Held 14 Years Without Charge, CIA Torture 'Guinea Pig' Abu Zubaydah Asks for Freedom

After 14 years of being held without charge, Guantánamo prisoner Abu Zubaydah, who was subject to brutal torture and is known as the “guinea pig” for the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) “enhanced interrogation program,” made his first appearance on Tuesday before the Periodic Review Board and requested to be set free.

In a statement (pdf) read by his personal representative, he explained how he “initially believe that he did not have any chance or hope to be released” but has “come to believe that he might have a chance to leave Guantánamo.”

Further, Zubaydah “expressed a desire to be reunited with his family and begin the process of recovering from injuries he sustained during his capture.” Among other abuses, the detainee lost an eye while in CIA custody. 

Despite the recent rash of transfers from the infamous offshore prison, Zubaydah had long been considered one who would forever “languish in a legal black hole,” as Crofton Black, an investigator for the human rights group Reprieve, once put it.

Zubaydah was the CIA’s first captive after 9/11 and was accused of being one of the highest ranking leaders of al Qaeda, though that claim has been officially recanted. According to investigative journalist Jason Leopold, he is “the only CIA detainee who was subjected to all 10 enhanced interrogation techniques that the Department of Justice sanctioned in a legal opinion commonly referred to as the ‘torture memo,'” including water boarding.

In 2009, Zubaydah detailed his treatment in a sworn eight-page declaration filed in U.S. District Court though he was expected to “remain incommunicado for the remainder of his life,” according to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report.

According to reporting Tuesday, an unidentified government official, speaking from an undisclosed location, described Zubaydah “as a lower-level recruiter and facilitator” for al Qaeda, who “possibly” had advanced knowledge of the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and was “generally aware” of the planned 9/11 attacks.


However, he “most actively plotted attacks against Israel, enlisting operatives from various militant groups, including al Qaeda, to conduct operations in Israel and against Israeli interests abroad. He was convicted in absentia by the Jordanian government for his role in planning attacks against Israeli, Jordanian and western targets during the millennium time frame in Jordan.”

Both his representative and the government official emphasized Zubaydah’s good behavior in the prison as well as his condemnation of the Islamic State (ISIS).

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“He has no desire or intent to harm the united states or any other country, and has repeatedly said that the Islamic State is out of control and has gone too far,” the statement read.

But as the Guardian noted, “during the publicly open portion of a quasi-parole hearing to consider his release from the prison at Guantánamo Bay, there was no mention of the torture endured by the 45-year-old Palestinian.”

And despite President Barack Obama’s recent efforts to decrease the population of Guantánamo, one of Zubaydah’s attorneys, Joe Margulies, feels strongly that “Abu Zubaydah will not be released,” which Guardian reported David Smith attributed to his “deep knowledge of CIA torture.”

Margulies continued: “Here’s the bottom line. Since Barack Obama took office, there is no one more different—who they thought he was and who he is—than Abu Zubaydah. He has done nothing that authorizes his continued detention. It is morally and legally unjustified.”

A decision from the board on whether he is eligible for transfer is expected in about 30 days.

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