases, the jurist has been anything but “swift” in Zubaydah’s case. For cases he closed in 2014, the median time from filing was 751 days, according to data assembled for ProPublica by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a nonprofit organization at Syracuse University. The longest any closed case had been on his docket was 1,651 days, according to TRAC. Zubaydah’s case has been pending for some 2,400 days, and it will be years before it goes to trial, if it ever does.

There are few answers for why Zubaydah’s case has gone so far off track — and there’s nothing in Roberts’ background or recent behavior on the bench that would make him seem incapable of ruling if he desired. He was appointed to the court by President Bill Clinton in 1998 and has a fairly typical background for a federal judge: A Columbia law school grad, he rose through the ranks of the Department of Justice, working as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York and as principal assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. He later spent three years as the chief of the criminal section at the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Absent the apparently intentional aberration of the Zubaydah case, his court docket proceeds as normal in Courtroom 9 on the fourth floor of the U.S. District Courthouse on Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

A spokeswoman for the federal district court declined to comment on the case.

One possible clue about the judge’s failure to act may be found in a motion Zubaydah’s lawyers filed in 2010. They asked Roberts for access to any “ex parte filings,” which is evidence the government shows the court outside the presence of the other side’s lawyers.

In other cases involving detainees, secret prisons, watch lists and challenges to domestic spying, the Justice Department has attempted to win dismissals by presenting classified evidence to judges in the secrecy of their chambers.

A rare insight into how that tactic is deployed was made public by a federal judge in San Francisco in a lawsuit by a Malaysian woman who challenged her placement on the no-fly list. The government sought to dismiss the case on the grounds of national security. In a ruling on the motion, the judge, William H. Alsup, described what happened next: “A telephone call came into the court staff saying that a federal agent was on the way from Washington to San Francisco to show the judge confidential records about this case, all to be relied upon by the government in support of its motion to dismiss (but not to be disclosed to the other side). The officer would take back the records after the judge reviewed them and would leave no record behind of what he had shown the judge.”

In that case, Alsup declined to receive the officials, although he did receive other ex parte filings in the case.

It’s not clear whether Judge Roberts has received a comparable offer, and if so, how he reacted. But it’s unlikely that if such a meeting or meetings happened, the public would ever know — and likely that not even Zubaydah’s own lawyers would know about it, unless Roberts came forward as Alsup did.

Although the case is an infamous one, it’s worth recalling the details of Abu Zubaydah’s custody in U.S. hands.

He was captured in a joint Pakistani-CIA-FBI operation in Lahore, Pakistan, in March 2002, during which he was shot in the groin, leg and stomach. Severely wounded, Zubaydah lingered near death as the CIA, which wanted him alive for interrogation, flew in a top surgeon from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. Later, Zubaydah was handcuffed, hooded, drugged and flown to Thailand, where the CIA was in the process of creating one of its first “black sites.” Initially interviewed by the FBI, Zubaydah cooperated. FBI Special Agents Ali Soufan and Steve Gaudin even held ice to his lips so he could receive fluids. Zubaydah told the agents that Khalid Sheik Mohammad was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks and gave them further detailed information about him, including his alias — the news ricocheted across Washington and Zubaydah became a pawn in the capital’s power tussle between the FBI and the CIA.

CIA Director George Tenet wasn’t satisfied with the progress on the interrogation. The agency was convinced that Zubaydah knew more, that he was a high-level al-Qaeda operative, and that he was withholding information about pending terrorist plots. Thus, Zubaydah became the guinea pig for what the Bush Administration called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The FBI pulled its agents out of Thailand as the CIA’s plans for the prisoner became clear — but not before the agents got one final useful tip: Zubaydah pointed them to a name “Abu Abdullah al Mujahir” that eventually led agents to José Padilla, a would-be jihadist who was arrested in Chicago on May 8, 2002.

Meanwhile, the CIA started in on Zubaydah. For 47 days, he was held in complete isolation, with only a towel. Then, shortly before noon on August 4, 2002, hooded security personnel entered his cell, shackled and hooded him, and removed his towel, leaving him naked. “So it begins,” a medical officer in Thailand cabled CIA headquarters about the first day’s session.

Interrogators placed a towel around his neck, as a collar, and slammed him against a concrete wall. They removed his hood and had him watch while a coffin-like box was brought into the cell. The waterboarding started, “after large box, walling, and small box periods,” the medical officer reported. “NO useful information so far.” He added, “I am head[ing] back for a waterboard session.” During the waterboarding Zubaydah frequently vomited, made “hysterical pleas,” and experienced “involuntary leg, chest and arm spasms.”

After a few days, some of the individuals involved in Zubaydah’s interrogation were deeply disturbed, to the “point of tears and choking up,” the team cabled Washington.

Over the course of the interrogations, Zubaydah “cried,” he “begged,” he “pleaded,” he “whimpered,” the team in Thailand reported to headquarters in various cables. But he never gave the CIA information about plans for attacks in the United States. And in the end, the CIA “concluded that Abu Zubaydah had been truthful and that he did not possess any new terrorist threat information,” the Senate torture report says. He was not even a member of al-Qaeda.

Yet even though the torture was over, Zubaydah’s ordeal was just beginning. For nearly a decade, he’s been shuttled around the world and held in legal limbo — even as hundreds of detainees have been transferred or released and court cases have moved forward for other suspected terrorists at Guantánamo.

After the first media reports appeared about a CIA secret prison in Thailand, Zubaydah was moved to a secret site in Poland. A year ago, the European court of human rights ruled that Poland had been complicit with the United States in subjecting Zubaydah to “inhuman and degrading treatment,” and ordered Poland to pay him reparations. After losing an appeal, Poland paid Zubaydah 100,000 Euros, which Zubaydah has said he will give to victims of torture.

Zubaydah, who was transferred from Poland to Guantánamo Bay in 2006, has not fared well with the American judicial system even as his lawyers have attempted to nudge the case forward to a conclusion.

Much of the case remains wrapped in secrecy, meaning that his lawyers are unable to discuss or elaborate upon much of their work or knowledge of the case. Glimpses into it, though, are possible through the languishing court filings. Zubaydah’s lawyers have filed two motions that raise questions about the government’s conduct in the case. In 2010, they sought an “order prohibiting the government from obstructing petitioner’s investigation.” The court hasn’t ruled, and we don’t know what might have prompted this request because the documents are sealed. Similarly, three years ago, Zubaydah’s lawyers asked for sanctions against the government because of what they said was “the improper seizure” of documents “subject to the attorney-client privilege.” Again, Judge Roberts has yet to rule.

Frustrated by the inaction in the case, Zubaydah’s lawyers filed a motion in January asking the judge to recuse himself for “nonfeasance.” It is an unusual motion. Judges are occasionally asked to recuse themselves because of conflicts of interest or bias, but not for simply failing to act. The government has filed its response, which is sealed, and the judge — perhaps not surprisingly, given the track record thus far — has not yet ruled.

“We don’t take this step lightly,” said Joseph Margulies, one of Zubaydah’s lawyers. Margulies, an experienced criminal defense lawyer who has represented several Guantánamo detainees and is a professor at Cornell University School of Law, added, “I have never seen a case in which there has been this much judicial inaction. There has to be a remedy.”

But there may not be. If Judge Roberts “ignores Abu Zubaydah’s case, there is very little we can do,” said Margulies. “The net effect is that the CIA wins.”

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers). He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, the co-director of “We Stand With Shaker,” calling for the immediate release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — 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. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

15 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s a cross-post, with my introduction, of an important article about Abu Zubaydah, the alleged “high-value detainee” for whom the Bush administration’s torture program was first developed, written by Raymond Bonner for ProPublica/Politico, and asking why his habeas corpus petition has been stuck in the courts for seven years. Sadly, it all seems to be part of keeping US torture victims – and Abu Zubaydah in particular – silenced.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Ted Cartselos wrote:

    Detaining and torturing a prisoner is a war crime.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I think that’s the blunt truth of it, Ted – and in Abu Zubaydah’s case the entire US establishment is trying to hide what happened. I used to talk to Jason Leopold about how Abu Zubaydah’s case was the most significant of all the torture stories in the “war on terror,” and I don’t think that’s changed. Now we know even more, after the executive summary of the CIA torture report was issued, and yet still he’s hidden from view and no one is held accountable for what happened to him.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone liking and sharing this. It does make me wonder if other men held at Guantanamo – and previously subjected to the CIA’s torture program – have also had their habeas petitions suppressed through government interference with the judicial process. Of the 14 HVDs (“high-value detainees”) moved to Guantanamo in Sept. 2006, six others have essentially remained incommunicado ever since their one documented appearance before a Combatant Status Review Tribunal, in early 2007 (when some of them refused to speak) – Abu Faraj al-Libi, Hambali and his alleged accomplices Zubair and Lillie, and the Somalian prisoner Gouled Hassan Dourad. Another HVD, the Afghan Mohammed Rahim al-Afghani, was flown to Guantanamo after Sept 2006, and his silence is complete, as he has not even had a CSRT. I wrote about this back in 2012, and since then one of the men I mentioned, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, has been charged in the military commissions:
    (Incidentally, two other men, who arrived after Sept. 2006, have also not had CSRTs – the Kenyan Mohammed Abdul Malik, and another Afghan, Haroon al-Afghani, who doesn’t even have an identifying number from Guantanamo. His number, 3148, is a number from Bagram).

  5. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks Andy!

    I agree completely that Abu Zubaydah’s story is one of the most important to start to emerge from Guantanamo.

    You noted:

    As the executive summary of the torture report revealed, his interrogators wanted assurances that, if he survived his torture, he would “remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life,” and senior officials responded by stating that he “will never be placed in a situation where he has any significant contact with others and/or has the opportunity to be released.”

    DoD and DoJ spokesmen have always insisted that the suspects who faced charges before a Guantanamo Military Commission should be barred from testifying about being tortured. They have insisted that their experience has to be classified, so that other jihadists won’t learn operational details of interrogation techniques.

    The simplest reason this doesn’t make sense is that those techniques are illegal, and President Obama has issued Executive Orders to make sure these illegal techniques are not used.

    But there is another reason why this prohibition doesn’t make sense. Due to the typical shocking incompetence with which the USA runs its Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence efforts, these techniques have long since ceased to be secrets.

    There is a term in Intelligence — “operational security”. The weekly newpaper of JTF-GTMO has a weekly column on operational security (OP SEC or OPSEC for short), that gives GIs advice like don’t bring work laptops to your barracks; don’t install social media software on work computers; have a different password for each service that requires a password.

    Well, given that the fact that the CIA denied the existence of the recordings they made of Abu Zubaydah, and illegally destroyed those recordings in 2005, not even informing the Congressional Intelligence Committees, it is shocking that the contents of those recordings was shared with Guantanamo interrogators and the captives they interrogated.

    Yet we know, from the 2004 CSR Tribunal testimony of Syrian Ibrahim al Zeidan, that Guantanamo interrogators tried to terrify the captives they interrogated by bragging about how brutal Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation had been. Al Zeidan asserted that some interrogators had shown the captives they interrogated images of Abu Zubaydah being tortured.

    Given that everyone at Guantanamo must have known some captives were going to be released, and so the information those interrogators shared with them from the classified recordings of Abu Zubaydah’s torture would eventually become shared with the public, what possible justification could the CIA have for withholding that information from the Congressional Intelligence Committees?

    It wasn’t just torture. When I read al Zeidan’s testimony, in 2006, I was amazed to learn that the CIA had made those now infamous recordings. Looking back it is amazing Andy that you and I and everyone else who read the transcripts learned about the recordings years before the CIA acknowledged it to the Congressional Intelligence Committees. But I thought he got one element wrong. He told the officers that Abu Zubaydah was being held in Guantanamo, but I thought I knew he wasn’t transferred to Guantanamo until 2006.

    But it turned out al Zeidan got this right, as well. We learned, years later, that Abu Zubaydah HAD been held at Guantanamo in 2003 and 2004, in Camp Strawberry Fields, without ever being added to the official list of captives and former captives.

    This was also a serious lapse of the CIA’s compliance of the rules of operational security.

    I am reminded of a series of Doonesbury cartoons that Gary Trudeau did when the so-called “secret” bombing of Cambodia. He placed his dim-witted war correspondent in Cambodia, where he interviewed some local Cambodians. One elderly farmer says to him, “Secret bombings? Those bombings were no secret around here.” His elderly wife says something like, “My husband said, ‘Oh look. Here come the bombers.'”

    It is crazy to call their shocking torture techniques a secret.

    It is the crazy position of the US government that all the formerly secret documents published by WikiLeaks are still secret. There are draconian warnings to all employees of the US Government of what can happen to them if they read or even visit a site that has republished a WikiLeaked document. There are similar draconian warnings to academics who receive government grants, and to students who think they might, one day work for the Government, or might apply for a research grant.

    They were warned that this would imperil every receiving a security clearance.

    They were warned that, if they already had a security clearance, even accidentally clicking on the link to a site that republished a WikiLeaked document could put them at risk of facing criminal charges, for violating the terms of their security clearance.

    Those US officials should be trying their best to preserve public safety, not trying to preserve the reputation of their agency or their personal reputation.

  6. the talking dog says...

    You and I talked about the specifically chilling details of Abu Zubaydah’s uniquely awful treatment in your living room in 2009, back when the then newly elected President Barack Obama decided to release a few “torture memos” of his predecessor … I recall vividly reading about torturers plans to “place stinging insects in a coffin sized box with the prisoner,” along with the waterboarding, beatings, isolation and all the other horrors they could think of.

    Funny thing is, the desire to keep him incommunicado for the rest of his life could have easily been effectuated simply by “having him commit suicide.” (Near as I can tell, Shaker Aamer is still being held for no reason other than he might talk about what he observed in 2006 associated with three “suicides” — notwithstanding that, thanks to Sgt. Joe Hickman among others, that story is largely out there already.) For whatever reason, they desperately wanted to keep A.Z. alive. Of course, that’s just part of the torture…

    And thanks to the released portions of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report, the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights and others (such as the Obama Administration’s own releases), we have a pretty good idea of the kind of treatment Abu Zubaydah was subjected to, and we have a pretty good idea of how utterly useless it was in terms of “acquiring actionable intelligence,” something only the stupid or uninformed (an all too apt description for two many Americans who confuse official propaganda such as Zero Dark Thirty and Twenty-Four with reality) would think even possible in the first place.

    And of course, Zubaydah himself was not A.Q. or Taliban– the Khalden camp he was supposedly associated with was not part of either. What I wonder, however, is whether– like the precursors to al Qaeda– Zubaydah himself had some sort of CIA connection (be it funding, or otherwise)– that they’d like us all not to see (ever). Of course, if they let A.Z. go (for example, recognizing that he was NOT A.Q. or Taliban, and that the “associated force” nonsense is… nonsense…) they would also have to let quite a number of others captured in the same guesthouse at Faisalabad, Pakistan go as well– and then the GTMO census would go down in an unplanned way, habeas jurisprudence would be “off” and so forth. Best not go there.

    Any other country on Earth would be horrified that it was holding this many men for so long under such horrible conditions (or that it behaved so inhumanly toward anyone, ever). The United States, aside from possessing the shamelessness of an imperial behemoth, happens to treat its own citizens more harshly than just about anyone else on Earth, certainly in terms of incarceration policies (see an article by Yale Law Professor James Forman noting chilling similarities between treatment of American prisoners in general and those in the “war on terror,” for example ) .

    All that said, I wish I saw anything particularly hopeful on the horizon, other than the departure of Barack Obama in a year and a half or so coupled with a strong desire on his part not to have a still open and largely unchanged Guantanamo be his “legacy.” All we can all do is keep hammering home what is and has been happening, in the hope that the sheer embarrassment on the international stage might bring about some helpful activity.
    A lumine…

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver, for the reminder of Ibrahim Zeidan’s CSRT, with its mention of Abu Zubaydah.
    Anyone interested can find his CSRT here:
    I appreciate, as always, your call for the US to change its behavior when it comes to torture and secrecy.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, arcticredriver. How shocking to realize that it was six years ago that we were talking in my living room about Abu Zubaydah’s torture, just months after Obama released the second Bybee (Yoo) torture memo from 2002, and the three Bradbury torture memos from 2005:
    I think that was it for transparency until the executive summary of the torture report was released in December.
    Thanks for your comments. I found myself particularly moved by your reflection that “Any other country on Earth would be horrified that it was holding this many men for so long under such horrible conditions (or that it behaved so inhumanly toward anyone, ever),” but also, as you note, the US treats its own citizens appallingly in the domestic prison system, which appals anyone who looks into it and has a heart. The paper you linked to looks very interesting.
    So yes, let’s keep pushing for Obama not to leave office as the failure on Guantanamo. It really should be possible. Otherwise the next President gets inaugurated just ten days or so after the 15th anniversary of its opening – which is not an anniversary that anyone should want to see.

  9. Anna says...

    Hi Andy, Thanks for posting Raymond Bonner’s article about Abu Zubaydah’s legal limbo, which unfortunately comes as no surprise.
    I seem to remember though that A.Z. is a second generation stateless Palestinian refugee who lived in Saudi Arabia but is not a Saudi national, as they do not grant citizenship to those refugees.

    Otherwise I regret that he missed the opportunity to additionally stress the fact of A.Z.’s innocence. Torture can never be condoned, whether the victim was guilty of anything or not, but it would be helpful if at least the fable of him being an exceptionally important criminal would be dispelled in the minds of the general public and politicians. I for one cringe at some of the comments my compatriots posted under the Guardian article and elsewhere, not to mention democratically elected politicians and so-called moral authorities ….

    “And in the end, the CIA “concluded that Abu Zubaydah had been truthful and that he did not possess any new terrorist threat information,” the Senate torture report says. He was not even a member of al-Qaeda.”

    It is vital to add that this ‘in the end’ (that Abu Zubaydah was not a terrorist, not even a member of Al Qaeda and had no knowledge of any future attacks – aka ‘actionable intelligence’ – which could possibly be prevented from happening if he provided information) occured as early as July 2002 (!), when he was still in Thailand and before he was flown to Poland on December 5th 2002, for what probably was to be some of the worst torture inflicted upon him.
    Last year’s Senate report proved that beyond any doubt, quote from page 410:

    “Abu Zubaydah’s Status in Al-Qa’ida: The OLC memorandum repeated the CIA’s representation that Abu Zubaydah was the “third or fourth man” in al-Qa’ida.
    This CIA assessment was based on single-source reporting that was recanted prior to the August 1, 2002, OLC legal nemorandum. This retraction was provided to several senior CIA officers, including HCTC Legal, to whom the information was emailed on July 10, 2002, three weeks prior to the issuance of the August 1, 2002, OLC memorandum. The CIA later concluded that Abu Zubaydah was not a member of al-Qa’ida.”

    So he was consciously tortured not for any even remotely ‘just cause’ like saving mythical ‘thousands of potential terrorist victims’, but for the sake of torturing …
    There never can be any justification at all for this. Abu Zubaydah is a torture victim and no matters what the odds are, it is the moral duty of any decent person to fight for official rehabilitation and his release, so that he can spend the remaining shreds of his life receiving appropriate physical and psychological care.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Anna,
    Great to hear from you, and thanks for your well-considered points about Abu Zubaydah’s case.
    It is indeed distressing to discover, from the Senate torture report, that Abu Zubaydah’s supposed status as al-Qaeda’s number 3 had been debunked by July 10, 2002, three weeks before the Yoo-Bybee torture memos were issued.
    Was that because the torture program was out of control, or because sadists wanted an excuse to engage in torture, or because some of the people involved in the program didn’t want to hear that Abu Zubaydah wasn’t the senior al-Qaeda figure he had been portrayed as? I suspect the former, because I don’t think anyone was strictly overseeing the program in terms of its efficacy, as I think the Senate report made clear, but it doesn’t mean that others involved in the program weren’t driven by sadism or a refusal to recognize the truth about their victim’s role.
    I think that still needs digging into more, especially as we already have strong indications that Dick Cheney was seeking justification for the planned invasion of Iraq through false statements made by torture victims. Is that what this was all about? Or are we overlooking the hysteria that also existed, and that led to the FBI wasting a year following false leads that resulted from Abu Zubaydah’s torture?
    Whatever the case, what struck me most in Bonner’s article was the feeling that, throughout the US establishment, there are forces at work whose intention is to make sure that Abu Zubaydah is never released – like a prominent note on his file. As I put it in my article:

    As the executive summary of the torture report revealed, his interrogators wanted assurances that, if he survived his torture, he would “remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life,” and senior officials responded by stating that he “will never be placed in a situation where he has any significant contact with others and/or has the opportunity to be released.”

    That really is horrific – a tortured prisoner designated for incommunicado detention until his death. And this in “The Land of the Free”!

  11. anna says...

    Al Jazeera is announcing information they seem to consider pretty ‘hot’ about some former Al Qaeda operative.
    If it really is as big a revelation as they suggest (and it is not just about Seymour Hersh’s excellent analysis of the Bin Laden murder), it might be interesting.
    In the meantime today they are re-emitting the documentary about Steele, the one who trained the Iraqi death squads, also worth watching in the light of what is now happening in Iraq.

    I keep my fingers crossed that the story about Shaker being soon released is real 🙂 and not another red herring, as that would be exceptionally cruel for himself and his family.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you again, Anna. I shall watch out for further information about the ‘hot’ story.
    Also interesting about James Steele, whose story I kind of missed. Al-Jazeera article here about the programme:
    And of course, as you hint at, everything that’s happening in Iraq now can be traced back to that disastrous and illegal decision by the US and the UK to invade in 2003.
    As for Shaker, yes, fingers crossed. It’s so difficult to believe that the hints that he’ll be freed are true when there have been s many disappointments in the past I feel for his family.

  13. No, You Cannot Know This Man’s Account of His Torture by the CIA | CentralTRUTH says...

    […] journalist and Guantanamo expert Andy Worthington has more details on Zubaydah, writing in […]

  14. US Government will not release torture documents | All-len-All says...

    […] journalist and Guantanamo expert Andy Worthington has more details on Zubaydah, writing in […]

  15. No, You Cannot Know This Man’s Account of His Torture by the CIA | Occupy World Writes says...

    […] journalist and Guantanamo expert Andy Worthington has more details on Zubaydah, writing in […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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