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Islamic militancy

The ‘forever prisoner’ of 9/11, never charged and never allowed to speak, will testify in Guantanamo court

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 March, 2017, 1:58pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 March, 2017, 9:31pm

The judge in the September 11 war crimes case has agreed to hear testimony next week from “forever prisoner” Abu Zubaydah, the guinea pig in the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation program who has never been charged with a crime and has never been allowed to speak in public.

At issue is a claim by accused 9/11 plot deputy Ramzi bin al Shibh that someone is intentionally disrupting his sleep at the clandestine Camp 7 prison. Bin al Shibh, 44, blames the CIA or troops doing its bidding for noises and vibrations that interfere with his ability to prepare for his death penalty trial, which has no start date.

Defence lawyers say Zubaydah is being called as a trusted Camp 7 block leader to describe his interactions with and on behalf of bin al Shibh. Zubaydah, 46, whose real name is Zayn al Abideen al Hussein, was a prized early capture in the war on terror in March 2002 and was the first captive to be waterboarded, 83 times in a single month, among other experimental CIA “enhanced interrogation techniques”.

Bin al Shibh says the CIA has been messing with his mind since his September 11, 2002, capture in Pakistan, a complaint prosecutors dismiss.

But psychologist James Mitchell, an architect of the “black site” interrogation program, wrote in his recent memoirs that the vibrations were real in at least one black site. “I thought about giving him a special tinfoil hat to make it all go away,” he wrote in his book Enhanced Interrogation, Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying to Destroy America.

Then he and his CIA contract partner Bruce Jessen each lay down on bin al Shibh’s cell bed.

“The vibration was there, and it was not something you could ignore. It made me feel like the room was spinning,” Mitchell wrote. “I could imagine that after a while it might make a person nauseous. It would certainly keep me awake, but oddly enough, you couldn’t feel it anyplace else in the cell.”

Mitchell and Jessen were CIA contractors who designed and implemented some interrogation tactics used on “high-value” captives — waterboarding them, slamming them into walls, depriving them of sleep, withholding food, manipulating their diet, shackling them in stress positions, forcing them to be nude, hooded or listening to loud noises as well as confining them to a dark coffin-like box.

But Mitchell in his book blamed the vibrating bed at the black site on “an engineering problem localised to that cell.” He wrote that he couldn’t explain more for security reasons about “the cell or how it was affixed inside the building.” But, he said, the vibrations “happened only when a large piece of equipment situated near by was running.”

Last year, before Mitchell’s book came out, bin al Shibh testified that it happens at Guantanamo, too.

In June, Zubaydah made it to the courtroom door to testify for bin al Shibh. However, the Palestinian’s military attorney, Navy Commander Patrick Flor, opposed his testimony without immunity. Lawyers then twice applied for testimonial immunity — both requests were denied — and Judge James Pohl, an Army colonel, agreed at a chambers conference Saturday to hear from Zubaydah next week, according to several attorneys who were there.

Monday was the opening of a two-week hearing in the September 11 case, and lawyers dealt with pretrial issues.