By Ed Pilkington
Abu Zubaydah, the Guantánamo detainee who endured some of the most brutal CIA interrogation techniques in the post-9/11 era including waterboarding, has waived his immunity in order to testify at an upcoming hearing at which he will seek to expose “the unspeakable torture of an innocent man”.
Zubaydah is set to testify at a pre-trial hearing of the Guantánamo war court that is scheduled to open on 19 May as a precursor to the long-delayed military trial of the five men accused of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. Previous attempts to hear from the prisoner were frustrated by a legal dispute over whether his testimony could be later used to incriminate him at his own military trial.
But Zubaydah has now agreed to waive all immunity and has promised, through his lawyer, to give a fiery account to the Guantánamo court of his treatment at the hands of CIA agents who waterboarded him at least 83 times at a secret “black site” following his capture in Pakistan in 2002. Should the hearing go ahead next week, it would mark the first time that Zubaydah has publicly talked about his torture by the US government.
“Unlike the CIA, [Zubaydah] has nothing to fear from the truth,” the detainee’s leading civilian lawyer, Mark Denbeaux, writes in a letter to the department of defense. “Abu Zubaydah will take the stand, unafraid of the truth that will emerge, confident that the world will come to know that he has committed no crimes and that the United States has no basis to fear him and no justification to hold him for 15 years, much less to subject him to the torture that the world has so roundly condemned.”
Zubaydah has been called to testify next week at the military commission war court in Guantánamo over the treatment of fellow captive Ramzi bin al-Shibh, one of five detainees charged with committing the 9/11 attacks. Al-Shibh has long complained that he is subjected to psychological torture at Camp 7, including the beaming of sounds and vibrations into his cell to disturb his sleep.
AdvertisementZubaydah, a Saudi-born Palestinian, has indicated that he is prepared to discuss in detail the conditions that he personally endured at Camp 7. “He is prepared to testify to all issues, including the sights, smells, sounds and other conditions within Camp 7,” Denbeaux writes.
But the prisoner also wants to address the US government’s failure to charge him after holding him captive for 15 years. He claims that that the US government is fearful that if it did so it would expose the creation and extent of America’s torture program.
The letter says: “The single most important reason for Abu Zubaydah to waive immunity and to testify is to challenge… the military commission prosecutor to charge him or to confess that there is no basis for doing so and finally release him.”
Zubaydah lost an eye while being held captive by the CIA in Thailand, at a time when he underwent extreme “enhanced interrogation” techniques that have been denounced as torture. His interrogators pushed him so hard, including sleep deprivation and physical abuse, that at one point they feared he might die, and sent a cable instructing CIA bosses that if he died in the course of an interrogation he should be cremated immediately.
In a separate cable to CIA headquarters, interrogators said that if he survived the experience they should be protected from recriminations by ensuring that he was “in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life”.
The CIA claimed that Zubaydah was the third highest-ranking member of al-Qaida and that he had been involved in “every major terrorist operation carried out by al-Qaida”. But those descriptions of him were later debunked, and he was found to have been a relatively lowly operative.
Zubaydah’s lawyer accuses the CIA of deliberately lying over the detainee’s significance as a captive. “The information provided by the CIA used to justify torturing him was worse than false – it was non-existent.”
Zubaydah, whose full name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, is legally represented by Denbeaux along with a fellow civilian lawyer, Charles Church, and the lead military commission lawyer, Commander Pat Flor.
Denbeaux told the Guardian that the full extent of the torture used against his client would only become clear when charges were brought against Zubaydah and a trial held. He said: “My endless goal is to force the US to bring charges against him so that he can be tried and the truths will become obvious. It is clear that the refusal to charge him is to protect the CIA – thereby making the military commission prosecutor complicit in the CIA cover up.”
Published on The Guardian on May 10, 2017.
The United Nations Committee against Torture on Friday called on Bahrain to release prominent activist Nabeel Rajab from more than nine months of solitary confinement and investigate widespread allegations of ill-treatment and torture of detainees.
Bahrain's mainly Shi'ite Muslim-led opposition has faced a government crackdown since last year in the Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdom. The Western-allied government closed down the main opposition al-Wefaq group, arrested Rajab and revoked the citizenship of Shi'ite spiritual leader Ayatollah Isa Qassim.
The United Nations panel, composed of 10 independent experts, conducted its first review of Bahrain's record in five years at a session ending on Friday.
Abdulla Faisal Aldosari, the Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs who led Bahrain's delegation, said it faced national security challenges but was acting on torture complaints. So far 52 cases had been brought to criminal courts in which 101 suspects had been found guilty of torture, he said.
The U.N. experts, in their findings, urged authorities to "put an end to the solitary confinement of Mr. Nabeel Rajab and ensure that he is provided with adequate medical assistance and redress".
His solitary confinement "is reported to have exceeded nine months during which he has been denied adequate medical care".
The U.N. experts cited "continued, numerous and consistent allegations of widespread torture and ill-treatment of persons deprived of their liberty in all places of detention" in Bahrain. A "climate of impunity" seemed to be prevailing, with few convictions and light sentences, they said.
The panel voiced concern at reports of coerced confessions obtained under torture, including those of three men executed in January and two men facing the death penalty, Mohammed Ramadhan and Hussain Ali Moosa. The panel suggested that the latter be retried.
It also said that Bahrain should ensure that people arrested on criminal charges, including under the terror act, be brought before a judge within 48 hours.
Authorities should also consider repealing provisions that allow civilians to be tried in military courts and improve conditions, especially in Jaw prison where inmates rioted in January.
Human Rights Watch, in a statement, quoted family members of 12 opposition activists held in Jaw Prison as saying the men are shackled whenever they leave their cells, including for medical visits. The men are serving long prison terms in connection with the pro-democracy uprising in 2011.
“Authorities can take reasonable measures to prevent escapes, but shackling infirm patients, many of them torture victims, clearly goes beyond any need for security,” it said.
Published on Reuters' website on May 12, 2017.
During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump pledged to “bring back waterboarding, and a hell of a lot worse.” That was a red line for us.
Immediately after the election, we mobilized our long-time partners: the coalition of retired military leaders, who over the years have helped us change the debate—and U.S. policy—on torture. The group we assembled for this mission—176 retired flag officers, including 33 four-star generals and Admirals—had more than 6,000 years of combined experience, and a clear message for Mr. Trump: The United States would not return to “the dark side.”
In a letter to the president-elect, they said, “Our greatest strength is our commitment to the rule of law and to the principles embedded in our Constitution. Our servicemen and women need to know that our leaders do not condone torture or detainee abuse of any kind.”
We worked behind the scenes to provide that letter to the president-elect, his cabinet nominees and top aides, and congressional leaders. Our strategy was to ensure that to win confirmation, cabinet nominees would have to reject torture unconditionally.
We succeeded. All five national security nominees— for CIA Director, Attorney General and Secretary of Defense, State, and Homeland Security—stated during their confirmation hearings that so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques are illegal and unacceptable. CIA Director nominee Mike Pompeo, previously a supporter of the torture program, went so far as to say that if the president ordered him to restart it, he would refuse.
Later, when a leaked draft Executive Order showed that President Trump intended to bring back torture, there was a bipartisan outcry. In declaring their opposition, several senators cited the 2015 McCain-Feinstein amendment, which we spearheaded. Supported by 87 Senators and signed by President Obama, that bill bolstered the ban on torture and rebuilt the bipartisan consensus against it.
The law grew out of another of our advocacy efforts: securing declassification and release of the key parts of the Senate intelligence committee’s landmark report on the CIA torture program. We were able to quash President Trump’s attempt to bring back torture because we had been leading on this issue for years.
Published on Human Rights First's website on May 8, 2017.