Marcy Wheeler: Hiding Abu Zubaydah, Hiding the Failures of the Torture Regime

By Marcy Wheeler, emptywheel

On May 9, the Convening Authority for the Gitmo military commissions signed charges against five detainees alleged to be responsible for 9/11.  Yet, in spite of the fact that George Bush named Abu Zubaydah in a September 2006 speech in which he promised to "bring these people to justice," Zubaydah was not included among those charged. Zubaydah remains, more than six years after he was first detained, uncharged.

Torture and America

Don't get me wrong. It's not that I think the military commissions are in any way adequate vehicles to try Gitmo detainees alleged be terrorists (a problem the ACLU has tried to address). But it seems that Zubaydah remains in limbo precisely because he embodies the failures of the nation's embrace of torture.

There are several ways that Zubaydah's experience demonstrates the failure of the nation's torture regime. As Dan Coleman, one of the FBI's top Al Qaeda experts, relates in Ron Suskind's One Percent Doctrine, Zubaydah was crazy,

The guy is insane, certifiable, split personality.

Moreover, Zubaydah wasn't as important to Al Qaeda as Administration figures have claimed—Coleman described him as kind of a travel agent. Yet the Administration chose this figure, a mentally unstable man with little knowledge to offer, to test out its theories of enhanced interrogation.

Worse still, the torture didn't work. Bush himself admits that, before the CIA used enhanced interrogation, Zubaydah revealed information that led to the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Zubaydah disclosed Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — or KSM — was the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, and used the alias "Muktar."

Yet once the CIA started torturing Zubaydah, according to Coleman, the information became unreliable.

"I don't have confidence in anything he says, because once you go down that road, everything you say is tainted," Coleman said, referring to the harsh measures. "He was talking before they did that to him, but they didn't believe him. The problem is they didn't realize he didn't know all that much."

In a court hearing, Zubaydah himself agreed when asked whether he made false statements to make the torture stop.

So I understand that during this treatment, you said things to make them stop and then those statements were actually untrue, is that correct?


Zubaydah's experience demonstrates all the reasons why torture is a failed, immoral policy, And the Administration seems intent on eliminating all evidence of those failures.

In January 2003, according to a document revealed in response to an ACLU court challenge, the CIA started an investigation of its own interrogation and detention policies. In May of that same year, the CIA's investigators traveled to another country to view the tapes of Zubaydah's interrogations. The following year, in May 2004, the CIA completed its report. According to a New York Times article, the report concluded that the interrogation practices used constituted, "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" in violation of the Convention Against Torture.

The same month the CIA completed its report, the CIA discussed destroying the tapes with top Administration officials. Then, in November 2005, within days of the New York Times article revealing the conclusion of the CIA's investigation, the CIA destroyed the tapes of Zubaydah's interrogation.

Not only did the CIA destroy evidence of Zubaydah's torture. They prevented other investigators from speaking to Zubaydah personally. The Department of Justice report on interrogation methods released this week revealed that—alone of all "High Value Detainees" at Gitmo—the CIA refused to allow DOJ's investigators to speak with Zubaydah.

When the OIG investigative team was preparing for its trip to GTMO in early 2007, we asked the DOD for permission to interview several detainees, including Zubaydah. The DOD agreed, stating that our interviews would not interfere with their attempts to obtain any intelligence from the detainees, including Zubaydah. However, the CIA Acting General Counsel [John Rizzo] objected to our interviewing Zubaydah. [three lines redacted]

In addition, the CIA Acting General Counsel asserted that the OIG had not persuaded him that the OIG had a "demonstrable and immediate need to interview Zubaydah at that time" given what the Acting General Counsel understood to be OIG's "investigative mandate." In addition, the CIA Acting General Counsel asserted that Zubaydah could make false allegations against CIA employees.

The DOJ report revealed that one of the FBI interrogators who first worked with Zubaydah judged the CIA techniques to be "borderline torture"—long before the CIA water-boarded Zubaydah. Yet the CIA would not permit DOJ's investigators to confirm even this aspect of the treatment with Zubaydah himself.

Now, perhaps the Administration plans to charge Zubaydah with something else. Perhaps they will justify their excuse for torturing him, that he was a high level operative. But thus far, the Administration seems more interested in hiding the real evidence on Zubaydah: that they tortured a man, and that torture proved useless.

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The ACLU isn't fighting racial discrimination or xenophobia, the ACLU is helping the corporate elite and the wealthiest to destroy workers rights, wage and workplace protections, to drag down and destroy all the achievements of workers in the 20th century, until we are little more than a country of slaves.

They slander citizens petitioning their government to seek redress against corporations and businesses violating the law, and discriminating against citizens who need to work to support themselves and their children, to keep a roof over their heads, food on the table. The claims of racism and xenophobia are shams the ACLU hides behind in the hopes of demonizing and demeaning the plight of citizens who are being victimized, losing jobs, watching their children, family and friends lose what jobs remain in the US. It's the same game the Nazi's played, paint the victim as being guilty of something, silence them by slandering them.

If the right to work is a civil right, then why is it that the ACLU is inferring that citizens of the US do not have a right to work, and the right to demand their elected officials protect their right to work the jobs in their own country?

If there is no right to work, then the excuse that illegal aliens somehow have a right to work to support themselves.. the hypocrisy is astounding.

Anyone interested in helping people south of the border to have a better quality of life would be demanding the wealthy governments south of the border raise wages and provide more opportunities for their own people. Mexico is the 14th wealthiest country in the world, has a large and thriving middle class (based on jobs taken from American citizens), and many millionaires and billionaires. There is a tax base upon which to raise public funding for programs south of the border.. yet the ACLU demands that poor and struggling middle class American citizens be deprived of the jobs that remain in the US, and that the state and local tax burdens of illegal aliens be weighted on their backs.

The only ones who profit are the wealthiest, the status quo of wealthy countries south of the border is rationalized and protected, and it's being imposed here in the US.

The ACLU is acting regressively, and is destroying and cheapening civil rights.

The ACLU prefer ignore real, critical civil rights issues, because they along with the right wing, like George W. Bush do not respect the rights of the most powerless.

Look at the glaring examples of this. The ACLU cry crocodile tears about the raids at meat packing plants in the midwest and south.. yet they have ignored the untold thousands of working poor American citizens, black, brown and white who were fired from those plants, because the owners preferred to hire illegals.

Those jobs used to pay American citizens wages of 18 to 20 dollars per hour, they lifted them out of poverty, and those wages didn't cause the price of those meat products to be exhorbitant. Thousands and thousands of poor citizens, a majority of them black were fired from those plants in the south, black and white from the midwest, and black, brown and white in the west. All so the owners could squeeze ever more profit. Swift is owned by a Mexican company now.. why didn't the ACLU take on that discrimination?

In New Bedford, MA, the ACLU took fits over the raid on the Michael Bianco factory, after the raid that rounded up and deported hundreds of illegal aliens. They excused the factory owners as needing workers (leather stitchers) they couldn't find locally. They count on the ignorance of those not familiar with New Bedford.. but the facts are that New Bedford is filled with leather stitchers. Before the outsourcing of their jobs in the '80s and '90s, New Bedford was filled with factories that made shoes, sneakers, purses, coats, jackets, anything and everything made of leather. Those citizen workers lined up in the thousands when the factory opened, but not one was hired.. because they were citizens and entitled to a wage standard under the Davis Bacon laws. Not one ACLU lawyer stepped up to protect them.

The factory owners instead hired illegal aliens, not one of them even slightly skilled in leather stitching, by the way.. and they encouraged them to have friends illegally enter the US to take more of the factory jobs.

Again, the ACLU couldn't care less about the rights of those citizens being violated, any more than they did when the government suspended Davis Bacon in Louisiana after hurricane Katrina, so Halliburton and other contractors could hire illegal aliens rather than the mostly poor and black citizens who desperately needed those jobs to help rebuild their lives.


Jenny, What the dicken's does this long-winded, tiresome rant have to do with the article?

Perhaps you might, first, make your comments short, and second, making them relevent. Someone might then actually pay attention to what you have to say.

By the way, illegal aliens have rights and the ACLU is doing a good job of making sure they are treated humainly. I support ACLU 100%!!!

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