into the wind…

Posted on Wednesday 31 March 2010

Just when I get discouraged that the real history of the Bush Administration’s misbehavior and deceit will be lost in the fog [absent…], there’s a break in the clouds. Abu Zubaydah was the first "high value" detainee captured in the Afghanistan War. He was the one that all the Torture Memos were specifically written for. He’s the one that all the techniques were tried out on. His torture was the one they taped, then destroyed the tapes. He was water-boarded 83 times. In their public defense of the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, he was their poster child for the success of the program – portrayed as an arch-fiend al Qaeda higher upper – a source of "actionable intelligence." Well, none of that was true. Now, even our DoJ says it wasn’t true.
US Recants Claims on "High-Value" Detainee Abu Zubaydah
t·r u·t·h·o·u·t

by: Jason Leopold
30 March 2010

The Justice Department has quietly recanted nearly every major claim the Bush administration had made about "high-value" detainee Abu Zubaydah, a Guantanamo prisoner who at one time was said to have planned the 9/11 attacks and was the No. 2 and 3 person in al-Qaeda. Additionally, Justice has backed away from claims intelligence officials working in the Clinton administration had also leveled against Zubaydah, specifically, that he was directly involved in the planning of the 1998 embassy bombings in East Africa.

… He was the first detainee captured after 9/11 who was subjected to nearly a dozen brutal torture techniques, which included waterboarding, and was the catalyst, the public has been told, behind the Bush administration’s "enhanced interrogation" program. Former Vice President Dick Cheney has publicly admitted that he personally approved of Zubaydah’s waterboarding. His torture was videotaped and the tapes later destroyed. The destruction of 90 videotapes of his interrogations is the focus of a high-level criminal investigation being conducted by John Durham, a federal prosecutor appointed special counsel in 2008 by then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

In recent months, former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen has been on a public relations campaign promoting his book, "Courting Disaster," in which he defended the torture of Zubaydah, claiming, among other things, that he reviewed classified intelligence that revealed Zubaydah’s torture produced actionable intelligence that thwarted imminent plots against the United States. But court documents unclassified last week debunk Thiessen’s assertions as well as those made by, among others, George W. Bush, who said Zubaydah was one of al-Qaeda’s "top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States."

For the first time, the government now officially admits that Zubaydah did not have "any direct role in or advance knowledge of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001," and was neither a "member" of al-Qaeda nor "formally" identified with the terrorist organization
I’m a kind of hobby blogger, but even I have written 37 previous posts about Abu Zubaydah. People who are heavy hitters have written many, many more. The point isn’t to champion some Saudi Jihadist. This man went to Afghanistan to join the Mujahideen fighting the Russians. He stayed on as a trainer at a jihadist camp [The Khalden Camp]. He wasn’t in al Qaeda, though members of al Qaeda did train in the camp. He wasn’t in on al Qaeda’s planning 9/11 or their other operations. But after his capture, he became a cause celebre` for our Potomac Neocons [AKA the Bush Administration]. The point is to answer "Why did they put so much effort into this one detainee?"
The government’s new position is significant because one of the August 2002 torture memos prepared for the CIA and signed by former Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel attorneys Jay Bybee, now a Ninth Circuit Appeals Court judge, that described the torture techniques interrogators could use against Zubaydah, asserted that he "is one of the highest ranking members of the al-Qaeda terrorist organization," "has been involved in every major terrorist operation carried out by al-Qaeda," and was "one of the planners of the September 11 attacks" and that his torture was necessary in order to thwart pending attacks on US interests, which the CIA claimed Zubaydah knew about.
This is a long article, but worth the effort. Jason Leopold has done an unusually good job summarizing the strange case of Abu Zubaydah, the strange guy at the center of this storm. Why do I say "strange guy?" Because of this:
Abu  Zubaydah during the torture period - CIA photoAbu Zubaydah’s mental health: Some people contest Abu Zubaydah’s mental health. Ron Suskind noted in his book, The One Percent Doctrine, that Zubaydah turned out to be mentally ill, keeping a diary "in the voice of three people: Hani 1, Hani 2, and Hani 3" — a boy, a young man and a middle-aged alter ego. Abu Zubaydah’s diaries spanned ten years and recorded in numbing detail "what he ate, or wore, or trifling things [people] said." Dan Coleman, then the FBI’s top al-Qaeda analyst, told a senior bureau official, "This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality." According to Suskind, this judgment was "echoed at the top of CIA and was briefed to the President and Vice President." Dan Coleman, the FBI’s senior expert on al Qaeda, echoed many of Suskind’s sentiments in an interview with the Washington Post. Coleman stated Zubaydah was a "safehouse keeper" with mental problems, who "claimed to know more about al-Qaeda and its inner workings than he really did." Abu Zubaydah’s co-counsel, Joseph Margulies, wrote in an OpEd in the LA Times that:
    Partly as a result of injuries he suffered while he was fighting the communists in Afghanistan, partly as a result of how those injuries were exacerbated by the CIA and partly as a result of his extended isolation, Abu Zubaydah’s mental grasp is slipping away. Today, he suffers blinding headaches and has permanent brain damage. He has an excruciating sensitivity to sounds, hearing what others do not. The slightest noise drives him nearly insane. In the last two years alone, he has experienced about 200 seizures. Already, he cannot picture his mother’s face or recall his father’s name. Gradually, his past, like his future, eludes him.

It’s easy to surmise that the reason that the Administration officials made such a public show about Abu Zubaydah was to further their march to war, then later to justify their torture program. But why did they go to such lengths to torture him so brutally in the first place? He was a talker, and was talking freely to FBI Interrogator Ali Soufan after he was first captured. Why did the CIA intervene? What did they want him to say? I’m in the camp that thinks the brutality of the Torture Program had a hidden agenda. They wanted someone to say that al Qaeda was in League with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq – to justify their desire to invade Iraq. They did get Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi say it when he was threatened with torture by the Egyptians, but he recanted as soon as the CIA took him into their custody. What is the evidence that this was their motive? The testimony of Army Psychiatrist Major Charles Burney:
A former U.S. Army psychiatrist, Maj. Charles Burney, told Army investigators in 2006 that interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility were under "pressure" to produce evidence of ties between al Qaida and Iraq. "While we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al Qaida and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between al Qaida and Iraq," Burney told staff of the Army Inspector General. "The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link . . . there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results."
We owe a debt of gratitude to people like Jason Leopold and emptywheel who fight to keep this story on the front burner. Yesterday, I was lamenting that this outrageous story would never be fully public, would become a hole in our history. It’s too important for that. So I’m pleased to see it edging its way a step closer to being told in its entirety. It’s a tale about the top officials of our country actively throwing our laws and our international treaties into the wind in order to torture a mentally ill man to get him to admit something that was not true – an untruth they needed to justify starting an an illegal war.
    April 2, 2010 | 9:31 AM

    Can you hear the lamentations from W’s White House….”where is Rose Mary Woods when you need her?”

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