Bush, Abu Zubayda and the End of Trust
Bush has lied so often, and about absolutely crucial matters of national security, that I do not trust him any more. This is a sadder commentary than anyone can know. On the War on Terror, I don’t prefer a partisan approach. After September 11, I felt we all had to pull together, left right and middle, to beat down this challenge.
But I saw our president taking unseemly advantage of the terror threat. I saw him take short cuts in the law. I saw him repeatedly mischaracterize the facts. I saw him hang pre-existing projects on this new peg. I saw him try to make Americans– always before a proud, free people–live in fear, so as to aggrandize his own power and prevent criticism of his policies. Now members of his cabinet have been so emboldened by their megalomania that they are likening critics of the Iraq War to Hitler-lovers.
Bush did it again on Wednesday. He continues to peddle the Abu Zubayda myth:
‘ Within months of September the 11th, 2001, we captured a man known as Abu Zubaydah. We believe that Zubaydah was a senior terrorist leader and a trusted associate of Osama bin Laden. Our intelligence community believes he had run a terrorist camp in Afghanistan where some of the 9/11 hijackers trained, and that he helped smuggle al Qaeda leaders out of Afghanistan after coalition forces arrived to liberate that country. Zubaydah was severely wounded during the firefight that brought him into custody — and he survived only because of the medical care arranged by the CIA. ‘
This whopper may seem a minor thing in the context of the changes announced on US government torture policy, which clearly seemed aimed at keeping Administration officials out of jail (on the grounds that they changed their procedures as soon as the Supreme Court told them to do, and can’t be held responsible for winging it in the absence of such instruction. Uh, they could have followed the Constitution.) But when you cannot trust your elected leaders not to tell you bald-faced lies about so crucial a matter as national security, then you do not truly live in a democracy with a rule of law and political accountability. You live in the Orwellian State. Every time Americans give up elements of basic civic governance at Bush’s wheedling, Bin Laden wins a little bit more. Bin Laden cannot win, but Americans like Bush can grant him victory.
Abu Zubayda was captured in a shoot-out in Karachi in March of 2002. Bush has repeatedly characterized him as a high-level al-Qaeda leader, and on Wednesday he implied that the information supplied by Abu Zubayda was crucial to the capture of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, a genuine 9/11 mastermind.
Already on April 7, 2002, the WP reported that Abu Zubayda “was described by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld as “a very senior al Qaeda official who has been intimately involved in a range of activities for the al Qaeda.” and that ‘ White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said the administration considered his capture “a very serious blow to al Qaeda.” ‘ On April 13, 2002, the Washington Post was reporting on his significance in Rumsfeldspeak:
‘ Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was the first administration official to disclose publicly that Abu Zubaida, who was acting as the field operations coordinator of the al Qaeda network, was answering questions. Rumsfeld told reporters that Abu Zubaida “talked when people asked him questions and he said this, that and the other thing.” ‘
But the information attributed to Abu Zubayda is that he identified Khalid Shaikh Muhammad’s nickname and gave details helpful in tracking him down. In fact the CIA knew the nickname from August, 2001. And he was captured near Islamabad in the house of a relative of a major Jama’at-i Islami leader based on a tip. The tipster was paid $25 million. When confronted with this, the Bush administration said it was true but that Abu Zubayda’s information was also helpful. But how? If we knew the nickname from other sources, and if we knew the location from a tipster, what value added does Abu Zubayda supply? None.
There is in fact reason to question whether he was capable of providing solid information, because he is not a well man.
Ron Suskind’s One Percent Solution discusses Abu Zubayda. His sources in the intelligence community revealed to him that Abu Zubayda turned out not to have been a high level planner, as Rumsfeld had announced. He was more like a low level travel agent for the families of al-Qaeda operatives.
And he could barely pull off that basic job, since he seems to suffer from multiple personality syndrome. The CIA captured his diary. The entries were by his three distinct personae, Hani-1, Hani-2 and Hani-3 (a boy, a young man, and a middle-aged man).
The entries contained exhaustive detail about making travel arrangements for his clients. It was useless, junk detail, compulsive in nature and completely unhelpful. It went on forever. Dan coleman, then the FBI’s lead man in fighting al-Qaeda said the diary was about “what people ate, or wore, or trifling things they said. . . This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality.”
Suskind says that the agents briefed Bush and Cheney about all this, how Abu Zubayda was a small looney fish, not a big clever one. And the agents were shocked to see Bush and Cheney nevertheless continue to mischaracterize Abu Zubayda as a major al-Qaeda leader to the American public. How shocked they must be to see Bush go on this way even after the appearance of Suskind’s book!
Testy denunciations of Suskind’s findings by anonymous “intelligence sources” are to be expected, and are irrelevant as long as we don’t know who and why. The problem is that Zubayda’s information was in some cases extracted while he was suffering from three gunshot wounds, and was denied painkilling medication as a way of making him talk. Zubayda’s information has to be high quality, you see, to make the agents and the Bushies feel right about doing that.
Bush had the gall to say on Wednesday that Abu Zubayda’s life was saved by the agents who captured him. That is true. But it was Bush’s way of making sure the press didn’t ask about the torture.
The other problem is that there are active cases hanging on the validity of Abu Zubayda’s testimony.
Apparently the bizarre allegations surrounding Jose Pedilla, derived from Abu Zubayda’s fevered mind. I would not be surprised to see that case collapse. There are others:
The Gazette (Montreal)
October 23, 2004 Saturday
BYLINE: ANDREW DUFFY, CanWest News Service
The lawyer for Mohamed Harkat of Ottawa will attempt to establish in Federal Court that an Al-Qa’ida lieutenant was tortured into giving evidence against his client.
Abu Zubaida, an Al-Qa’ida operational planner in U.S. custody since March 2002, has been a key source of information for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in building a case against Harkat.
Harkat is accused of being part of the Al-Qa’ida terrorist network.
Harkat, 35, faces deportation to his native Algeria if a judge accepts that the security service’s case against him is “reasonable.”
His lawyer, Paul Copeland, wants CSIS to acknowledge that the information they received from Zubaida came as the result of his being denied medical treatment for gunshot wounds.
Zubaida was handed over to U.S. officials after being arrested in a violent raid on a guest house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, during which he was shot in the groin and thigh.
Both the Washington Post and New York Times have reported that Central Intelligence Agency interrogators denied him painkillers as a means of gaining his co-operation.
Copeland will contend in a Federal Court hearing next week that whatever evidence he has provided against Harkat should be discounted.
Next week’s hearing will be Harkat’s first chance to officially answer the terrorist allegations levelled against him in December 2002.
Justice Eleanor Dawson must decide if a decision to issue a security certificate against Harkat was reasonable.
The certificate allows Harkat to be deported as a national security threat.
CSIS claims Zubaida identified Harkat as operating a guest house in Peshawar, Pakistan, for mujahideen travelling to Chechnya.
Harkat, who has lived in Ottawa since 1995, insists he has never been to Afghanistan.
He says he never met Zubaida and that he has nothing to do with Al-Qa’ida. ‘
This Montreal Gazette story shows the dangers of torture to the judicial process, now that there is going to be one for at least some al-Qaeda prisoners.
But the main problem is that Suskind’s account brings into question Abu Zubayda’s reliability. His obsessiveness about detail may have thrown up something useful to forensics. But if Abu Zubayda has a split personality and sometimes thinks he is a young boy, then his testimony isn’t actually worth much.
And no, he wasn’t a “senior terrorist leader,” Mr. Bush.