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.