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Abu Zubaydah Poses a Real Threat to al-Qaeda

Abu Zubaydah

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Abu Zubaydah, a man once called al-Qaeda’s “chief of operations” appears to be at the center of an unraveling of the official myth behind al Qaeda.  After his capture in early 2002, Zubaydah was the first “detainee” known to be tortured.  The information allegedly obtained from his torture played a large part in the creation of the official account of 9/11 and in the justification for the continued use of such torture techniques.  Yet in September, 2009, the U.S. government admitted that Zubaydah was never a member or associate of al Qaeda at all.  These facts raise an alarming number of questions about the veracity of our knowledge about al Qaeda, and the true identity of the people who are said to be behind the 9/11 attacks.

Unlike other alleged al Qaeda leaders, including Khlaid Sheik Mohammed and Ramzi bin Alshibh, Zubaydah has never been charged with a crime.  As these other leading suspects await their continually-postponed military trial, Zubaydah is instead being airbrushed out of history.  Why would the U.S. government want us to forget Zubaydah, the first and most important al Qaeda operative captured after 9/11?

The 9/11 Commission called Zubaydah an “Al Qaeda associate,” a “long-time ally of Bin Ladin,” a “Bin Ladin lieutenant,” and an “al Qaeda lieutenant.”[1] The Commission’s claims were somewhat contradictory in that Zubaydah was, in the Commission’s report, represented as both an al Qaeda leader and simply a terrorist colleague who collaborated in the training and recruiting of operatives.  For example, the Commission reported that Zubaydah “helped operate a popular terrorist training camp near the border with Pakistan” [Khalden Camp], and that Bin Laden had an agreement with Zubaydah to “conduct reciprocal recruiting efforts whereby promising trainees at the camps would be invited to join al Qaeda.”  It was unclear why a “Bin Laden lieutenant” would need such a reciprocal agreement with Bin Laden.

Other claims made by the 9/11 Commission were that “KSM and Zubaydah each played key roles in facilitating travel for al Qaeda operatives,” and that “Zubaydah had been a major figure in the millenium plots.” These claims are supported primarily by the torture testimony of Zubaydah and others, and by Zubaydah’s “diary.”

In an amazing turnabout in 2009, an attorney for Zubaydah wrote in The Guardian that the majority of the accusations against Zubaydah were understood by all parties to be false.  In fact, he wrote, they “were known to be false when uttered.”[2]  Attorney Brent Mickum said that his client, said to be the “number three man in al Qaeda,” was never a member or associate of al Qaeda and that “These facts really are no longer contested: [Zubaydah] was not, and never had been, a member of either the Taliban or al-Qaida. The CIA determined this after torturing him extensively.”  In fact, he “was never a member or a supporter of any armed forces that were allied against the United States,” and he was never the “head of a military camp that trained terrorists. That allegation is false at all levels.”

It turns out that Mickum’s report was correct and that “Abu Zubaydah’s supposed relationship with al-Qaida is a complete myth.”[3]

We know this because, as of September 2009, the U.S. government agreed that Zubaydah was never an al Qaeda operative.  During Zubaydah’s habeas corpus petition, the government admitted that Abu Zubaydah had never been a member of al-Qaeda, nor involved in the attacks on the African embassies in 1998, or the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.[4]  The motion, filed by the U.S. government, states:

…the Government has not contended in this proceeding that Petitioner [Zubaydah] was a member of al-Qaida or otherwise formally identified with al-Qaida.

Respondent [The United States Government] does not contend that Petitioner was a “member” of al-Qaida in the sense of having sworn a bayat (allegiance) or having otherwise satisfied any formal criteria that either Petitioner or al-Qaida may have considered necessary for inclusion in al-Qaida. Nor is the Government detaining Petitioner based on any allegation that Petitioner views himself as part of al-Qaida as a matter of subjective personal conscience, ideology, or worldview.

The Government has not contended in this proceeding that Petitioner had any direct role in or advance knowledge of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

…the Government has not contended that Petitioner had any personal involvement in planning or executing either the 1998 embassy bombings… or the attacks on September 11, 2001.

In his article that same year, attorney Mickum went on to point out that the torture tapes, which the CIA had first lied to the 9/11 Commission about and then destroyed, had a lot to do with Zubaydah.  Mickum wrote:  “the videotapes of his torture were destroyed. Just recently, the government revealed that 90 of the 92 videotapes that the CIA destroyed related to our client.”  Not only that, Mickum went on to say that the U.S. government has removed all “reference to my client from the charge sheets and factual returns of other prisoners whose cases were being prosecuted. Abu Zubaydah has been linked to nearly 50 prisoners and former prisoners through media accounts and official Guantanamo Bay documents. Of these, approximately two dozen have either had their charges dropped or have been released from custody.”  They have, essentially, “airbrushed Abu Zubaydah out of history.”

Obviously this attempt to remove a key 9/11 accomplice from history must make a significant difference to the official account of 9/11.  We would expect that major revisions to the 9/11 Commission Report would be necessary given the knowledge that the man never had a connection to al Qaeda.

In order to better understand just how much Zubaydah meant as a primary source for the official account of 9/11, we must review the extensive claims made about Zubaydah by the U.S. government and mainstream media over the years.  We’ve seen that the 9/11 Commission (falsely) called Zubaydah an “al Qaeda lieutenant.”  The Joint Congressional inquiry did the same, calling him “al-Qa’ida leader Abu Zubaydah,” and the “Bin Ladin lieutenant captured in March 2002.”  As late as 2006, the Justice Department’s Inspector General report on the 9/11 attacks called Zubaydah a “Bin Laden lieutenant.”

When Zubaydah was captured, in March 2002, U.S. government officials touted him as the biggest catch of the War on Terror, at least until the capture of Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM).  FBI Director Robert Mueller stated that Zubaydah’s capture would help deter future attacks.[5]  White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that Zubaydah could provide a treasure-trove of information about al-Qaeda.[6]  Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld claimed that Zubaydah was “a man who knows of additional attacks”, who has “trained people to do this”, and was a big fish who had a fountain of knowledge.[7]

The extensive allegations against Zubaydah went on and on, and included that he was:

  • along with KSM, one of “Al Qaeda’s top operational managers” – “Counterterrorism Czar” Richard Clarke, in his book Against All Enemies
  • “sinister” and “there is evidence that he is a planner and a manager as well. I think he’s a major player.” – Former State Department director of counter-terrorism, Michael Sheehan [8]
  • “extremely dangerous” and a planner of 9/11. – State Department legal advisor John B. Bellinger III in a June 2007 briefing.[9]
  • a trainer, a recruiter, understood bomb-making, was a forger, a logistician, and someone who made things happen, and made “al-Qaeda function.” – Former CIA station chief, Bob Grenier [10]
  • “a close associate of UBL’s, and if not the number two, very close to the number two person in the organization. I think that’s well established.” -Donald Rumsfeld [11]
  • “a very senior al Qaeda official who has been intimately involved in a range of activities for the al Qaeda.” – Donald Rumsfeld [12]
  • a “very senior al Qaeda operative.” – Donald Rumsfeld
  • a “key terrorist recruiter and operational planner and member of Osama bin Laden’s inner circle.” – White House spokesman Ari Fleischer [13]
  • someone whose capture was a “very serious blow” to al-Qaeda and therefore one of al-Qaeda’s “many tentacles” was “cut off.” – White House spokesman Ari Fleischer
  • “one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States.” –President George W. Bush [14]
  • “one of al-Qaeda’s top leaders” who was “spending a lot of time as one of the top operating officials of al Qaeda, plotting and planning murder.” – President George W. Bush [15]
  • “al Qaeda’s chief of operations.” – President George W. Bush [16]
  • “one of the top three leaders” in al-Qaeda. – President George W. Bush [17]
  • someone whose interrogation “led to reliable information”, a “prolific producer” of information, with whom originated roughly 25 percent of the information on al Qaeda that came from human sources. – Michael Hayden [18]
  • one of three individuals “best positioned to know about impending terrorist atrocities.” – Michael Hayden [19]


About the Author

Kevin Ryan

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Kevin R. Ryan began to investigate the tragedy of September 11th, 2001 through his work as Site Manager for a division of Underwriters Laboratories (UL). He was fired by UL in 2004 for writing to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), asking about its World Trade Center investigation and UL’s work to ensure the fire resistance of the buildings. He now serves as co-editor of the Journal of 9/11 Studies, and is a former board director at Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth. Ryan has co-authored several books and peer-reviewed scientific articles on the subject. 
  • http://lies-of-the-truth-movement.blogspot.com/ Len

    This suffers from a few major flaws:

    - Neither the Justice Department nor any other agency of the USG has ever “agreed that Zubaydah was never an al Qaeda operative”, saying you had “not contended [something] in this proceeding” is not the same as ‘agreeing’ that it is not true.

    - Despite Ryan’s huffing and puffing the 9/11 Commission, FBI etc. never made Zubaydah a key part of the 9/11 narrative. As a matter of fact neither accused him of involvement with the plot.

    - Any possible inaccuracies in independent press accounts are not directly relevant to the accuracy government’s narrative.

    • http://www.jeremyrhammond.com Jeremy R. Hammond

      Neither the Justice Department nor any other agency of the USG has ever “agreed that Zubaydah was never an al Qaeda operative”, saying you had “not contended [something] in this proceeding” is not the same as ‘agreeing’ that it is not true.

      It is nevertheless a tacit acknowledgment that they have no evidence that it is true.

      Despite Ryan’s huffing and puffing the 9/11 Commission, FBI etc. never made Zubaydah a key part of the 9/11 narrative. As a matter of fact neither accused him of involvement with the plot.

      You aren’t actually challenging anything Ryan wrote.

      Any possible inaccuracies in independent press accounts are not directly relevant to the accuracy government’s narrative.

      Ditto.

      • http://lies-of-the-truth-movement.blogspot.com/ Len

        “It is nevertheless a tacit acknowledgment that they have no evidence that it is true.”

        Either that or a legal manuver not to comply with a discovery motion.

        “You aren’t actually challenging anything Ryan wrote.”

        Really? Even you acknowleded that he overstated his case. And even IF it’s true that Zubaydah was never part AQ that doesn’t change the basic narrative of the attacks as spelled out by the 9/11 Commission. They never claimed he was directly involved in the planning or execution of the attacks.

        • http://www.jeremyrhammond.com Jeremy R. Hammond

          Either that or a legal manuver not to comply with a discovery motion.

          You are speculating that they have evidence, they just aren’t willing to share it. The point is that they’ve presented no evidence to support their original contentions and are no longer contesting them. As Mickum wrote: “These facts really are no longer contested: Zayn was not, and never had been, a member of either the Taliban or al-Qaida.”

          Really?

          I was referring to that specific comment. You repeat “They never claimed he was directly involved in the planning or execution of the attacks.” Ryan didn’t say they claimed he was “directly involved in planning or execution of the attacks.” So, like I said, you aren’t actually challenging anything Ryan wrote with such comments.

  • http://www.journalof911studies.com/index.html Kevin Ryan

    After all that U.S. government officials have claimed about Zubaydah over the years, it is amazing that the government now claims it does not contend he “was a member of al-Qaida or otherwise formally identified with al-Qaida” and that he does not even view himself as part of al Qaeda.

    As his attorneys have pointed out several times, the fact that he was never associated with al Qaeda is no longer contested.

    I wrote above that the 9/11 Commission did not buy CIA agent John Kiriakou’s claim that “Zubaydah openly admitted his role in the September 11 attacks and claimed to regret having killed so many Americans.” But the 9/11 Commission did refer to Zubaydah’s torture a number of times throughout its report, and used its own claims that Zubaydah was a “Bin Ladin lieutenant” to support the idea that Zubaydah could provide so much detail about al Qaeda and the 9/11 plot.

    Most people don’t realize that the 9/11 Commisison Report is very short on details about what happened on 9/11. Only two short chapters (90 pages) cover what happened that day. The rest is an historical myth about al Qaeda, largely built on the torture testimony of Zubaydah and the people he fingered.

    Agent Kiriakou has since been charged with espionage and faces life in prison. So Zubaydah will not face trial despite being touted as al Qaeda’s operations manager, but the CIA agent who first interrogated him will.

  • http://lies-of-the-truth-movement.blogspot.com/ Len

    “As his attorneys have pointed out several times, the fact that he was never associated with al Qaeda is no longer contested.”

    Not contesting something in a legal brief in response to a discovery motion is not the same as saying it is not true. You claim the DoJ did the latter was false

    “The rest is an historical myth about al Qaeda, largely built on the torture testimony of Zubaydah and the people he fingered.”

    Many of them continued to sing the same tune after the waterboarding stopped, Zubaydah many important details before he was tortured. Ramzi Binalshibh and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed even admitted their roles before they were captured. A similar narative was told by Lawrence Wright who spoke to various jihadists.

    “…the 9/11 Commission did refer to Zubaydah’s torture a number of times throughout its report, and used its own claims that Zubaydah was a “Bin Ladin lieutenant” to support the idea that Zubaydah could provide so much detail about al Qaeda and the 9/11 plot. ”

    He was not a crucial source out of a total of 1742 footnotes most of which cited various sources his diary was cited in one and his interrogation in about 16. Few if any of those refered directly to the plot.

    “Agent Kiriakou has since been charged with espionage and faces life in prison.”

    A lame and dishonest stab at poisoning the well, he is facing charges for speaking to the NYT, ABC News and other media outlets about the waterboarding program. His most serious “offense” was “divulging” the name of an EX-CIA agent who according to the Times “had never worked undercover”. For this Kiriakou won the “Joe A. Callaway Awards for Civic Courage” and was applauded by the “Government Accountability Project”.

    And speaking of Ryan’s dishonesty his original article contained the following quote as a supposed example of the USG’s accusations against Zubaydah, ‘“extremely dangerous” and a planner of 9/11. – State Department legal advisor John B. Bellinger III in a June 2007 briefing.’ Except that the quote in question referred to “many of the people we have captured in this conflict” not specifically to Zubaydah.

    Ryan also does not belive in the free exchange of ideas I tried to post the text of my first post above to his site Friday night but he refused to approve it. Ironic that truthers who complain their views are “censored” by the MSM censor those who disagree with them.

  • http://www.journalof911studies.com/index.html Kevin Ryan

    Len, if you’re going to continue making unsupported ad hominem arguments, lets’ examine your level of honesty.

    First, when you say “the 9/11 Commission, FBI etc. never made Zubaydah a key part of the 9/11 narrative” when you know that CIA agent John Kiriakou said exactly that, isn’t that dishonesty? Your implication that I claimed the government made Zubaydah a key part of the 9/11 narrative is definitely dishonest.

    You assert that “IF it’s true that Zubaydah was never part AQ that doesn’t change the basic narrative of the attacks as spelled out by the 9/11 Commission.” But Zubaydah was widely promoted as someone who knew everything about al Qaeda and its leaders. His continued torture and that of others was said to be able to reveal those details. Zubaydah fingered KSM as the mastermind of the attacks, and according to George Tenet, Zubaydah led them to Bin Alshibh. It was the subsequent capture and torture of KSM and Bin Alshibh, and the Commission’s 294 references to those torture sessions (along with the torture of Zubaydah), upon which the official account was built. So you appear to be dishonest on this point as well.

    And according to people who would know, “Kiriakou now rather off handedly admits that he basically made it all up.” http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/01/26/cia_man_retracts_claim_on_waterboarding

    There is no doubt that many people in government were being dishonest re: Zubaydah, and you appear to be defending those people. Isn’t that dishonest?

    Maybe you should visit this site more often so that your own website “Lies of the truth movement” can benefit from a little honesty.