WASHINGTON (CN) – The first man subjected to CIA torture after 9/11 made his debut appearance Tuesday morning before the parole-style review board that will decide his future at Guantanamo Bay.
Held at a secret CIA prison for four years before his 2006 transfer to Guantanamo Bay, 45-year-old Abu Zubaydah is considered a high-value detainee but is also one of the most prominent subjects of the so-called Senate Torture Report.
A picture of Zubaydah upon his transfer to the Cuban prison camp shows the Palestinian wearing an eye patch, and lawyers for the detainee have been quoted as saying Zubaydah lost his left eye in CIA custody.
The eye patch hung around Zubaydah’s neck this morning at his hearing before Guantanamo’s Periodic Review Board, replaced on his face by a pair of thin-framed glasses.
As government representatives made their argument to continue Zubaydah’s detention, the detainee switched into a second pair of glasses to read along from a sheet of paper.
Zubaydah has spent the last decade without a charge at Guantanamo Bay, but the government says the detainee “probably retains an extremist mindset.”
Despite these claims, details about Zubaydah’s terrorist ties are shaky. The government had deemed Zubaydah a high-level al-Qaida leader at the time of his capture in 2002, but the Washington Post has reported that its sources in the government later concluded that Zubaydah was not even a formal member of the group.
Representatives for the detainee told the review board Tuesday that Zubaydah never expected to be released “because of the reputation that has been created through the use of his name.”
The government says Zubaydah had “advanced knowledge” of the 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, as well as the 2000 attack on the USS Cole.
It also claims Zubaydah helped build a mujahidin network in the early 1990s, and that he “possibly coordinated” the training of two of the 9/11 hijackers.
While no longer describing Zubaydah as “al-Qaida’s chief of operations” — as President George W. Bush did in 2002 — an unclassified profile of the detainee insists that he “played a key role in al-Qaida’s communications with supporters and operatives abroad and closely interacted with al-Qaida’s second-in-command at the time, Abu Hafs al-Masri.”
Zubaydah read along as his representatives told the anonymous Periodic Review Board that he wants to reconnect with his family and has “seed money” to start a business if approved for release.
Reading verbatim from a prepared statement, a representative for the detainee told the board that Zubaydah “has used his time in Guantanamo to hone his organizational skills, assess U.S. custodial and debriefing practices, and solidify his reputation as a leader of his peers, all of which would help him should he choose to reengage in terrorist activity.”
The government meanwhile says any leadership roles Zubaydah has developed in the military prison might have served as training for his return to terror.
“Some of GZ-10016’s former colleagues continue to engage in terrorist activities and could help GZ-10016 return to planning attacks against Israel and the United States in Pakistan, should he choose to do so,” government profile on Zubaydah says, describing the detainee by his internment serial number.
Footage of the hearing at Guantanamo, which was broadcast on a closed-circuit channel at the Pentagon this morning, showed Zubaydah sometimes staring forward, his thumb under his chin and a finger pressed against the short-trimmed, black beard covering his cheek.
The detainee could also be seen glancing occasionally at his two military representatives on his right, or at the translator seated to his left.
A white, buttoned shirt Zubaydah wore appeared to have a higher collar than the typical garb detainees wear to the hearings. Zubaydah also held something in his right hand, using it once to wipe his face below his eyes, but the video feed was not clear enough to show what it was.
According to the heavily redacted summary of the still-secret report on U.S. torture, prepared by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Zubaydah was waterboarded multiple times a day by his CIA interrogators.
“In at least one waterboarding session, Abu Zubaydah ‘became completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth,'” the report reads.
The report also says Zubaydah spent 266 hours over one 20-day stretch in a coffin-sized box.
Despite all of this, Zubaydah did not give his interrogators any information on future plots for terror attacks in the United States — the express purpose for which the Bush administration approved of his torture, according to the report.
Before the CIA smuggled Zubaydah away to secret “black sites,” the Palestinian had been open with his FBI captors, the Senate found. Indeed it was Zubaydah in 2002 who identified Khalid Sheik Mohammad to the FBI as the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.
The Senate report says Zubaydah was waterboarded in CIA custody 83 times, locked in a small box, deprived of food and kept from sleeping for days with loud music and other sounds blaring near his cell.
Tuesday’s hearing marks Zubaydah’s first step toward potential release from the military prison that has held him for more than a decade without charge or prospect of a trial.
The review board will next determine whether Zubaydah poses a threat to the security of the United States if released — a decision that typically takes about a month to come down.
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