Was Ramzi Bin al-Shibh the Second Al Qaeda Detainee?

We now know that Harriet Miers apparently knew about the torture tape destruction, though she counseled against it. And we know who–purportedly–ordered their destruction: Jose Rodriguez, then Deputy Director of CIA for Clandestine Operations. But you know what we don’t yet know?

The identity of the second top Al Qaeda figure whose torture tapes were destroyed. Update: now we do: from the NYT,

The tapes, which showed severe interrogation methods against two operatives from Al Qaeda, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri,

(h/t rfw) Which, since it’s coming from a reliable journalist (Lichtblau) I guess means the rest of this bloviating is pointless.

I’m going to make a wild-arsed guess the second detainee was Ramzi bin al-Shibh.

I say that, first of all, because the destruction of the tapes almost certainly was obstruction of justice for Moussaoui. ABC confirms that the tapes were destroyed in November 2005.

In 2002, the CIA videotaped the interrogations of two terror suspects, including top al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah. The tapes showed what the CIA calls "enhanced interrogation techniques," methods which critics call torture.

In February 2003, the CIA says it told the leaders of congressional intelligence committees about the tapes and that it planned to destroy them.

On Nov. 2, 2005, the Washington Post detailed the CIA’s secret prison program known as "black sites." It was November 2005 that the CIA destroyed the tapes. [my emphasis]

If it was November, it pretty much had to be obstruction of justice in Moussaoui’s case, because odds are very high they destroyed the tapes after Leonie Brinkema inquired whether the government had any tapes from the Al Qaeda detainees. From my timeline:

November 1, 2005: Dana Priest reveals the use of black sites in Europe.

November 3, 2005: Brinkema inquires whether govt has video or audio tapes of interrogations.


November 14, 2005: Govt tells Brinkema it has no audio or video tapes.

In other words, there were only two days in November when they could have destroyed the tapes without it being clear obstruction of justice. Frankly, the only way they could have told the truth on the 14th is if they had already destroyed the tapes. And as good as Priest’s article was, I just don’t think that was enough to lead to the destruction of the tapes.

Now look at these earlier data points from the timeine:

January 2003: Leonie Brinkema grants Moussaoui right to interview Ramzi Bin-al-Shibh by video.


September 10, 2003: Government refuses to let Moussaoui question Al Qaeda witnesses.

2003–the year when CIA first proposed destroying the tapes–was also the year when the government and Moussaoui’s team spent most of the year fighting over whether Moussaoui would get to question Al Qaeda detainees (and trust me, there were about 6 iterations of this fight between January and September). And the first person Moussaoui asked to question–the guy who Moussaoui insisted would exonerate him–was Ramzi bin al-Shibh, the real 20th hijacker.

Bin al-Shibh was detained on 9/11/2002 (if they didn’t make up that date for kicks after having caught him on an earlier, less auspicious date). So, early enough that he may have been captured before the CIA (Hayden claims) stopped taping interrogations. Or, if you believe Hayden’s lying about the claim that CIA no longer tapes interrogations (and I do), then the 2002 date offers a convenient explanation for why Zubaydah’s and Bin al-Shibh’s tapes were the only two that were destroyed.

That way, the CIA wouldn’t have to admit they destroyed tapes from the two men who could–and I suspect did–exonerate Moussaoui.

The claim they destroyed the tape to save CIA interrogators from harassment and probable legal troubles? That might be a smokescreen (though remember, this is a wildarsed guess) to hide the fact that they deliberately destroyed evidence that would have helped Moussaoui.

  1. radiofreewill says:

    What if the tape shows Zubayduh getting waterboarded, puking, and then plainly yelling out the names of the four guys who could not only vouch for him, but who could also explain the story of the Saudis and the Pakistani General knowing about the 911 attack before it happened?

    Then, of course, the tape would show them getting back to waterboarding Zubayduh for round two of the check-listed, videotaped procedure…

    • LS says:

      Well, and we know that it was a Pakistani General that sent Atta the $100,000 to Rigg’s Bank, run by W’s uncle at the time…

  2. LS says:

    So, it sounds to me like Abu Zubaydah implicated princes of the Saudi Royal family in the 9/11 attacks….now…that would be a good reason to destroy tapes too; especially since the Bush family is such good friends with them, not to mention that the one’s he implicated are all dead, and the 9/11 Commission was going on too. Just sayin’.

    I wonder if BAE/Bandar Bush falls into all of this too. Just brainstormin’.

  3. ProfessorFoland says:

    Posner’s HuffPost post saying that Zubaydah fingered Saudi princes and the head of the Pakistani Air Force is spectacular, but I’m not sure it’s clear there’s a credible source for this story. (If you’re thinking you’ve heard this before, you have; it’s not a new story, he wrote about it several years ago.)

  4. Waccamaw says:

    Oh, hell’s bells and codfish! Bloody linky no worky…have been having trouble all week but thought I’d finally figured it out. Will try again….if still not, go to NYT and it’s on front page….

    OH, Bless you, MadDog!

  5. lukery says:

    I haven’t been following this story toooo closely, so apologies if I say something stupid, but one thing that i noticed is the “AT LEAST” two tapes.

    Do we know whether there were only two suspects involved, and maybe more than one tape of those two? Or maybe more than two people?

  6. MadDog says:

    But in giving out “kudos”, the NYT spoils the whole effect with this:

    On the Bright Side Joe Klein, TIME’s political columnist, welcomed another dose of candor from the intelligence community, a few days after the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran redefined another controversial debate.

    Joke Line, his eyes twitching, is torn between his desire to stuff his chipmunk cheeks with just one more cocktail weenie, or hump that exotically attractive elephant leg umbrella stand in the foyer.

    Say it ain’t so Joe!

    Hope ya got a condom Joke.

  7. emptywheel says:


    I’ve seen conflicting reports, you’re right. Though all tend to say two detainees. My question is, if so many people think there were two, then why are they only telling us the one?

    • lukery says:

      EW – i think all of the original reports said ‘at least two’ and then the shorthand becomes ‘two’ – and the pattern with this crew is that eventually we realize that ‘at least two’ wasn’t accidental.

  8. LS says:

    “Harsh interrogation techniques authorized by top officials of the CIA have led to questionable confessions and the death of a detainee since the techniques were first authorized in mid-March 2002, ABC News has been told by former and current intelligence officers and supervisors.

    They say they are revealing specific details of the techniques, and their impact on confessions, because the public needs to know the direction their agency has chosen. All gave their accounts on the condition that their names and identities not be revealed. Portions of their accounts are corrobrated by public statements of former CIA officers and by reports recently published that cite a classified CIA Inspector General’s report.”

    “The CIA sources described a list of six “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” instituted in mid-March 2002 and used, they said, on a dozen top al Qaeda targets incarcerated in isolation at secret locations on military bases in regions from Asia to Eastern Europe.”

    “Sources say Al Libbi had been subjected to each of the progressively harsher techniques in turn and finally broke after being water boarded and then left to stand naked in his cold cell overnight where he was doused with cold water at regular intervals.”

    November 18, 2005


    • emptywheel says:


      I’ve been wondering about al-Libi, too (he was captured earlier than bin al-Shibh, which would mean he’d be tortured around the same time as Zubaydah.

      And if it’s al-Libi–the tape would show al-Libi making up lies about ties between Al Qaeda and Iraq that were later used to start a war.

      So I could see why they’d want to destroy that one, too.

      • LS says:

        God, it is all so horrifying.

        Which detainee died I wonder? Was it Al Libi, or do these people just disappear? I’m wondering, seriously, if they’ve literally offed these people after they’re done with them. How do we know that the Gitmo detainees that were supposedly released, were ever actually “released”? This stuff is getting really suspicious…more suspicious than it already is, that is…

  9. Hmmm says:

    I hope whatever reporters and investigators get involved in this are smart enough not to limit their queries to “tapes” per se — digital video recordings can be on other media too, i.e. CD, DVD, hard drive, memory card, memory stick, etc. So far all I see is statements that tapes were destroyed, not that the inscribed recordings or copies thereof no longer exist.

    Of course the non-production of such surviving evidence would still be about as bad as their destruction.

    • MadDog says:

      That NYT article has some “choice” bits:

      With calls from House and Senate Democrats for a full investigation, the White House seemed to be bracing for an investigation from the Justice Department by initiating an inquiry of its own through the White House counsel’s office. The aim, Ms. Perino said, is to “gather facts.”

      The Justice Department said that it was reviewing the requests from Congress for a full investigation. A senior Justice Department official, who spoke about internal deliberations on condition of anonymity, suggested that the department would be likely to wait for a referral from the C.I.A. inspector general.

      The WH Counsel – Ha-ha! And DOJ “waiting” for the CIA Inspector General – Ha-ha!

  10. Hugh says:

    There were two videotapes and one audio tape. This information came from the letter that prosecutors sent to Judge Brinkema. The letter doesn’t say who was interrogated on them.

    Ramzi bin al-Shibh (along with Zubaydah) is the best guess for who might be on the tapes from the standpoint of timing and a connection to the Moussaoui case.

  11. Hugh says:

    Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri wasn’t arrested in the UAE until November 8, 2002. Al-Libi wasn’t arrested until May 2 2005.

    OTOH Ramzi bin al Shibh was arrested in Pakistan on September 11, 2002.

    • emptywheel says:

      I certainly don’t rule it out at all. Though even if it’s true I still wonder why they destroyed the tape when they did.

      If it’s true that it’s al-Nashiri and Zubaydah, maybe al-Nashiri is just as crazy as Zubaydah was.

      • Hmmm says:

        Or, if Posner is right (and without a source cite I have no reason to conclude he is or isn’t), that means they would have had to destroy the Zubaydah tape to hide the (apparant, at least) Saudi link. If they then failed to destroy the other Moussaoui-related tape, it would have raised unwelcome questions about what was different about Zubaydah. So maybe destroying the 2nd tape was just cover for destroying the 1st one.

      • radiofreewill says:

        It is interesting that the second video tape and the audio tape were shown to the USAs on Oct 18 – the same day as Bush’s WWIII Rhetoric.

  12. Loo Hoo. says:

    Interesting that Perino says Bush has no recollection of knowing about the tapes or their destruction. Why (asking jokingly) isn’t he saying he wants to see heads on a platter of those involved in the destruction of evidence? Bush has said nothing indicating that this would be the least bit upsetting.

    • Neil says:

      Interesting that Perino says Bush has no recollection of knowing about the tapes or their destruction. Why (asking jokingly) isn’t he saying he wants to see heads on a platter of those involved in the destruction of evidence? Bush has said nothing indicating that this would be the least bit upsetting.

      You mean like “Anyone in my adminstration who was involved on the desrtuction of the tapes will be dealt with”

  13. Hugh says:

    These are the 14 high value prisoners transferred to Guantanamo September 2-3, 2006:

    Seven of them reportedly had some connection to the 9/11 attacks. Here are their names, nationalities, and the allegations against them.
    Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) (Pakistani, raised in Kuwait). He is the suspected mastermind of 9/11 attacks and many other al-Qaeda attacks. A CIA biography of KSM calls him “one of history’s most infamous terrorists.”
    Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (Saudi). He allegedly helped finance the 9/11 attacks.
    Hambali (Indonesian). He attended a key planning meeting for the 9/11 attacks in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) and is accused of involvement in many other plots, including the 2002 Bali bombing (see October 12, 2002).
    Khallad bin Attash (a.k.a. Tawfiq bin Attash) (Yemeni). He also attended a key planning meeting for the 9/11 attacks in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) and had a role in other plots such as the 2000 USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000).
    Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (Pakistani, raised in Kuwait). He allegedly helped finance the 9/11 attacks and arranged transportation for some hijackers. His uncle is KSM.
    Ramzi bin al-Shibh (Yemeni). A member of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell with Mohamed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers. The CIA calls him the “primary communications intermediary” between the hijackers and KSM. He also attended a key planning meeting for the 9/11 attacks in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000).
    Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (Saudi). He is said to have been one of the masterminds of the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). He also attended a key planning meeting for the 9/11 attacks in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000).
    The remaining seven suspects are alleged to have been involved in other al-Qaeda plots:
    Abu Zubaida (Palestinian, raised in Saudi Arabia). He is said to be a facilitator who helped make travel arrangements for al-Qaeda operatives. He is also alleged to have organized a series of planned millennium attacks.
    Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (Tanzanian). He was indicted for a role in the 1998 African embassy bombings (see August 7, 1998). He is also said to be an expert document forger.
    Majid Khan (Pakistani). He lived in the US since 1996 and is said to have worked with KSM on some US bomb plots.
    Abu Faraj al-Libbi (a.k.a. Mustafa al-‘Uzayti) (Libyan). He allegedly became al-Qaeda’s top operations officer after KSM was captured.
    Mohamad Farik Amin (a.k.a. Zubair) (Malaysian). He is a key Hambali associate and was allegedly tapped for a suicide mission targeting Los Angeles.
    Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep (a.k.a. Lillie) (Malaysian). He is a key Hambali associate. He is accused of providing funds for the 2003 bombing of the Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia. He was allegedly tapped for a suicide mission targeting Los Angeles.
    Gouled Hassan Dourad (Somali). He allegedly scouted a US military base in Djibouti for a planned terrorist attack.


    I put in bold the 4 names we have been talking about. They are all currently at Guantanamo.

  14. MrWhy says:

    I’m way behind the times, but haven’t seen anyone else mention this.

    From the Oct 25, 2007 letter from USAs and AUSAs to Judges Williams & Brinkema, we know that

    Sep 13, 2007 CIA acknowledges that they have video of 1 interrogation
    Sep 19, 2007 DoJ USAs view video
    Oct 18, 2007 DoJ USAs view 2nd video and listens to audio of interrogation

    So these tapes were still around as late as Oct 18 2007. Were they subsequently destroyed? If so, these USAs are surely culpable. Brinkema must be steaming.

    • emptywheel says:

      Different al-Libi.

      I’m talking about Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, who was captured in early 2002. I may have misstated that his testimony made it into NIE–but it was definitely used by Powell at the UN.

      al-Libi would be really interesting (though I have no reason to doubt Lichtblau), bc it would be a case where torture produced bad intell that led to Iraq war.

  15. radiofreewill says:

    The video tape destruction story looks like its going to rage all weekend.

    Calling Jose Rodriguez…please come to the Information Booth at FireDogLake…Jose Rodriguez.

  16. LS says:

    Hmmmm…in light of all of the layers of lies…in light of the destroyed tapes….In light of all of the flying here and flying there…in light of the acknowledged torture….in light of Whitehouse’s findings….in light of the NIE….I’m not so sure so many of these “detainees” are able to be produced “in person” should anyone ever demand it….

    I’ve got a “bad” feeling about all of this…real bad.

    • bobschacht says:

      “Hmmmm…in light of all of the layers of lies…in light of the destroyed tapes….In light of all of the flying here and flying there…in light of the acknowledged torture….in light of Whitehouse’s findings….in light of the NIE….I’m not so sure so many of these “detainees” are able to be produced “in person” should anyone ever demand it….

      I’ve got a “bad” feeling about all of this…real bad.”

      The prototype is Moussaoui. You saw what they’ve done to him. His whole personality has been reconstructed. An inner core that is scared to death of his interrogators, and an outer layer that is not only compliant, but eager to please his captors. He wanted to plead guilty so that he would be sent to a different prison than the one he’d been in, with the interrogators whom he feared. In other words, the CIA destroyed him. He’s now a zombie, for all practical purposes. Something similar has probably happened to the others.

      Bob in HI

  17. LS says:

    In the human rights report citing the detainees, it says that about 12 of them were waterboarded, as I understand it. I would like to see Congress, demand that they produce these people in person and verify the identity of those produced..(not on tape, not on audio), to verify how many are still alive in reality, because if they are not…..well…then we have another story going on.

  18. Hmmm says:

    What are you saying, LS? That this whole thing started with detainee murders we don’t know about yet, and all the bizarre legal definitional stuff and the UE overreaching and the state secrets stonewalling and everything is all just coverup for that?

    • LS says:

      I don’t know, but I linked earlier to the fact that they were building an execution room at Gitmo, per the Guardian, from an article back in 2003.

      I put nothing past these people. Aren’t they always harping on how much the islamofacists want to kill us…that is a justification…they were hell bent on killing us, and all’s fair in the war on terra…

      Who knows? Everything is hidden. We don’t really know the true status of the original 680 detainees, except that a bunch of them are “gone”.

  19. Hmmm says:

    How does that relate to the leaked Gitmo operations manual and ICRC inspections? Do they get to perform headcounts?

  20. Loo Hoo. says:

    Whoa, LS. Are you saying have the CIA bring them to DC from Guantanamo to report to Congress? That would be kinda fun. Can you imagine what the republicans would scream??

    • MadDog says:

      And the then CIA General Counsel was Scott W. Muller. He is the one per NYT who briefed both Congress and the WH about the CIA’s desire/intent to “lose the tapes”.

      Scottie has since moved on to greener pastures:

      Mr. Muller is a member of Davis Polk & Wardwell’s Litigation Department…Mr. Muller pioneered the use of the corporate “deferred prosecution” to resolve a federal criminal investigation.

      Now known as Scottie “Everyone gets a free pass” Muller.

  21. JohnLopresti says:

    Bashman linked to an article about an attorney congress evidently rejected even after a long career, when Bush tried to nominate him, in 2006; although the article states more, the openers are congress might want to ask a few more questions now, simply because that atty was in the agency since the 1970s.

  22. Rayne says:

    LS (49) — you could be right. There have be a lot of “suicide attempts”, not unsurprising, but easily used as cover. What’s the status of Abaidullah, who says he’d been threatened with having his throat slit by interrogators…and then Jumah al-Dossari, who is alleged to have tried to slit his own throat on several occasions.

  23. lukery says:

    QOTD on PBS’s Lehrer: “(The disappearing tapes story) is starting to sound like the watergate of waterboarding”
    (some guy from HRW)

  24. Rayne says:

    Oh jeebus. I forgot all about this…

    Karpinski “told the BBC that she met an Israeli interrogator working in a U.S.-run “intelligence center” in Baghdad. Brigadier General Janet Karpinski told BBC Radio in an interview on Saturday that she met with a man who claimed to be Israeli and that he “did some of the interrogation” at the facility.” (09-JUL-04)

    Which could it be, that detainees gave up damaging info about the Saudi royals, or that Israeli interrogators appear on the recordings…or both?

    Attytood had a post at one point which has since been taken down about Judith “Blew Lies” Miller sitting in on an interrogation by Israelis. I don’t recall now whether the interrogation was in any way connected with Iraq or something much earlier and under a different administration — but the gist of Attytood’s post was that she observed and then didn’t write a word about the interrogation process. (Creeped me out that Attytood took it down, too.) Have certain foreign agents been working hand-in-hand all along in our non-torture torture?

    • emptywheel says:

      Judy observed teh interrogation of Mohammed Salah, whom NDIL put on trial for supporting Hezbollah. The interrogation was in the late 1990s, and Judy did write on it–though reports she saw no torture.

  25. Rayne says:

    Found it.

    This description written in 2004, about events in 1993, is hauntingly familiar:

    The Government has denied that the three men were mistreated, and said Mr. Salah’s description of his links to Hamas was not coerced. According to Israeli security officials, Mr. Salah has been questioned almost daily at a T-shaped Formica table in a spartan room in the Governor’s Building, the high-security prison.

    But Ahlam Haddad, his lawyer, says that Mr. Salah denies any involvement with Hamas and that the statements attributed to him were obtained under pressure.

    “He told me he was pressured into signing a confession in Hebrew, which he does not understand,” the lawyer said. She added that he had not been tortured, but had been subjected to “intense interrogation for three days and nights without sleep” and had been “questioned with his hands tied behind his back.”

    [emphasis mine]

    Just wish they’d come out and be straight with us, so we don’t have to waste our time guessing, dammit.

  26. radiofreewill says:

    From the same NYT article as 54:

    “According to one former intelligence official, the C.I.A. then decided to keep the tapes at the C.I.A. stations in the countries where Abu Zubaydah and Mr. Nashiri were interrogated.”

    The interrogators could have been, and likely were, foreign nationals.

  27. Rayne says:

    So what’s worse? Foreign nationals of a country who has been bucking all along to push us into attacking Iran, or private contractors working for a company that maybe related to RNC/Bush top 20 donors?

    Or all of the above…?

  28. watercarrier4diogenes says:

    The Mazzetti article in NYT linked aboe clarifies (explodes?) the discussion above about how many tapes and how many detainees: “White House and Justice Department officials, along with senior members of Congress, advised the Central Intelligence Agency in 2003 against a plan to destroy hundreds of hours of videotapes showing the interrogations of two operatives of Al Qaeda, government officials said Friday.”

    hundreds of hours…

  29. Rayne says:

    Hmmm (63) — Still have one with all EW’s content and content pulled from BBC and RadioFreeEurope in a Google Doc.

    Seems to be stable, no comments so far.

    selise was still working on culling info from Hugh’s scandal list. Afraid I’ve had no time to add to the list since last nice, need to add EW’s latest from today.

    Won’t be able to look at this again until Saturday night, hope that the data slows down a bit so I can play catch up.

    On the other hand, if that’s what it takes to stop the coup, bring on the data.

  30. wavpeac says:

    I have often wondered what the consequences will be to have a man like Moussoui having complete knowledge of the corruption…since he knows clearly who and what he is up against, having a man like that locked up behind bars with thousands of impressionable men. If he has the personality that i think he does, this could be a very dangerous and slow way to change the tide in america…from pro america…to anti america-from the inside out. (since we house such a large population behind bars)

    Just one more small but dangerous behavior…

  31. jackie says:

    What was funny about this is he ‘couldn’t’ write the actual name of Marcy’s little blog…Marcy, they’re scared of you….:)

    ‘What Will New Justice Chief Do? Senators Edward M. Kennedy and Senator Richard J. Durbin called for a Justice Department inquiry, immediately giving the new Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, “a mighty big headache,” as Marcy Wheeler put it on a left-leaning blog.

    “I guess we won’t have long to wait to see whether he’s willing to spike investigations for the Unitary Executive.”

    That blog also has a helpful timeline.’

    • emptywheel says:

      Eh, I’m not too bummed. After all, the NYT probably doesn’t want to explain why they’re linking to a blog that after all has only existed for less than a week. It’s probably hard for the old media to figure out who I am or why they’re linking to me.

      • jackie says:

        Oh no, I didn’t mean it in a bad way. I just thought it was funny. And, of course MSM knows where this blog is……;)

  32. Neil says:

    Which, since it’s coming from a reliable journalist (Lichtblau) I guess means the rest of this bloviating is pointless.

    No not pointeless. It’s a pleasure following your line of thinking as you assemble facts, sift through the implication of one against the another, and draw informed conclusions. It’s the road not just the destination.