Forever prisoner Abu Zubaydah due at Guantanamo court

The judge in the Sept. 11 war crimes case has agreed to hear testimony from Abu Zubaydah, the CIA's first Black Site interrogation subject.


By CAROL ROSENBERG | Miami Herald | Published: March 20, 2017

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Tribune News Service) — Lawyers say the judge in the Sept. 11 war crimes case has agreed to hear testimony next week from forever prisoner Abu Zubaydah, the CIA’s first black site interrogation subject.

Although captured in 2002, he has never been charged with a crime and has never been allowed to speak in public.

At issue is a claim by accused 9/11 plot deputy Ramzi bin al Shibh that someone is intentionally disrupting his sleep at the clandestine Camp 7 prison. Bin al Shibh, 44, blames the CIA or troops doing its bidding for noises and vibrations that interfere with his ability to prepare for his death penalty trial, which has no start date.

Defense lawyers say Zubaydah is being called as a trusted Camp 7 block leader to describe his interactions with and on behalf of bin al Shibh. Zubaydah, 46, whose real name is Zayn al Abideen al Hussein, was a prized early capture in the war on terror and was the first captive to be waterboarded, 83 times in a single month, among other experimental CIA “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Bin al Shibh says the CIA has been messing with his mind since his Sept. 11, 2002, capture in Pakistan, a complaint prosecutors dismiss.

But psychologist James Mitchell, an architect of the black site interrogation program, wrote in his recent memoirs that the vibrations were real in at least one black site. “I thought about giving him a special tinfoil hat to make it all go away,” he wrote in his “Enhanced Interrogation, Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying to Destroy America.”

Then he and his CIA contract partner Bruce Jessen each lay down on bin al Shibh’s cell bed.

“The vibration was there, and it was not something you could ignore. It made me feel like the room was spinning,” Mitchell wrote. “I could imagine that after a while it might make a person nauseous. It would certainly keep me awake, but oddly enough, you couldn’t feel it anyplace else in the cell.”

Mitchell and Jessen were CIA contractors who designed and implemented some interrogation techniques used on “high-value” captives — waterboarding them, slamming them into walls, depriving them of sleep, withholding food, manipulating their diet, shackling them in stress positions, forcing them to be nude, hooded or listening to loud noises as well as confining them to a dark coffin-like box.

But Mitchell in his book blamed the vibrating bed at the black site on “an engineering problem localized to that cell.” He wrote that he couldn’t explain more for security reasons about “the cell or how it was affixed inside the building.” But, he said, the vibrations “happened only when a large piece of equipment situated nearby was running.”

Last year, before Mitchell’s book came out, bin al Shibh testified that it happens at Guantanamo, too.

In 2002, President George W. Bush celebrated Abu Zubaydah’s capture in Pakistan as an early success in the covert campaign to hunt down Osama bin Laden and other senior al-Qaida leaders. The Palestinian was critically wounded and carried off to a black site for such abusive, until then unheard-of treatment that, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s “Torture Report,” CIA agents sought assurances that the captive “will remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life,” unable to recount it.

Although he was the first captured among the 15 CIA captives of Camp 7, he has never been charged with a crime. He is held as an indefinite detainee in the war on terror. One reason may be, he has never been specifically linked to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon. Also, he has long denied membership in al-Qaida, something an interagency parole board noted last year.

“Regardless of his claim that he was not a formal member of al-Qaida,” the board wrote in a brief decision that essentially branded him a forever prisoner, he had had “past involvement in terrorist activity to include probably serving as one of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted facilitators.”

In June, Zubaydah made it to the courtroom door to testify for bin al Shibh. However, the Palestinian’s military attorney, Navy Cmdr. Patrick Flor, opposed his testimony without immunity. Lawyers then twice applied for testimonial immunity — both requests were denied — and Judge James Pohl agreed at a chambers conference Saturday to hear from Zubaydah next week, according to several attorneys who were there.

Zubaydah has already once returned to the war court compound. Later this summer, he went before the Periodic Review Board, via a video broadcast, in a failed bid for release. In keeping with Periodic Review Board policy, the prisoner was silent during the portion reporters and other observers could see.

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