Did Abu Zubaydah Have Dissociative Identity Disorder? And Why It Matters
Last week, Jason Leopold got an important scoop in his interview with former CIA officer John Kiriakou. Kiriakou first became known when he revealed the CIA had indeed used waterboarding. He was also the agent known for capturing supposed Al Qaeda mastermind, Abu Zubaydah. His interview with Leopold is fascinating and bears re-watching, as he also touches on other subjects, including his role in the Plame affair.
Marcy Wheeler has noted the inconsistency between Kiriakou’s claims in the video that Abu Zubaydah’s diaries were not, as portrayed by Ron Suskind in his book, The One Percent Doctrine, the diaries of a mentally ill individual, but simply those of a creative mind, since the government relies on these diaries as supporting material in its terrorism case against Zubaydah. (See also this earlier story by Leopold.)
According to Kiriakou (Marcy’s transcription):
Those weren’t diaries…. They were journals and doodle books. He would write these letters to himself. They weren’t really letters to himself. It was like a work of fiction.
Well, were they letters or not, John?
The quick switch (they were, they weren’t) is highly suggestive of lying and the use of a cover story. The preponderance of the reports from third parties suggest that Zubaydah has a mental disorder. The use of different personalities would suggest that disorder could be Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), one of the dissociative syndromes listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV-TR, otherwise known as the DSM.
Could Abu Zubaydah simply have been a singularly creative fellow, a Muslim belles-lettrist? For one thing, that side of his personality never surfaced in the psychological profile written up on him in July 2002. While this psychological profile is full of lies, half-truths, and other material aimed at allowing for a decision to use advanced EITs on him (like waterboarding), there is no reason to think that it would have left out a significant aspect of his functioning regarding what was in his diaries. Instead, it likely points to the fact that the CIA cover story on Abu Zubaydah was not yet fully developed by the summer of 2002, or that is would have to change significantly in the following years.
The existence of a DID profile for Zubaydah (if that were to be true, and there is some indication that it might be) is also notable because the artificial creation of dissociated personalities was a primary aim of CIA interrogation research for decades. This article by Dr. Colin Ross, past president of the International Society for the Study of Dissociation, describes some of this history, beginning with Projects Bluebird and Artichoke, and including the "psychic driving" experiments of Ewan Cameron (as described, among other places, in Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine). Over the years, the subject was relegated to conspiracy websites, haunted by a combination of schizophrenic, paranoiacs, and dedicated would-be historians, in addition to real victims of former government experiments.
I say relegated, because discussion of this topic has long not been considered respectable. (This might change now that the current Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Cass Sunstein, has stated that MKULTRA was a "true" conspiracy (PDF).) There is only one successful, mainstream book, which has been in print for 30 years or so now, that even treats the subject of government-created dissociated personalities, and that is John D. Marks’ Search for the Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Control – The Secret History of the Behavioral Sciences. (This is not to belittle the other excellent authors who have published on the subject.)
Marks, who was once staff assistant to the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, wrote his book utilizing 16,000 documents obtained painstakingly via FOIA, as well as interviews with psychologists and CIA officers. He blew the whistle on the mind control programs, which had been partly revealed by the Rockefeller Commission and Congressional investigation.
DID is a relatively rare psychiatric disorder. If Abu Zubaydah has this disorder, it certainly could have been developed in the course of his life. On the other hand, it would also be quite a coincidence that the man trumpeted by the government as an Al Qaeda mastermind, close to Osama bin Laden, who later turned out to be no such thing, and who was a key experimental guinea pig in the CIA’s EIT program, should also turn out to have DID.
It should be noted, too, that the study of dissociative phenomenon among SERE trainees has been a primary focus of military and CIA researchers, as evidenced by this report (PDF), and this journal article. An article at Truthout last year explored the links between one of the key researchers of these studies and the CIA.
The Man Who Was Almost There
According to an article by Ron Suskind in Time Magazine, Zubaydah’s diaries, "which the government refuses to release, is written in three voices over 10 years and is filled with page after page of quotidian nonsense about housekeeping, food and types of tea." The diaries, discovered in the safehouse where Zubaydah was captured, are thousands of pages long. In a Washington Post review of Suskind’s book, Barton Gellman went into more detail:
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."
But according to George W. Bush, in a statement made as late as September 6, 2006, Zubaydah was "a senior terrorist leader and a trusted associate of Osama bin Laden" (H/T Blueness at Daily Kos). Who was this man captured by Kiriakou and his associates? There are only so many scenarios here that fit the known facts.
1) Abu Zubaydah was a lower-level jihadist who was the victim of bad intel and tortured. He was also a creative individual who wrote "doodle" notebooks to himself using multiple narrators as representing himself, mostly to amuse himself. Nevertheless, some good intel came from his interrogations.(Kiriakou’s narrative)
2) Abu Zubaydah was a high-level jihadist, worked with OBL. Was captured and tortured, and the U.S. obtained valuable intel that stopped terrorist attacks. His diaries contain evidence of his crimes. While they show evidence of "cognitive impairment," such impairment, or even any possible evidence re "multiple voices" is not relevant to the case against him. (Official U.S. government narrative)
3) Abu Zubaydah was thought to be a high-level jihadist, but upon examination wasn’t really too important. In fact, he appeared mentally ill, and wrote his diaries in multiple voices (three of them). He was inadvisedly used as a subject of the CIAs EIT program. (FBI interrogators’ and Ron Suskind narrative)
4) The biography of Abu Zubaydah is only partial known. He was a jihadist in the anti-Soviet war, and was badly wounded there. At some point he developed DID, or a DID syndrome was produced within him by government action. The government had a good deal of interest in experimenting on someone with DID, as it would have been valuable to them to know if the physiological variables they were testing (e.g., cortisol, catecholamines, etc.) would vary under "uncontrollable stress" (torture); in addition, if a learned helplessness syndrome could vary under different personalities. He was a very unusual and valuable guinea pig to them. It is also not impossible that they intended at some point to use him as a double agent, testing the use of dissociated personality "Manchurian Candidates" in dangerous Muslim extremist circles. (This is my quite speculative, hypothetical narrative, but grounded in reports of his possible mental illness, and in known practices and ambitions of the U.S. defense and intelligence agencies.)
By the way, Kiriakou’s assertion that Zubaydah did not seem schizophrenic or "mentally retarded," so therefore could not have multiple personalities shows his naivete or ignorance regarding DID. Someone with multiple personalities can appear quite normal and logical in some or all of these personalities. It is the dissociated or separate nature of the different personalities, far beyond the different tendencies or ways of operating publicly vs privately that is in all of us, that makes it unique and pathological. That and the fact that some of these personalities can be unconscious of the existence of other personalities. Remember, this is a rare phenomenon.
There are surely plenty of readers who believe this kind of analysis to be "far-out" there. Yet my hypothesis is quite possible. I won’t say it is probably true, because I don’t have enough information. Those still thinking that Zubaydah as a dissociated guinea pig is some sort of science fiction hokum should read more deeply into the history of U.S. mind control programs. One could start with an article by H.P. Albarelli and myself that reviewed the "Lyle case," an example of the CIA using Artichoke techniques to "re-condition" and "re-orient" a person through the use of drugs and hypnosis.
The attempt to control and predict human behavior, which was a cardinal principle of modern behaviorist psychology, has joined up with the imperial ambitions of post-Hiroshima America, and what it has produced are outlandish schemes and programs aimed at the control of individuals through psychological and physiological techniques that can only be called torture. Whether Abu Zubaydah was a potential Manchurian Candidate or not, the experiments done upon him and others to create an all-powerful form of coercive interrogation will go down as one of the horrors of modern times.