Abu Zubaydah, the first person captured by the CIA’s in the U.S.’ “war on terror” and the guinea pig for the agency’s torture program, is too dangerous to release from Guantanamo, a parole board there has concluded. As a result, he will continue to be held by the U.S. indefinitely “to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”
In a three-paragraph unanimous decision posted on its website, the so-called Periodic Review Board said its ruling was based on Abu Zubaydah’s “past involvement in terrorist activity to include probably serving as one of Usama Bin Ladin’s most trusted facilitators and his admitted abilities as a long-term facilitator and fundraiser for extremist causes, regardless of his claim that he was not a formal member of al-Qa’ida.”
Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi national of Palestinian descent, is considered a high-value detainee and is held at a top-secret camp at Guantanamo.
“We always expected that it would always come down exactly as it has,” Brent Mickum, one of Abu Zubaydah’s attorneys, told VICE News. “We never believed we had a chance.”
Abu Zubaydah was captured on March 28, 2002, at a safe house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in a joint CIA-FBI Pakistani intelligence operation. He sustained three gunshot wounds while trying to escape and was briefly hospitalized in Pakistan before he was rendered to a “black site” prison in Thailand. There, he became the first detainee subjected to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding.
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report, released in December 2014, revealed that CIA interrogators asked in a cable for “reasonable assurances” that Abu Zubaydah would “remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life” if he did not die during his interrogation.
Abu Zubaydah, whose left eye was removed during his detention, apparently due to a “pre-existing condition,” according to a U.S. counterterrorism official, is the only CIA detainee who was subjected to all 10 “enhanced interrogation” techniques that the Department of Justice sanctioned in a legal opinion commonly referred to as the “torture memo.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report revealed that at one point during his waterboarding session, Abu Zubaydah became “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.” He had to be resuscitated.
The CIA has claimed that much of its knowledge about the inner workings of al-Qaeda can be attributed to intelligence gleaned from Abu Zubaydah, though he has never been charged with war crimes. After his capture, numerous senior Bush-administration officials erroneously claimed the detainee helped plan the 9/11 attacks and was the “No. 3” person in al-Qaeda.
In October 2009, the Obama administration quietly admitted in a court filing that its understanding of Abu Zubaydah’s alleged role in al Qaeda’s activities “has evolved with further investigation” and that it no longer stands behind the Bush administration’s assertions.
While not officially a member of al Qaeda — he never swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden — Abu Zubaydah served as a facilitator for trainees who went on to engage in al Qaeda–funded attacks; as such, Abu Zubaydah’s name routinely popped up as someone who may have played a role in operational planning.
At his hearing in August, Abu Zubaydah’s government representative told the board that if Abu Zubaydah was released, he wanted to be “reunited with his family and begin the process of recovering from injuries he sustained during his capture.
“He has some seed money that could be used to start a business after he is reintegrated into society and is living a peaceful life,” his representative said. “[Abu Zubaydah] has stated that he has no desire or intent to harm the United States or any other country, and he has repeatedly said that the Islamic State is out of control and has gone too far.”
The parole board didn’t buy it. Composed of senior officials from the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State; the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the board said Abu Zubaydah, in its responses to the board’s questions, “minimized his relationship with al Qaeda.”
“The Board considered the detainee’s susceptibility to recruitment by extremists due to his continued feeling of an obligation to defend and support oppressed Muslims.”
Abu Zubaydah will be eligible for another parole board hearing next year.