Zubaydah diary reveals holes in premise for US 'enhanced interrogations'

November 26, 2013 10:00AM ET

The Abu Zubaydah diary differs from government narratives used to justify 'enhanced interrogation' techniques

Guantanamo Bay
Abu Zubaydah

Abu Zubaydah is one of the highest-profile prisoners in Guantanamo Bay whom the Bush administration once labeled a top Al-Qaeda figure. He was the first prisoner to be subjected to the administration's so-called enhanced-interrogation program. His torture was authorized by the U.S. government and prompted the infamous torture memos, which allowed for the use of enhanced interrogation techniques on detainees.

For years, the only public narrative on Zubaydah has come from the U.S. government, allegedly based on Zubaydah’s diary and interviews with him and other alleged members of Al-Qaeda. The government has called him a top-three Al-Qaeda leader, a close associate of Osama bin Laden and one of the planners of the 9/11 attacks. The government allegations have been used to justify the use of torture as a method of interrogation. The text of Zubaydah's alleged diary, which was confiscated from a safe house when he was captured in 2002 — and now published by Al Jazeera — presents a narrative different from what was presented before. Here are two discrepancies between the government's narrative and Zubaydah's diary.

1. Affiliation with and position in Al-Qaeda
The torture memo, which authorized the CIA to use 10 enhanced interrogation methods, named Zubaydah "one of the highest ranking members of the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization." Zubaydah's alleged association with Al-Qaeda was used to justify the government's use of enhanced interrogation techniques, including cramped confinement, insects placed in a confinement box and waterboarding. Zubaydah is clear in several entries of his diary that he is not a member of Al-Qaeda, much less one of its leaders. In Volume 6 of his diary, he says he is "not even a member of Al-Qa'ida, so how can I become their leader."
Torture memo
Torture memo assessment
"According to this assessment, Zubaydah, though only 31, rose quickly from very low level mujahedin to third or fourth man in al Qaeda. He has served as Usama Bin Laden's senior lieutenant. In that capacity, he has managed a network of training camps. He has been instrumental in the training of operatives for al Qaeda, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist elements inside Pakistan and Afghanistan. He acted as the Deputy Camp Commander for al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, personally approving entry and graduation of all trainees during 1999–2000. From 1996 until 1999, he approved all individuals going in and out of Afghanistan to the training camps. Further, no one went in and out of Peshawar, Pakistan, without his knowledge and approval. He also acted as al Qaeda's coordinator of external contacts and foreign communications. Additionally, he has acted as al Qaeda's counter-intelligence officer and has been trusted to find spies within the organization."
Torture Memo
Torture memo to authorize use of 10 enhanced interrogation techniques on Zubaydah

"As we understand it, Zubaydah is one of the highest ranking members of the al Qaeda terrorist organization, with which the United States is currently engaged in an international armed conflict following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

Our advice is based upon the following facts, which you have provided to us. We also understand that you do not have any facts in your possession contrary to the facts outlined here, and this opinion is limited to those facts. If these facts were to change, this advice would not necessarily apply. Zubaydah is currently being held by the United States. The interrogation team is certain that he has additional information that he refuses to divulge. Specifically, he is withholding information regarding terrorist networks in the United States or in Saudi Arabia and information regarding plans to conduct attacks within the United States or against our interests overseas."

9/11 Commission congressional report
Zubaydah identified as an al Qaeda figure
"Pakistani forces played a leading part in tracking down KSM, Abu Zubaydah, and other key al Qaeda figures."
The diaries
Diary Excerpt
Excerpt from February 10, 2002, Volume 6

"The Pakistani newspapers are saying that I am in Peshawar, trying to reorganize Al-Qa'ida Organization, for war against the Americans, and that I am the heir of Bin Ladin, and Time is saying that I know the Organization and those collaborating with the Organization more than Bin Ladin himself..

I wish they know that I am not with Al-Qa'ida, to begin with, and that I am with them in Ideology and body, etc..."

Diary Excerpt
Excerpt from February 4, 2002, Volume 6

"The matter is not new, as for five years it has been attempting to connect me to anything, and the matter is growing bigger, until they lately said that I am the heir of Bin Ladin for the leadership of Al-Qa'ida Organization.. I hope they know that I am not even a member of Al-Qa'ida, so how can I become their leader..

Anyway, these matters are not important to me, however, its effects on the security situation makes the matter worse, and I need to be more cautious.

The problem is that some of them know me, I mean some Pakistanis whom I deal with"

Diary Excerpt
Excerpt from March 18, 2000, Volume 5
"It has been a while since the news papers and Magazines .. .keep publishing my name from time to time (complete) or the last name which is the family's original last name. Lately, about a week ago, my name was mentioned by a Washington Radio Station as the person in Charge of Communications and Foreign Affairs for Bin Laden .. . ? My security situation became worse, [TN: the following sentence, between brackets, was crossed out, but it was Legible] [I don't know who gave them these wrong information; there is no relation between us and Bin Laden except Brotherhood in God]"
2. Role in the 9/11 attacks
Zubaydah was identified as "one of the planners of the September 11 attacks" in the torture memo, which authorized the CIA to use 10 enhanced interrogation methods. The government has since backed away from the claim that he planned the attacks.
Torture Memo
Zubaydah and the 9/11 attacks
"Zubaydah has been involved in every major terrorist operation carried out by al Qaeda ... He was one of the planners of the September 11 attacks."
9/11 commission congressional report
Facilitating travel for al-Qaeda
"KSM and Abu Zubaydah each played key roles in facilitating travel for al Qaeda operatives."
The diaries
Diary Excerpt
Excerpt from September 28, 2001, Volume VI

"But the first operation previously declared was delayed.. One, two months [IL] I am still waiting for it, in the inside, of course, fearing its reaction outside [IL], especially in Pakistan..

During [IL], I found more than one of the research results [IL] Palestine, or operations within it..

On the 11th of September, a passenger airplane hit one of the giant towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan Island (New York), and people were surprised by something that was unimaginable.. As soon as they caught up their breath, another airplane hit the other tower, so screaming and crying was heard and the surprise was magnified. A third airplane hit the American Department of Defense building (the Pentagon)."


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