We Have Ways Of Making You Talk!!!
In the spring of 2002, the Bush Administration scored a major coup against al Qaeda. The third ranking member of al Qaeda, Abu Zubaydah, was captured in a daring raid in Pakistan. This surely was a major blow to the terrorist organization and a triumph for the Bush Administration in its War on Terror.
News organizations at the time breathlessly reported the capture of Abu Zubaydah, the "perfect terrorist":
The planes arrived shortly after 2am, the city's mobile phones were shut down, then the police radio went off air. An hour later the FBI was ready to strike.
In an upstairs room in a two-storey house in the Faisal Town suburb of Faisalabad, an industrial city in western Pakistan, a tall 31-year-old man was asleep. Around him, stretched out on pallets on the concrete floor, were a dozen associates: fellow Arabs, Afghans and Pakistanis. The only light inside came from a flickering computer screen and the winking of a fax machine. Just before 4am, on 28 March, the FBI went in.
The man, Zayn al-Abidin Mohamed Husayn, aka Abu Zubaydah, woke as scores of FBI men, shouting and throwing stun grenades, swarmed over the low walls enclosing the house and smashed their way inside.
While his colleagues tried to hold off the FBI with kitchen knives, Zubaydah tried to escape. As he ran, he was shot in the stomach, the groin and the thigh. The FBI took him first to Faisalabad's Allied Hospital and then to Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, 170 miles to the north.
This was the stuff of James Bond movies. The Bush Administration was ecstatic:
U.S. officials said they believe Abu Zubaydah can identify names, faces and locations of Al Qaeda operatives the world over and may also know where Usama bin Laden is hiding.
The White House confirmed the capture Tuesday, and while it acknowledged it was a "very serious blow" to Al Qaeda, it also said Americans were still threatened.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer described Zubaydah as an operational planner and key recruiter for Al Qaeda and a member of bin Laden's "inner circle" who can provide a treasure-trove of top-to-bottom information about the terrorist group.
"He will be interrogated about his knowledge of ongoing plans to conduct terrorist activities. This represents a very serious blow to Al Qaeda," Fleischer said.
Soon, under "enhanced interrogation techniques", Abu Zubaydah started to sing like a canary. He was a treasure trove of information. He was involved in anything and everything al Qaeda. The Bush Administration had hit upon the mother load. This man was al Qaeda's James Bond and Austin Powers rolled up into one. He was al Qaeda's operational coordinator; he was a master of disguise; he was al Qaeda's chief recruiter; he had briefed the hapless shoe bomber; he had planned to blow up the U.S. embassies in Paris and Sarajevo; he was connected to the plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport in 1999. He also gave great tips. He tipped off U.S. authorities about a threat to U.S. financial institutions; about "possible al Qaeda attacks on large apartment buildings, shopping malls, supermarkets and restaurants"; about Jose Padilla, the alleged "dirty bomber". In short, he was a super terrorist - sans the evil cape.
He was so dangerous he could not be kept at Guantanamo Bay for fear that he may use some al Qaeda mind meld technique to communicate with other detainees. So, he was "disappeared" into the CIA's secret prison system somewhere overseas. There he became a prime candidate for some of the cool torture techniques that the Bush Administration loved and cherished. But soon doubts started to emerge about the quality of Mr. Zubaydah's information.
Nonetheless, torture must go on. Enter John Yoo, a brilliant young lawyer working for the Justice Department. At some point, Abu Zubaydah had stopped being cooperative. So the CIA turned to the Justice Department for guidance on how to extract information from Zubaydah. That request prompted the now infamous "Torture Memo" from Mr. Yoo. Cool and fun techniques such as "waterboarding" were approved for the worst of the worst like Zubaydah. Once those newly sanctioned techniques were applied, Zubaydah was back to his old self again singing like he had never sung before.
Now, however, it has emerged that the reason Mr. Zubaydah's information seemed so unreliable at the time was because he is mentally ill. It turns out that Abu Zubaydah was not al Qaeda no. 3 like previously touted, but in fact he was a low level "travel agent" who arranged travel for spouses and relatives of al Qaeda members. He also had multiple personalities that were fascinated with what clothes people wore. Ron Suskind, in his book The One Percent Doctrine, lays it out for us:
Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be. CIA and FBI analysts, poring over a diary he kept for more than a decade, found entries "in the voice of three people: Hani 1, Hani 2, and Hani 3" -- a boy, a young man and a middle-aged alter ego. All three recorded in numbing detail "what people ate, or wore, or trifling things they said." Dan Coleman, then the FBI's top al-Qaeda analyst, told a senior bureau official, "This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality."
Abu Zubaydah also appeared to know nothing about terrorist operations; rather, he was al-Qaeda's go-to guy for minor logistics -- travel for wives and children and the like. That judgment was "echoed at the top of CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President," Suskind writes. And yet somehow, in a speech delivered two weeks later, President Bush portrayed Abu Zubaydah as "one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States." And over the months to come, under White House and Justice Department direction, the CIA would make him its first test subject for harsh interrogation techniques.
So, a low level al Qaeda member who was insane was causing the U.S. law enforcement authorities to jump through hoops chasing phantom al Qaeda plots. Sounds to me like a sinister al Qaeda plot to tire all of us out!
But how could the most powerful nation in the world be given the run around by a mentally ill detainee? It does not seem possible. It turns out that the U.S. response was being driven by George W Bush's ego and his need to avoid embarrassment:
"I said he was important," Bush reportedly told Tenet at one of their daily meetings. "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?" "No sir, Mr. President," Tenet replied. Bush "was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth," Suskind writes, and he asked one briefer, "Do some of these harsh methods really work?" Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports. They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a water-board, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep. Under that duress, he began to speak of plots of every variety -- against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, "thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each . . . target." And so, Suskind writes, "the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered."
This would be comic if not for the fact that the United States faces real dangers in this world. Instead of tracking real dangers down, the Bush Administration has been engaged in torturing a mentally ill man just because George W Bush did not want to lose face. There are many absurd reasons why tyrants and abusers torture people around the world - but this has to be one of the most absurd.
In light of the case of Abu Zubaydah, one has to ask how serious the Bush Administration is in defending this country? If given a choice between protecting the President from embarrassment and protecting the United States, which path will this Administration choose? And will torture litter that path?
[Cross posted at Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying]