The story of the CIA's operation that captured Abu Zubaydah is a tale of crackpot criminality.
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John Kiriakou led the CIA operation that arrested, or rather, kidnapped without charge, Abu Zubaydah. Joseph Hickman helped imprison Abu Zubaydah as a guard at Guantanamo and was later the lead researcher for Zubaydah’s habeas defense team.
Here are some highlights of a tale of crackpot criminality recounted by Hickman and Kiriakou in their jointly authored new book, The Convenient Terrorist:
Maher Abu Zubayda and Zain Abidin Mohammed Husain aka Abu Zubaydah are two completely different people. They and many other people use the name Abu Zubayda, with various spellings in English transliterations from Arabic. The Zubaydah family was evicted from a Palestinian village during the Nakba. [Editor’s note: Al-Nakba is Arabic for “the Catastrophe” and refers to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine during the Zionist war to establish Israel.] The CIA, employing more torturers than Arab speakers, confused the two Zubaydahs. When the basic facts that the CIA had about the life of the man it imprisoned and tortured turned out to all be wrong, the CIA paid no attention.
Maher Abu Zubayda worked with al Qaeda in the 1990s with an address in San Jose, Calif., three blocks from al Qaeda spy Ali Mohammed who later pled guilty to a role in bombing U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Mohammed had “served” in the Egyptian and U.S. armies. When the U.S. Army had learned in 1987 that Mohammed was a Muslim extremist, it had removed him from “Special Forces” but kept him in the Army. In 1988 Mohammed used a leave from the U.S. Army to go to Afghanistan to fight Soviets, rejoining the U.S. Army afterwards.
Maher Abu Zubayda later lived in Montana, studying explosives and a major dam, the Fort Peck Dam. The day before the attacks of September 11, 2001, an explosion occurred on his ranch, and he fled. On September 19, 2001, he was arrested. Clueless, the CIA built a major operation to try to locate the other Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan. On March 28, 2002, the day after that other Abu Zubaydah was seized in Pakistan, this one was convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm and of immigration violations. Six months later he was deported. Ten years after that, in 2012, a man in Jordan named Mahmoud wrote to the defense team of the Abu Zubaydah by then in Guantanamo to say that an Abu Zubayda had been in a prison in Jordan in 2005. It could not have been the same man who was in Guantanamo, as he had been grabbed by the CIA in 2002 and in 2005 had been undergoing torture by the CIA in Poland. The defense team soon heard that Mahmoud had been killed by a U.S. drone.
In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s the CIA funded Muslim extremists in Afghanistan, including the Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan, led by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, along with six other major alliances, with the funding passed along to many smaller groups including Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda. Presidents Reagan, Bush the First, and Clinton referred to these groups as “freedom fighters” and “heroes.”
Zain Abidin Mohammed Husain aka Abu Zubaydah, the man kidnapped, tortured, and still imprisoned to this day in Guantanamo, joined Sayyaf’s Islamic Union, not Al Qaeda. But Sayyaf, with U.S. funding since 1973 helped to create Al Qaeda. Sayyaf met with President Reagan and received abundant U.S. funding for years, to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, and then to train fighters in Pakistan to overthrow Gaddafi in Libya. After September 11, 2001, the U.S. labeled Sayyaf’s “Libyan Islamic Fighting Group” a terrorist organization, but the CIA went right on funding it until Gaddafi was murdered 10 years later.
In October 2000, the Able Danger operation set up by the U.S. Special Operations Command and the Defense Intelligence Agency suspected three people in the United States of planning an attack, all three members of Al Qaeda, all three having trained in Sayyaf’s camps. The Department of so-called Defense paid no attention, and the DIA destroyed almost all of the information collected by Able Danger. Sayyaf reportedly learned of the September 11, 2001, attack plans in February 2001. Immediately after those attacks, the U.S. sent him tens of millions of dollars with which to fight the Taliban, assigned him to help write a Constitution for a new Afghanistan, and got him appointed to the Afghan parliament, where he remains today with the intractable incumbency of a U.S. Congress member.
It was in 1991 that the Abu Zubaydah with the unlucky name joined the Islamic Union. In 1993 the CIA funded a group of fighters he commanded in Tajikistan. Also at this time he asked to join Al Qaeda and was rejected on the grounds that he’d had a head injury.
The CIA’s language skills failed to distinguish between two Abu Zubaydahs. The CIA also failed to properly identify training camps as belonging to the Islamic Union or Al Qaeda. In addition, it failed to distinguish between a house called The House of Martyrs and one called Martyr’s House, even though one of these houses was in Afghanistan and run by Al Qaeda, while the other was in Pakistan and run by Abu Zubaydah of the Unlucky Name.
After the attacks of September 11, 2001, Abu Zubaydah headed off to Afghanistan to fight against a U.S. invasion. He claims not to have managed to actually fight the U.S. there. The United States, without evidence, claims he did. He openly says he intended to. He then caught wind of the fact that the U.S. was conducting a major search for him. He professed bewilderment, as he was neither Taliban not Al Qaeda, much less a top Al Qaeda leader as the U.S. claimed.
That the CIA was hunting for the wrong man, while the Abu Zubayda with ties to Al Qaeda was sitting in jail in Montana, is not somehow by the transitive properties of childish thinking, a statement that this Abu Zubaydah was a pacifist or a saint. He fought against a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and a U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. We pacifists find fault with both of those actions, while the U.S. government praises one and condemns the other beyond any possibility of redemption.
It is also possible that in 1999 this Abu Zubaydah helped to some extent with failed attacks in Jordan and the United States, referred to as “the millennium bomb plot,” which Hickman and Kiriakou blame on Hamas and Hezbollah, not Al Qaeda, citing Saudi funding funneled through the SAAR Foundation in Herndon, Virginia, run by Alamoudi, a man who publicly supported Hamas and Hezbollah while also being made a guest at the White House on several occasions before and after September 11, 2001, in addition to being a “supporter” of George W. Bush’s election campaign.
But it was not for that or any other possible offense that the CIA in February 2002 mounted a mammoth effort to raid fourteen locations in Pakistan simultaneously in hopes of capturing the wrong man. U.S. tax dollars invested in this ludicrous operation far more generously than in your children’s schools. A man identified as Abu Zubaydah was nearly killed, just barely kept alive by top U.S. doctors jetted in for that purpose, and subsequently nearly killed through extensive torture over a period of years.
The questioning of this Abu Zubaydah did not begin immediately, however, because the CIA’s “Counterterrorism” Center did not believe the right man had been seized. Once questioning did begin, “many in the CIA,” according to Hickman and Kiriakou, wondered whether they had the right person. Such doubts were not allowed to stand in the way of a good opportunity for sadistic human experimentation.
Abu Zubaydah was off on a years-long torture tour of the globe. Thus began the familiar story of the FBI’s Ali Soufan eliciting information through humane questioning, the CIA learning nothing through its brutality, and the CIA lying about those facts. The torture, always illegal, began before President George W. Bush “authorized” it. Zubaydah was treated to the full menu of “approved” (and some unapproved) torture techniques: stripped naked, shackled, hooded, slammed against concrete, confined in a small box, threatened with death, waterboarded, deprived of sleep, etc.
Only on September 6, 2006, did Abu Zubaydah arrive at Guantanamo, where the CIA torture and human experimentation continued with the use of mefloquine, extended solitary confinement, and other brutality.
Did anyone on this little planet of ours know that the Central “Intelligence” Agency had kidnapped the wrong victim? It seems likely. It also seems that such knowledge became a fatal condition. Mahmoud was reportedly killed by a drone. The man whom Abu Zubaydah called his best friend in his diary, Ibn al-Shaykh Al Libi was tortured into false statements used by President Bush Junior to justify attacking Iraq. Al Libi died in a Libyan prison cell. A few weeks later, a man kidnapped along with Abu Zubaydah, a man named Ali Abdullah Ahmed, died in a Guantanamo cell. Fifteen other men were “captured” at the same time. All are dead. Khalil Al-Deek, an associate of Abu Zubaydah, was killed — we know not how — in April 2005.
Two corpses in the pile surrounding the story of Abu Zubaydah of the Unlucky Name were Saudi princes, and one was a Pakistani air marshal. One of the CIA’s brilliant strategies for “interrogating” Abu Zubaydah was to dress up as and pretend to be Saudis. Instead of getting scared by this ploy, Abu Zubaydah appeared greatly relieved. He told the phony Saudis to call three Saudi officials. He provided their phone numbers. One of the three was Ahmed bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz, a nephew of the Saudi king who spent most of his time in the United States and owned the 2002 Kentucky Derby winner. A second was Chief Prince Turki Al-Faisal Bin Abdul Aziz who had in 1991 arranged for Al Qaeda training to take place in Sayyaf’s camps. The third was the Pakistani air marshal Mushaf Ali Mir. All three shortly died (“heart attack” at 43, car crash, and clear weather airplane crash).
What can we learn from all of this? Probably not the new liberal conceit that anything the CIA tells us about Russia is the gospel truth derived from super serious professionalism and about which requesting evidence constitutes a treasonous act.
Now for a few quibbles with this book. The authors claim that the confessions of U.S. troops to crimes in the war on North Korea were all or mostly false confessions. They should read research on that war that parallels their fine work on more recent ones. They claim the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan was the best example of a defensive jihad that there is, despite and without mentioning Brzezinski’s confession that the U.S. initiated the war. They claim that Saudi Arabia feared an Iraqi invasion in 1990, prompting the U.S. to “offer” to send in troops. This misleadingly omits the fact that the U.S. generated that fear through the aggressive use of false satellite images falsely suggesting an Iraqi troop presence that did not exist. The authors also state that the 9/11 attacks were a protest of U.S. support for Israel. They provide no source for that statement, but if we are to believe reported statements by bin Laden the motivation included that along with numerous other U.S. actions harmful to Muslim populations including the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia so generously provided in 1991.
This article was originally published at WarIsACrime.org.