Last week, Abu Zubaydah, who has been imprisoned at Guantanamo for 14 years without being charged with a crime, appeared for the first time before the US military Periodic Review Board, which determines whether Guantanamo detainees will continue to be held as “enemy combatants.”
Zubaydah argued he should be released because he has “no desire or intent to harm the United States or any other country.” During his hearing, Zubaydah also said he had been tortured by the CIA, an allegation confirmed by the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report. The US government maintains he is an enemy combatant.
When Zubaydah was apprehended in Pakistan in 2002, the Bush administration characterized him as “chief of operations” for Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden’s “number three” man. This was untrue, according to John Kiriakou, who led the joint CIA-FBI team that caught Zubaydah. Kiriakou confirmed that Zubaydah did not help plan the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Dan Coleman, a leading FBI expert on Al Qaeda, said Zubaydah “knew very little about real operations, or strategy.” Coleman’s observations were communicated to President George W Bush. Nevertheless, the President scolded CIA Director George Tenet, saying, “I said [Zubaydah] was important, You’re not going to let me lose face on this, are you?”
Zubaydah was tortured repeatedly at the “black sites,” where the CIA subjected him to waterboarding 83 times. On one occasion, Zubaydah had to be resuscitated. In 2005, after the Abu Ghraib torture photos came to light, the CIA destroyed several hundred hours of videotapes of the interrogations of Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. The tapes likely depicted waterboarding.
Waterboarding is designed, according to Bush lawyer (now federal judge) Jay Bybee, to induce the perception of “suffocation and incipient panic,” i.e. the perception of drowning.
The Bush administration claimed it only used waterboarding on three individuals (the third being alleged 9/11 organiser Khalid Sheikh Mohammed). But a footnote in one of Bush lawyer Stephen Bradbury’s memos says waterboarding was utilised “with far greater frequency than initially indicated” with “large volumes of water” rather than small quantities as required by the CIA’s rules.
The CIA also withheld Zubaydah’s medication (as he recovered from severe injuries), slammed him into a wall, threatened him with impending death, shackled him in uncomfortable positions, and bombarded him with continuous deafening noise and harsh lights.
The torture of Zubaydah did not yield useful information. FBI agent Ali Soufan, who interrogated him, wrote in the New York Times that any useful information Zubaydah provided was given before the “enhanced interrogation techniques” – Bush-speak for torture – were used.
It is undisputed that waterboarding constitutes torture, which is considered a war crime under the US War Crimes Act. Cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment is also outlawed by the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Despite his constitutional duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” President Barack Obama refuses to bring the Bush officials who tortured Zubaydah and others to justice.
Donald Trump has pledged to keep Guantanamo open and advocates a resumption of waterboarding. Indeed, he promised a Trump administration would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” Hillary Clinton opposes waterboarding. She said torture is an “open recruitment poster for more terrorists,” and “over the years, Guantanamo has inspired more terrorists than it has imprisoned.”
Meanwhile, Zubaydah languishes at Guantanamo, with no hope of release.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘Abu Zubaydah: Torture’s ‘Poster Child’.