The set-up of Abu Zubaydah as an Al Qaeda bigwig may have been meant, among other things, for use in intimidation and torture of other prisoners. Andy Worthington recounts how a prisoner captured with Zubaydah, Omar Gharmesh, reported to another prisoner in Syria’s infamous Palestine Branch prison, where they were sent via “extraordinary rendition,” that he was shown pictures of a tortured Abu Zubaydah and told, “If you don’t talk, this is what will happen to you.”
What has not been reported until now is that another prisoner reports that he and a number of other detainees at Guantanamo were also shown pictures of a tortured and injured Abu Zubaydah.
Ibrahim Mahdi Achmed Zeidan, a Jordanian prisoner transferred from Guantanamo to Jordan two years ago (despite the fact the Jordanians told him they “would beat” him when he was released from Guantanamo), stated in his Combatant Status Review Tribunal (Sept. 27, 2004) that he knew about Abu Zubaydah’s torture. Zeidan claimed that Zubaydah’s statements identifying him had been induced by this torture. How did he know Zubaydah had been tortured, the Guantanamo tribunal asked, and Zeidan replied (bold emphasis added):
We know from the American interrogators, not only me, but also a lot of other detainees on this island know that he was subject to a lot of torture. There was a picture of him, I didn’t see it, and someone else did showing the signs of torture on his body.
Two recent news items — the revelation Binyam Mohamed was a victim of the same treatment Abu Zubaydah received, and at about the same time (discussed in my last post); and the repeated use of the fact of Zubaydah’s torture in the interrogation of prisoners, including oral statements from interrogators and pictures of a tortured Zubaydah — demonstrate how little we really know about the particulars of the operations of the U.S. torture program.
Nor do we know very much about what is going on even now, in an era of supposed transparency by the Obama administration. The Washington Post and New York Times each had articles over the weekend about torture occuring at a remaining, “classified” black site prison run by Special Operations at Bagram Air Base. The Post article used testimony from two Afghan teens, one of whom said he had been forced to watch pornography while also looking at a picture of his mother. The Times article, with 42-year-old displaced farmer Hamidullah, described a period of torture that took place since Obama became president.
Also demonstrating how little we still know about the extent of U.S. torture and abusive detention policies, in early November the ACLU wrote to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, “requesting updated data on juveniles in U.S. military custody in Iraq and Afghanistan and information on efforts to bring U.S. policy regarding the treatment, detention and trial of juveniles into compliance with international law.”
As for Abu Zubaydah, it seems likely at this point that his torture was singled out for special treatment and photographic propagation because he was being set-up as a major figure. After his cover story as a key leader was embedded in the public’s mind (and remember that Ron Suskind found that Bush was the major figure in pushing the importance of Zubaydah). the fact of his torture was then paraded before other prisoners in an effort to scare and intimidate them. Meanwhile, a major scandal and investigation have involved the CIA’s admitted destruction of videotapes of Zubaydah’s interrogation. Were the photos of Zubaydah’s torture also destroyed?
The similar torture of Binyam Mohamed and perhaps others, even quite early on, took place in total secrecy. For this part of the torture narrative, the United States and its British ally have been trying mightily to suppress all knowledge, but thanks to the intrepid morality of some British judges, they have failed.
As Andy Worthington noted, propagating knowledge of this “evidence of widespread torture and abuse prior to the August 2002 torture memo… may well have to be the focus of our pressure as writers and activists if, as anticipated, the OPR [Office of Public Responsibility] report on the OLC [Office of Legal Counsel] lawyers ends up having had its teeth removed.”