#AceNewsReport – Sept.11: The CIA agents at an undisclosed black site were certain that time was running out before the next September 11-style attack would be unleashed on America…
#AceDailyNews says that America’s ‘forever prisoner’ has spent two decades in custody for planning the #9/11 attacks. But it’s not clear he was involved in frantic calls to the US Department of Justice, they said they had a top Al Qaeda lieutenant in their custody but his lawyer insists he was nothing more than a terrorist’s “travel agent”.
The interrogation team was convinced Abu Zubaydah knew exactly when the terrorists would strike again. He just needed a reason to talk.
With written permission from the Justice Department, they took the 31-year-old into a room and strapped him to a modified gurney.
The guards held him down while a cloth was placed over his mouth and nose.
Then for 20 slow, agonising seconds, a steady stream of water was poured onto the cloth. Then they did it again and again.
The “enhanced interrogation technique” was not torture, according to US justice officials, even though witnesses say at one point Zubaydah became “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth”.
“Some of the folks who were watching were tearful,” James Mitchell, a psychiatrist who helped design the CIA’s interrogation program, would later testify to a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay.
“I was tearful. I cry at dog food commercials, and it was particularly hard for me to do.”
Despite their tears, the CIA agents would waterboard Zubaydah 83 times in a handful of sessions.
Waterboarding is a brutal sight to behold. Prisoners writhe in pain, they moan, they vomit.
But the agents believed it was only a matter of time before America was hit again, and Zubaydah could help them save lives.
There was just one problem: Abu Zubaydah was not Osama bin Laden’s trusted aide. If he was a member of Al Qaeda, he was likely no more than a foot soldier.
But he did have one extremely valuable piece of the puzzle to understanding how a group of men brought America to its knees on September 11, 2001: a name.
And Zubaydah had already given up this key piece of information well before the first drop of water hit his face.
The Al Qaeda leader who wasn’t
Abu Zubaydah was arrested in a US raid on a Pakistani safe house six months after 9/11.
Shoddy US intelligence transformed this low-level terrorist facilitator into an Al Qaeda kingpin, with the CIA rumoured to have paid a source $10 million for information on his whereabouts.
Shot in the thigh, testicle and stomach during a fire fight with US and Pakistani authorities, Zubaydah was gravely ill when an FBI agent walked into his hospital room.
Ali Soufan was not popular with his CIA counterparts. The FBI interrogator opposed abuse of detainees, and believed good, old-fashioned conversation could get Zubaydah to open up.
Over the course of about 10 days, Soufan kept his detainee alive, holding ice to his lips, changing his bedding and even tending to his wounds.
As he cared for him, the agent began to ask Zubaydah questions and show him photographs of suspected terrorists.
Soufan said he accidentally pulled the wrong photo from his pile, but when he went to put it away, Zubaydah stopped him.
He identified the man in the picture as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a name that until then meant nothing to US authorities.
“We did not even know that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was a member of Al Qaeda,” Soufan told NPR last year.
“And now he’s telling us that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is actually the mastermind of 9/11.”
But the CIA reportedly wanted more out of Zubaydah.
Soufan says the detainee was taken from his hospital bed several times by CIA agents, stripped naked, bombarded with heavy metal music and deprived of sleep.
At one point during his 10 days with Zubaydah, Soufan said he came across a strange wooden box “like a coffin” that had been purpose built to lock up the suspect.
“I swear to God,” he shouted over the phone at Pasquale D’Amuro, then the FBI assistant director for counter-terrorism.
“I’m going to arrest these guys!”
Soufan was immediately sent back to the US, and Zubaydah was renditioned, a government-sponsored form of abduction. Activists say he was taken to Poland, Thailand and Afghanistan.
The psychologist who would later oversee Zubaydah’s waterboarding, James Mitchell, said Soufan was simply the good cop to his bad cop, and benefited from the extreme measures to which Zubaydah was exposed.
“You can’t discount the role of sleep deprivation in weakening Abu Zubaydah’s resolve and shifting his priorities from protecting information to getting some rest,” he wrote in his book, Enhanced Interrogation.
Mitchell spent years defending the program he helped build for the CIA, and first used on Abu Zubaydah.
He did, however, admit to feeling “sorry” for the Saudi-born prisoner and tried and failed to get the CIA to stop waterboarding him.
His partner John Bruce Jessen remained silent for nearly 15 years.
Finally, when they were sued by several prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Jessen opened up about the “great, soulful torment” he felt over his own life’s work.
‘It was going to be my fault if I didn’t continue’
John Mitchell and John Bruce Jessen were two psychologists teaching US commandos how to endure torture when they were approached by the CIA in 2002.
The men were experts on the human mind and what it took to push it right to the brink.
The CIA reasoned that if they knew how to get soldiers to remain silent even while being brutalised by America’s enemy, they also knew how to twist that knowledge when the enemy was in America’s hands.
“Jim and I went into a cubicle,” Jessen told a deposition in 2017.
“He sat down at a typewriter and together we wrote out a list.”
The menu of 20 items, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation and stress positions, would eventually be whittled down to 10 because some of the suggestions were deemed too harsh.
The men’s agency would be paid $US81 million for their work, and employ about 60 people, though they both maintain the CIA was in full control of the program.
In the dark corners of secret CIA prisons, away from the prying eyes of Congress, the 10 techniques in the hands of untrained interrogators began to metastasise.
Abu Zubaydah, who was the first person subjected to the program, lost an eye while in the custody of the CIA at an undisclosed location.
He began to draw sketches of what he said occurred as the CIA tried to extract more and more intelligence from him.
The drawings show him nude and shackled to a bar above his head and locked in a small box he referred to as a “dog box”.
Zubaydah reportedly spent 11 full days in a coffin-sized box and 29 hours in a smaller box just 53 centimetres wide.
“As soon as they locked me up inside the box, I tried my best to sit up, but in vain, for the box was too short,” he said through his lawyer.
“I tried to take a curled position but [in] vain, for it was too tight.”
As the years went on, Jessen and Mitchell said they both became uncomfortable with the dark evolution of their program.
“They kept telling me every day a nuclear bomb was going to be exploded in the United States and that because I had told them to stop, I had lost my nerve and it was going to be my fault if I didn’t continue,” Jessen testified.
Mitchell said they were accused of losing their “spine” by CIA officials as they warned that waterboarding was not proving to be effective in flushing out information.
“I think the word that was actually used is that, ‘You guys are pussies,'” he said in a deposition.
“There was going to be another attack in America and the blood of dead civilians is going to be on your hands.”
America’s ‘forever prisoner’
When Barack Obama entered the White House in 2008, he banned the CIA’s brutal interrogation techniques.
He would later cast the program as a traumatic response to 9/11, a nation lost in the fog of war, trying desperately to stop another attack
“We tortured some folks,” he said.
“We crossed a line, and that needs to be understood and accepted.”
Not only did A US Senate investigation conclude the program was morally wrong, but also ineffective in extracting any information of value.
“Of particular note was the treatment of Abu Zubaydah over a span of 17 days in August 2002,” Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, said after releasing the report into the program.
“This involved non-stop interrogation and abuse, 24/7 … and included multiple forms of deprivation and physical assault.”
The CIA’s then-director John Brennan acknowledged the program’s shortcomings and that the agency “made mistakes”.
“The most serious problems occurred early on and stemmed from the fact that the agency was unprepared and lacked the core competencies required to carry out an unprecedented, worldwide program of detaining and interrogating suspected Al Qaeda and affiliated terrorists,” he said when the report was released.
Zubaydah is still in American custody at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, unofficially known by the US as a “forever prisoner”.
He has never been charged, and he has never faced trial.
“The best-case scenario is that he’ll be released. He’ll never be prosecuted,” one of Zubaydah’s long-term lawyers, Joe Margulies, told the ABC.
Who really is Abu Zubaydah?
Margulies’s view is in line with the conclusions of the Senate intelligence report, which found CIA records “do not support” claims Zubaydah “was one of the planners of the September 11 attacks”.
The Cornell University professor has litigated cases challenging the prisoner’s detention since 2007 and recently joined another in the US Supreme Court, seeking to hold John Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell to account, perhaps criminally.
Baher Azmy has also run Zubaydah’s cases for a decade.
At most, he describes the prisoner’s connection to Al Qaeda as “equivalent to a low-level travel agent”, while reserving his harshest criticism for the interrogation and detention regime itself.
“I don’t for one second believe Guantanamo justified any ends. It was in part security theatre, in part incompetence, and in part cruelty,” Azmy said.
“The government has largely conceded he is not who they thought he was, but are nevertheless detaining him so that he won’t reveal the monstrosities the US government did to him.”
After 19 years, Zubaydah is not only a forever prisoner among the last batch of 39 still being held in Guantanamo Bay’s Camp 5 prison, he holds the unwanted distinction of being its first.
If it sticks to its word, the Biden administration will have all remaining detainees out and the facility closed by the end of its term in early 2025.
After everything Abu Zubaydah has been through, his current circumstances approaching the anniversary of the attacks that changed the world remain a state secret.
“His condition and everything his lawyers learn from observing him and talking to him is classified, so I can’t tell you how he’s doing,” Margulies offered guardedly, before relaying his own observations at the 20-year milestone after 9/11.
“He was the poster child for the US torture program, he was the first person cast into a black site, he was the first person to have his interrogation enhanced,” Margulies said.
“No-one passes through that tunnel without serious damage.”
Margulies said the prison in Guantanamo Bay had become “a symbol of arrogance and hubris, of the willingness to cast people out”.
“No-one is beyond the circle of human care,” he said.
“Dignity is a non-negotiable right that all of us enjoy, simply by virtue of being human.”
#AceNewsDesk report ………Published: Sept.11: 2021:
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