Abu Zubaydah testifies at Gitmo "hearing"

posted on April 17, 2007 | in Category U.S.A. | PermaLink

Original author: Colin Freeze Source: The Globe and Mail URL: [link] Date: April 17, 2007 'High-value' detainee rejects al-Qaeda doctrine Terror suspect tells Guantanamo hearing he 'disagreed' with targeting civilians

To the United States, he remains al-Qaeda's logistics mastermind: a terrorist trainer and Osama bin Laden intimate, alleged to have been behind an attempt to blow up Los Angeles International Airport before moving on to help bankroll other attacks. Yet Abu Zubaydah describes himself differently. At a Guantanamo Bay hearing last month, the "high-value" detainee described himself as a hapless and tortured non-fighter, a travel agent, essentially, who had helped mujahedeen of all stripes enter and leave Afghanistan since the mid-1990s. In his first remarks ever to be made public, the 36-year-old Palestinian admitted he used his base in Peshawar, Pakistan, to route scores of Arab militants -- including some from Canada -- into the Khalden, Afghanistan, training camp where they learned to fire weapons, build explosives and even make poisons.But he says the idea was that fighters would wage only "defensive jihad" in places such as Bosnia and Chechnya -- at least, until Osama bin Laden moved in and tried to gain control of training camps in Afghanistan.
"I disagreed with the al-Qaeda philosophy of targeting innocent civilians like those in the World Trade Center," Abu Zubaydah said, according to the declassified transcript of his March 27 status-review hearing released yesterday.

Attempting to rebut allegations that he helped plot and finance attacks against the United States, he asked, "How can I plan for operations I don't believe in?"

Long before the public remarks, he was a font of classified -- and highly controversial -- Western intelligence. Abu Zubaydah was captured after being wounded in a 2002 shootout in a safe house in Pakistan, and then subjected to highly aggressive forms of interrogation.

He was held for years in a secret prison, where there was no trial or legal proceeding. Last year, he was identified as one of 14 "high-value" detainees to be transferred to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo in Cuba.
Some of the intelligence from Abu Zubaydah is known to be valuable. In a speech last year, U.S. President George W. Bush credited it for leading to the arrest of the 9/11 masterminds.

Other information appears dubious and highly problematic. During last month's hearing, Abu Zubaydah told the tribunal that he suffers the lingering effects of torture, amnesia and shrapnel still embedded in his head from old battles.

He said he regretted making a series of false admissions concerning himself and his fellow travellers.

"I say, 'Okay, I do, I do, but leave me' . . . I say, 'Yes I was partner of bin Laden . . . and I'm partner of [Ahmed] Ressam' . . . They keep torturing me," Abu Zubaydah told the tribunal. He now says the truth of his relationships with the al-Qaeda founder and the so-called millennium bomber from Montreal are more nuanced.

News reports say Abu Zubaydah was a victim of waterboarding, the highly controversial U.S. technique where interrogators make prisoners feel like they are drowning. Because of concern that some statements were tainted by torture, the Federal Court of Canada has rejected intelligence indicating that Abu Zubaydah knew two federal security-certificate detainees, Adil Charkaoui, of Montreal, and Mohamed Harkat, of Ottawa.

During last month's tribunal in Guantanamo, it appeared prosecutors were prepared to submit only public-domain information or intelligence relating to Abu Zubaydah that did not come from torture.

The Pentagon is relying greatly upon public testimony from Ahmed Ressam, the Algerian from Montreal, who says he trained in Afghanistan before U.S. border guards caught him en route to Los Angeles with bomb materials.
Abu Zubaydah "is the man in charge of the camps. He receives young men from all countries. He accepts you or rejects you," Mr. Ressam testified after turning informer in a bid to reduce his sentence in 2001.

He suggested that the then at-large operative was part of al-Qaeda and looking for fake Canadian passports.

At last month's tribunal, Abu Zubaydah responded to these allegations. "Ressam, he is only a student, a trainee. He don't know the big picture," he told the military tribunal.

He argued he didn't provide any kind of ideological guidance to Mr. Ressam or anyone else. "They want to join bin Laden. . . . We will not tell him good or bad. We are same kind of supermarket; he came to take training and he leave," he said. "We give him knowledge as we can."

Abu Zubaydah confirmed that he asked Mr. Ressam for passports. "I wanted five real Canadian passports to be used for personal matters, not terrorist-related activities," he said. No passports were given to Abu Zubaydah who said he has always helped mujahedeen travel. "This is my work; I am not shy from it."

The U.S. government accuses Abu Zubaydah of plotting tanker-truck explosions in North America, but he said he did not support Mr. Ressam's talk of exploding one in a Jewish neighbourhood of Montreal.

"He have ideas to make problems against Jew in Canada. I tell him if they are helping Israel, I told him this is good war," he told the tribunal. "But if only Jew, it is not our headache," Abu Zubaydah said.

© Copyright 2007 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.