I didn’t run the WaPo’s story earlier because I knew it was pure bullshit designed to buffer the whole issue of releasing Gitmo detainees, loads into our country, and to try to make the Bush Administration’s counter-terror tactics look like a waste of time, discrediting any evidence or information gleaned from interrogations for one reason or another … but probably to help throw out detainee cases that will come before judges/juries.
But the WaPo spin is below the NRO debunking piece.
The Post and Abu Zubaydah
by Marc Thiessen
The Left’s assault on the CIA program continues with today’s front-page story about the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah: “Detainees Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots.” The story, like so many on this program, is rife with errors and misinformation.
For example, the Post states:
“Abu Zubaida quickly told U.S. interrogators of [Khalid Sheikh] Mohammed and of others he knew to be in al-Qaeda, and he revealed the plans of the low-level operatives who fled Afghanistan with him. Some were intent on returning to target American forces with bombs; others wanted to strike on American soil again, according to military documents and law enforcement sources. Such intelligence was significant but not blockbuster material. Frustrated, the Bush administration ratcheted up the pressure — for the first time approving the use of increasingly harsh interrogations, including waterboarding.”
This is either uninformed or intentionally misleading.
In fact, what Abu Zubaydah disclosed to the CIA during this period was that the fact that KSM was the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks and that his code name was “Muktar” – something Zubaydah thought we already knew, but in fact we did not. Intelligence officials had been trying for months to figure out who “Muktar” was. This information provided by Zubaydah was a critical piece of the puzzle that allowed them to pursue and eventually capture KSM. This fact, in and of itself, discredits the premise of the Post story – to suggest that the capture of KSM was not information that “foiled plots” to attack America is absurd on the face of it.
The Post also acknowledges that Zubaydah’s “interrogations led directly to the arrest of Jose Padilla” but dismisses Padilla as the man behind a fanciful “dirty bomb” plot and notes that Padilla was never charged in any such plot. In fact, Padilla was a hardened terrorist who had trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, and was a protégé of al Qaeda’s third in command, Mohammed Atef. And when he was captured, Padilla was being prepared for a much more sinister and realistic attack on America.
In June of 2001, Padilla met in Afghanistan with Atef, who asked him if he was willing to undertake a mission to blow up apartment buildings in the United States using natural gas. He agreed, and was sent to a training site near the Kandahar airport to prepare for the attack under close supervision of an al Qaeda explosives expert, who taught him about switches, circuits, and timers needed to carry it out. He was training in Afghanistan when Coalition forces launched Operation Enduring Freedom. Atef was killed by a Coalition airstrike, and Padilla joined the other al Qaeda operatives fleeing Afghanistan.
It was at this time that he met Abu Zubaydah, who helped arranged his passage across the Afghan-Pakistan border. At the time, Padilla told Zubaydah of his idea of a “dirty bomb” plot. Zubaydah was skeptical but sent him to see KSM, and told KSM he was free to use Padilla for his planned follow on operations in the US. Instead of the dirty bomb plot, KSM directed Padilla and an accomplice to undertake the apartment buildings operation for which he had initially trained. KSM’s right-hand man, Ammar al Baluchi, gave Padilla $10,000 in cash, travel documents, a cell phone, and an email address to be used to notify al Baluchi once Padilla arrived in America. The night before his departure, KSM, al Baluchi, and KSM’s nephew and 9/11 plotter Ramzi bin al Shibh hosted a farewell dinner for him and his accomplice. Think about that for a moment: Padilla was feted at a dinner the night of his departure for America by the mastermind of 9/11, and two of his key accomplices.
Padilla left Pakistan on April 5, 2002 bound for the US by way of Zurich. En route, he spent a month in Egypt, and then arrived in Chicago’s O’Hare airport on May 8 where he was apprehended – because, even the Post acknowledges, of the information provided by Abu Zubaydah. At the time of his apprehension, he was carrying the $10,000 given him by his al Qaeda handlers, the cell phone, and the email address for al Baluchi. (For a detailed account of Jose Padilla’s activities, see this speech by former Deputy Attorney General James Comey.
So again, the premise of the Post story, is wrong.
Since his capture, Abu Zubaydah had provided the CIA with the critical link that had identified KSM as “Muktar” and the mastermind of 9/11, as well as information that led to the capture of Padilla and the disruption of a planned attack on the American homeland. The CIA knew he had more information that could save American lives, but now he had stopped talking. So the CIA used enhanced interrogation techniques to get him talking again — and these techniques worked.
Zubaydah soon he began to provide information on key al Qaeda operatives, including information that helped us find and capture more of those responsible for the attacks on September the 11th, including Ramzi bin al Shibh. At the time of his capture, bin al Shibh had been working in Karachi on follow-on operations against the West – including a plot to hijack passenger planes in Europe and fly them into Heathrow airport. Bin al Shibh had identified four operatives for the operation, when he was taken into custody.
Together Zubaydah and bin al Shibh provided information that helped in the planning and execution of the operation that captured KSM. KSM then provided information that led to the capture of a Southeast Asian terrorist named Zubair—an operative with the terrorist network Jemmah Islamiyah, or JI. Zubair then provided information that led to the capture of a JI terrorist leader named Hambali—KSM’s partner in developing a plot to hijack passenger planes and fly them into the tallest building on the West Coast: the Library Tower in Los Angeles. Told of Hambali’s capture, KSM identified Hambali’s brother “Gun Gun” as his successor and provided information that led to his capture. Hambali’s brother then gave us information that led us to a cell of JI operatives that were going to carry out the West Coast plot.
KSM also provided vital information that led to the disruption of an al Qaeda cell that was developing anthrax for attacks inside the United States. He gave us information that helped us capture Ammar al Baluchi. At the time of his capture, al Baluchi was working with bin al Shibh on the Heathrow plot, as well as a plot to carry out an attack against the US consulate in Karachi. According to his CIA biography, al Baluchi “was within days of completing preparations for the Karachi plot when he was captured.”
In addition, KSM and other senior terrorists helped identify individuals that al Qaeda deemed suitable for Western operations, many of whom we had never heard about before. These included terrorists who were sent to case targets inside the United States, including financial buildings in major cities on the East Coast. They painted a picture of al Qaeda’s structure and financing, and communications and logistics. They identified al Qaeda’s travel routes and safe havens, and explained how al Qaeda’s senior leadership communicates with its operatives in places like Iraq. They provided information that allowed the CIA to make sense of documents and computer records that we have seized in terrorist raids. They identified voices in recordings of intercepted calls, and helped us understand the meaning of potentially critical terrorist communications. It is the official assessment of our intelligence community that “Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland.”
And the whole chain I have just described began with the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah.
The Left is desperate to discredit the efficacy of this program, and they have launched a desperate campaign to destroy it. Last week it was the leak of an ICRC document describing some of the techiques allegedly used in the program – one of the most damaging leaks of classified information since the war on terror began because it allows al Qaeda to train against the techniques. And now we have this highly uninformed front-page story in the Washington Post. All of this is incredibly damaging to the security of the United States. And if America is attacked again, those responsible for the disclosure of this information will bear much of the blame.
Detainee’s Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots
Waterboarding, Rough Interrogation of Abu Zubaida Produced False Leads, Officials Say
By Peter Finn and Joby Warrick
When CIA officials subjected their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaida, to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, they were convinced that they had in their custody an al-Qaeda leader who knew details of operations yet to be unleashed, and they were facing increasing pressure from the White House to get those secrets out of him.
The methods succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads.
In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida’s tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida — chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates — was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.
Moreover, within weeks of his capture, U.S. officials had gained evidence that made clear they had misjudged Abu Zubaida. President George W. Bush had publicly described him as “al-Qaeda’s chief of operations,” and other top officials called him a “trusted associate” of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and a major figure in the planning of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. None of that was accurate, the new evidence showed.
Abu Zubaida was not even an official member of al-Qaeda, according to a portrait of the man that emerges from court documents and interviews with current and former intelligence, law enforcement and military sources. Rather, he was a “fixer” for radical Muslim ideologues, and he ended up working directly with al-Qaeda only after Sept. 11 — and that was because the United States stood ready to invade Afghanistan.
Abu Zubaida’s case presents the Obama administration with one of its most difficult decisions as it reviews the files of the 241 detainees still held in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Abu Zubaida — a nom de guerre for the man born Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein — was never charged in a military commission in Guantanamo Bay, but some U.S. officials are pushing to have him charged now with conspiracy.
The Palestinian, 38 and now in captivity for more than seven years, had alleged links with Ahmed Ressam, an al-Qaeda member dubbed the “Millennium Bomber” for his plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on New Year’s Eve 1999. Jordanian officials tied him to terrorist plots to attack a hotel and Christian holy sites in their country. And he was involved in discussions, after the Taliban government fell in Afghanistan, to strike back at the United States, including with attacks on American soil, according to law enforcement and military sources.
Others in the U.S. government, including CIA officials, fear the consequences of taking a man into court who was waterboarded on largely false assumptions, because of the prospect of interrogation methods being revealed in detail and because of the chance of an acquittal that might set a legal precedent. Instead, they would prefer to send him to Jordan.
Some U.S. officials remain steadfast in their conclusion that Abu Zubaida possessed, and gave up, plenty of useful information about al-Qaeda.
“It’s simply wrong to suggest that Abu Zubaida wasn’t intimately involved with al-Qaeda,” said a U.S. counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because much about Abu Zubaida remains classified. “He was one of the terrorist organization’s key facilitators, offered new insights into how the organization operated, provided critical information on senior al-Qaeda figures . . . and identified hundreds of al-Qaeda members. How anyone can minimize that information — some of the best we had at the time on al-Qaeda — is beyond me.”
Until the attacks on New York and Washington, Abu Zubaida was a committed jihadist who regarded the United States as an enemy principally because of its support of Israel. He helped move people in and out of military training camps in Afghanistan, including some men who were or became members of al-Qaeda, according to interviews with multiple sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. He was widely known as a kind of travel agent for those seeking such training.
That role, it turned out, would play a part in deciding his fate once in U.S. hands: Because his name often turned up in intelligence traffic linked to al-Qaeda transactions, some U.S. intelligence leaders were convinced that Abu Zubaida was a major figure in the terrorist organization, according to officials engaged in the discussions at the time.
But Abu Zubaida had strained and limited relations with bin Laden and only vague knowledge before the Sept. 11 attacks that something was brewing, the officials said.
His account was echoed in another U.S. interrogation going on at the same time, one never previously described publicly.
Noor al-Deen, a Syrian, was a teenager when he was captured along with Abu Zubaida at a Pakistani safe house. Perhaps because of his youth and agitated state, he readily answered U.S. questions, officials said, and the questioning went on for months, first in Pakistan and later in a detention facility in Morocco. His description of Abu Zubaida was consistent: The older man was a well-known functionary with links to al-Qaeda, but he knew little detailed information about the group’s operations.
The counterterrorism official rejected that characterization, saying, “Based on what he shared during his interrogations, he was certainly aware of many of al-Qaeda’s activities and operatives.”
One connection Abu Zubaida had with al-Qaeda was a long relationship with Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks, officials said. Mohammed had approached Abu Zubaida in the 1990s about finding financiers to support a suicide mission, involving a small plane, targeting the World Trade Center. Abu Zubaida declined but told him to try bin Laden, according to a law enforcement source.
Abu Zubaida quickly told U.S. interrogators of Mohammed and of others he knew to be in al-Qaeda, and he revealed the plans of the low-level operatives who fled Afghanistan with him. Some were intent on returning to target American forces with bombs; others wanted to strike on American soil again, according to military documents and law enforcement sources.
Such intelligence was significant but not blockbuster material. Frustrated, the Bush administration ratcheted up the pressure — for the first time approving the use of increasingly harsh interrogations, including waterboarding.
Such treatment at the hands of the CIA has raised questions among human rights groups about whether Abu Zubaida is capable of standing trial and how the taint of torture would affect any prosecution.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said in a confidential report that the treatment of Abu Zubaida and other, subsequent high-value detainees while in CIA custody constituted torture. And Abu Zubaida refused to cooperate with FBI “clean teams” who attempted to re-interview high-value detainees to build cases uncontaminated by allegations of torture, according to military sources.
“The government doesn’t retreat from who KSM is, and neither does KSM,” said Joseph Margulies, a professor of law at Northwestern University and one of Abu Zubaida’s attorneys, using an abbreviation for Mohammed. “With Zubaida, it’s different. The government seems finally to understand he is not at all the person they thought he was. But he was tortured. And that’s just a profoundly embarrassing position for the government to be in.”
His lawyers want the U.S. government to arrange for Abu Zubaida’s transfer to a country besides Jordan — possibly Saudi Arabia, where he has relatives.
The Justice Department declined repeated requests for comment.
Even before President Obama suspended military commissions at the military base in Cuba, prosecutors had expunged Abu Zubaida’s name from the charge sheets of a number of detainees who were captured with him and stood accused of conspiracy and material support for terrorism.
When they were first charged in 2005, these detainees were accused of conspiring with Abu Zubaida, and the charge sheets contained numerous references to Abu Zubaida’s alleged terrorist activities. When the charges were refiled last year, his name had vanished from the documents.
Abu Zubaida was born in 1971 in Saudi Arabia to a Palestinian father and a Jordanian mother, according to court papers. In 1991, he moved to Afghanistan and joined mujaheddin fighting Afghan communists, part of the civil war that raged after the 1989 withdrawal of the Soviet Union. He was seriously wounded by shrapnel from a mortar blast in 1992, sustaining head injuries that left him with severe memory problems, which still linger.
In 1994, he became the Pakistan-based coordinator for the Khalden training camp, outside the Afghan city of Khowst. He directed recruits to the camp and raised money for it, according to testimony he gave at a March 2007 hearing in Guantanamo Bay.
The Khalden camp, which provided basic training in small arms, had been in existence since the war against the Soviets. According to the 9/11 Commission’s report, Khalden and another camp called Derunta “were not al Qaeda facilities,” but “Abu Zubaydah had an agreement with Bin Laden to conduct reciprocal recruiting efforts whereby promising trainees at the camps could be invited to join al Qaeda.”
Abu Zubaida disputes this, saying he admitted to such a connection with bin Laden only as the result of torture.
When the Sept. 11 attacks occurred, Abu Zubaida was in Kabul, the Afghan capital. In anticipation of an American attack, he allied himself with al-Qaeda, he said at a 2007 hearing, but he soon fled into hiding in Pakistan.
On the night of March 28, 2002, Pakistani and American intelligence officers raided the Faisalabad safe house where Abu Zubaida had been staying. A firefight ensued, and Abu Zubaida was captured after jumping from the building’s second floor. He had been shot three times.
Cowering on the ground floor and also shot was Noor al-Deen, Abu Zubaida’s 19-year-old colleague; one source said that he worshiped the older man as a hero. Deen was wide-eyed with fear and appeared to believe that he was about to be executed, remembered John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who participated in the raid.
“He was frightened — mostly over what we were going to do with him,” Kiriakou said. “He had come to the conclusion that his life was over.”
Deen was eventually transferred to Syria, but attempts to firmly establish his current whereabouts were unsuccessful.
His interrogations corroborated what CIA officials were hearing from Abu Zubaida, but there were other clues at the time that pointed to a less-than-central role for the Palestinian. As a veritable travel agent for jihadists, Abu Zubaida operated in a public world of Internet transactions and ticket agents.
“He was the above-ground support,” said one former Justice Department official closely involved in the early investigation of Abu Zubaida. “He was the guy keeping the safe house, and that’s not someone who gets to know the details of the plans. To make him the mastermind of anything is ridiculous.”
As weeks passed after the capture without significant new confessions, the Bush White House and some at the CIA became convinced that tougher measures had to be tried.
The pressure from upper levels of the government was “tremendous,” driven in part by the routine of daily meetings in which policymakers would press for updates, one official remembered.
“They couldn’t stand the idea that there wasn’t anything new,” the official said. “They’d say, ‘You aren’t working hard enough.’ There was both a disbelief in what he was saying and also a desire for retribution — a feeling that ‘He’s going to talk, and if he doesn’t talk, we’ll do whatever.’ ”
The application of techniques such as waterboarding — a form of simulated drowning that U.S. officials had previously deemed a crime — prompted a sudden torrent of names and facts. Abu Zubaida began unspooling the details of various al-Qaeda plots, including plans to unleash weapons of mass destruction.
Abu Zubaida’s revelations triggered a series of alerts and sent hundreds of CIA and FBI investigators scurrying in pursuit of phantoms. The interrogations led directly to the arrest of Jose Padilla, the man Abu Zubaida identified as heading an effort to explode a radiological “dirty bomb” in an American city. Padilla was held in a naval brig for 3 1/2 years on the allegation but was never charged in any such plot. Every other lead ultimately dissolved into smoke and shadow, according to high-ranking former U.S. officials with access to classified reports.
“We spent millions of dollars chasing false alarms,” one former intelligence official said.
Despite the poor results, Bush White House officials and CIA leaders continued to insist that the harsh measures applied against Abu Zubaida and others produced useful intelligence that disrupted terrorist plots and saved American lives.
Two weeks ago, Bush’s vice president, Richard B. Cheney, renewed that assertion in an interview with CNN, saying that “the enhanced interrogation program” stopped “a great many” terrorist attacks on the level of Sept. 11.
“I’ve seen a report that was written, based upon the intelligence that we collected then, that itemizes the specific attacks that were stopped by virtue of what we learned through those programs,” Cheney asserted, adding that the report is “still classified,” and, “I can’t give you the details of it without violating classification.”
Since 2006, Senate intelligence committee members have pressed the CIA, in classified briefings, to provide examples of specific leads that were obtained from Abu Zubaida through the use of waterboarding and other methods, according to officials familiar with the requests.
The agency provided none, the officials said.