Injustice at Guantánamo Bay: How the U.S. Government Silenced Abu Zubaydah

03_19_Gitmo_Data_01
Military police on the naval base at Guantánamo Bay bring a detainee to an interrogation room for questioning, on February 2, 2002. Marc Serota/reuters

It was perhaps the most widely anticipated testimony in years at the U.S. prison in Guantánamo Bay Bay. Abu Zubaydah, the first person who experienced waterboarding and other forms of torture by the CIA, was set to testify in a pretrial hearing over the treatment of a fellow detainee.

On Friday, however, lawyers representing Zubaydah decided not to let him do so. The decision came after they learned the prosecution was going to present a video their client made in October 2001, in which he vowed to fight against the United States.

Zubaydah’s lawyers say the goal was to show that their client was biased against the U.S. in hopes of discrediting him. "The government stacked the deck,” says Mark Denbeaux, one of Zubaydah’s attorneys. “The court gave virtual free reign to the prosecution in search of proving bias—while extremely limiting my client’s ability to respond meaningfully about his experience.”

“The video the prosecution wanted to present in court showed my client vowing to fight against anyone who invaded...[Afghanistan],” Denbeaux adds, “and to stand in solidarity with anyone who defended it. It was a battlefield response.”

The pre-trial hearing pertains to Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Zubaydah's fellow detainee and a person the U.S. government describes as a 9/11 conspirator. Al-Shibh claims he was psychologically tortured at Guantánamo's Camp 7, where all the alleged "high value detainees" reside. Al-Shibh claims the guards purposefully used sounds and vibrations to disturb his sleep, and on Friday Zubaydah was to testify that al-Shibh was telling the truth.  

The CIA nabbed Zubaydah in Pakistan on March 28, 2003. Immediately after his capture, U.S. government officials announced he was a top lieutenant in Al-Qaeda and number three in the group’s chain of command. Zubaydah spent the next three and a half years in CIA custody, being moved to several top secret prisons, or black sites, around the world. During that time, he was waterboarded 83 times, among other “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

On September 9, 2006, U.S. military authorities took him out of CIA custody and moved him to the American prison in Guantánamo Bay Cuba. I was a guard at Gitmo, as it’s often called, and took part in the operation to move Zubaydah to Camp 7.

Months later, the U.S. government changed their story about Zubaydah. Now, he wasn’t Osama bin Laden’s lieutenant or even a member of Al-Qaeda, he was a “terrorist facilitator” (whatever that means).

Today, Zubaydah, remains behind bars in Gitmo, even though Washington has never charged him with a crime. He is one 41 men still detained at the facility.

In trying to discredit him, the U.S. government is once again not letting him tell his side of the story.

“Of course he’s biased,” Denbeaux, Zubaydah’s lawyer, says of his client. “The U.S. government is faced with overwhelming evidence that they tortured the wrong man [Zubaydah], the government wanted to cherry pick statements to paint a picture of prejudice under this cloak of “bias” without telling the whole story.”

Joseph Hickman is a former Gitmo guard and former researcher for the Abu Zubaydah Defense team. He is also a freelance journalist and the author of the forthcoming book "The Convenient Terrorist: Two Whistleblowers’ Stories of Torture, Terror, Secret Wars, and CIA Lies."