They Should Have Listened to Noor al-Deen

I presume this story on Abu Zubaydah is an attempt to highlight the difficulty of choices facing the Obama administration, as well as to draw some attention to things like the excerpts of the ICRC report on Abu Zubaydah’s (and others’) torture. It reminds us what we already know–that Abu Zubaydah suffers from a head injury that made his memory bad and wasn’t even a member of al Qaeda, making his torture that much more pointless.

Because his name often turned up in intelligence traffic linked to al-Qaeda transactions, some U.S. intelligence leaders were convinced that Abu Zubaida was a major figure in the terrorist organization, according to officials engaged in the discussions at the time.

But Abu Zubaida had strained and limited relations with bin Laden and only vague knowledge before the Sept. 11 attacks that something was brewing, the officials said.


"The government doesn’t retreat from who KSM is, and neither does KSM," said Joseph Margulies, a professor of law at Northwestern University and one of Abu Zubaida’s attorneys, using an abbreviation for Mohammed. "With Zubaida, it’s different. The government seems finally to understand he is not at all the person they thought he was. But he was tortured. And that’s just a profoundly embarrassing position for the government to be in." 

The news, here, seems to be that the US picked up a young associate of Abu Zubaydah the same night they got the older man. And that associate, Noor al-Deen, basically corroborated the details the intelligence community is now accepting. Before the US started torturing Abu Zubaydah.

Noor al-Deen, a Syrian, was a teenager when he was captured along with Abu Zubaida at a Pakistani safe house. Perhaps because of his youth and agitated state, he readily answered U.S. questions, officials said, and the questioning went on for months, first in Pakistan and later in a detention facility in Morocco. His description of Abu Zubaida was consistent: The older man was a well-known functionary with links to al-Qaeda, but he knew little detailed information about the group’s operations.


On the night of March 28, 2002, Pakistani and American intelligence officers raided the Faisalabad safe house where Abu Zubaida had been staying. A firefight ensued, and Abu Zubaida was captured after jumping from the building’s second floor. He had been shot three times.

Cowering on the ground floor and also shot was Noor al-Deen, Abu Zubaida’s 19-year-old colleague; one source said that he worshiped the older man as a hero. Deen was wide-eyed with fear and appeared to believe that he was about to be executed, remembered John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who participated in the raid.

"He was frightened — mostly over what we were going to do with him," Kiriakou said. "He had come to the conclusion that his life was over."

Deen was eventually transferred to Syria, but attempts to firmly establish his current whereabouts were unsuccessful.

His interrogations corroborated what CIA officials were hearing from Abu Zubaida, but there were other clues at the time that pointed to a less-than-central role for the Palestinian. As a veritable travel agent for jihadists, Abu Zubaida operated in a public world of Internet transactions and ticket agents.

So you’ve got a panicked teenager spilling his guts, insisting that Abu Zubaydah is just a functionary. And at the same time, Abu Zubaydah was saying he was just a functionary (and providing what useful intelligence he had to offer). And the US response to that was … to make Abu Zubaydah their torture experiment–their test case for what torture techniques did and did not "work." 

Yet more reason they destroyed the torture tapes showing Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation.

13 replies
  1. behindthefall says:

    Thanks for following this. “Torture experiment” is exactly what it sounded like: in all the descriptions of what was done to him, there was no mention of questioning, and there seemed to be da**ed little opportunity to fit questions in among the brutal acts.

    So now we find out that they knew he had nothing to give. They seem to just have wanted to find out what it would take to destroy a man.

  2. JimWhite says:

    Deen was eventually transferred to Syria, but attempts to firmly establish his current whereabouts were unsuccessful.

    Considering that Deen can confirm that al Zubaida was not a high-level operative, I seriously doubt if he will be seen or heard from again. His is a thread that probably should be pulled again and again until we find out his fate. If he was tortured to death or just executed, that could really blow the lid off this whole thing.

    Also, the title of the WaPo article is tremendous. I’m especially encouraged that it’s on the front page:

    Detainee’s Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots

    This is the push-back we need for Cheney’s bullshit of saying torture did break up plots. The only way the headline could be better would be if they had had the courage to say torture instead of harsh treatment. But since they are refuting the talking point of foiling plots, I’ll take it as an overall plus.

  3. lysias says:

    Will Congress now demand to see the classified document Cheney alleges documents all the plots foiled through torture?

  4. PJEvans says:

    They weren’t being told what they wanted to hear, so they ignored what they were being told.

  5. Mary says:

    I have to wonder about whether or not Noor al-Deen was really 19. It’s interesting that the info about him is coming out – nice that someone is trying to get some facts out and you wonder about the timing. But here you had a Syrian – when we were cozy enough with Syria to be sending them Maher Arar – and instead we sent the teenager to Morocco.

    Why Morocco? Did they want to see what razoring the cowering 19 yo (I still remember all the moving targets on ages of GITMO detainees, where it was finally discovered we had kids at LEAST as young as 13 and maybe as young as 11 there, and where the age on the rape/murder victim in Iraq started in the 20s only to end up eventually at 14-15, so I take the 19 with a grain of salt for now) might elicit? Did someone want to make sure the there was a more graphically sexual component of the teenager’s torture?

    From way back, when there were discussions about Bush cancelling out parts of the EO on things like assassination, I said that one of the important provisions in that EO that he was also getting around was the one on human experimentation. The nuts and bolts are now what they have been for years – we bought people for experiments. You can pretty it up however else you want, but from the 13 yos to the 80 yos with walkers at GITMO to the black sites detainees (and we know there were more than the few that ended up at GITMO later) – we’ve used taxes from US citizens to pay for purchasing human beings for experimentation. It’s just creepy.

    And one of the most important points they make about Noor al-Deen:

    Deen was eventually transferred to Syria, but attempts to firmly establish his current whereabouts were unsuccessful.

    emph added. Yeah, I bet they were.

  6. Mary says:

    One other thing this article does, as Padilla’s torture case is in the system, is to highlight that Zubaydah’s accusations of the dirty bomb plane – which led to the US courts, starting with SD NY and Mukasey and then continuing to the Fourth Cir and Luttig, assisting in paving the way for pre-trial torture of US citizens on US soil as a Presidential perogative – – that all of that was based on Zubaydah’s torture. Oh, but wait, as Comey told the Nation and the Sup Ct in his Padilla presser (where he skipped the torture part entirely) there was more! After all, we were also getting all that info on visiting a web site on how to make a nuclear bomb by swinging buckets from Binyam Mohamed too.

    All in all, how can the torture leave you anything but proud?

  7. ssoldz says:

    Remember that these torture techniques were designed and supervised by psychologists, as Katerine Eban, Jane Mayer, and Mark Benjamin have documented. And that the American Psychological Association covered for them. See my take on this: Torture of Abu Zubaida, designed by psychologists, yielded nothing…..29-83.html

    • cinnamonape says:

      Which is stunning…because every study I know about shows that stress distorts and alters memory. Psychological pressure that would result from pain in exchange for “information” would result in a reward-punishment regime that would eventually restructure neural pathways so that the subject would “believe” the false information they had provided. One creates a lie to reverse the torture, and then one has to create a new scenario to make it believable. That scenario has to be as “real” as the actual events to the victim or they fear it will be uncovered.

      This is the basic rationale for creating detailed “cover stories” for covert agents and the rehearsing of them and repetition of them under stressful interrogations. They must be believed, or at least the networks must be created that these can be maintained without shifting into other modes. In fact, one is likely to get false confessions. In fact, that confession might actually serve as the barometer for whether the torture has reprogrammed the individuals mind.

      But one loses all the useful information, the details that might come out in a different sort of interrogation, if one uses torture. Everything becomes distorted. So if you need a detail about someone that al Zubaydah might have met he might say he knew saw them at “A”, when he was actually somewhere else. That can completely foil whole investigations.

      • Nell says:

        Your astonishment is based on the incorrect, way too generous assumption that torture and coercive interrogation are about actually getting accurate information. They are about power in its most brutal form: instilling terror, humiliating and breaking political opponents, eliciting false confessions, promoting fear and acquiescence among other actual and potential opponents.

  8. Mary says:…..QD976KNNG0

    Former State Dept lawyer Vijay Padmanabhan says – oops, yeah, there were a lot of innocent people at GITMO and yeppers, we tortured and rendered left and right, but never gets around to using the word crime in connection with the word torture that he does mention. Instead, he opts for “overreaction.” You know, like when a drug addict boyfriend beats his girlfriend’s crying baby to a pulp, – *overreaction* not crime.

    Oh, and the good thing about the overreaction was that is was preceded by “robust” discussion. But if you don’t like “overreaction” he does also offer up “foolish” as an appropriate replacement for *criminal*

    The other good news is that Padmanabhan says that we don’t have to worry about US Presidents authorizing torture, unless for some reason, the domestic and world environs end up not being “calm.”

    “These are not things that I think any American president would have authorized had they been in a calmer environment,” Padmanabhan told AP in a telephone interview.

    Kind of like saying Sadaam would never have gassed all those people if only he hadn’t been agitated by the war with Iran.

    Not to discount the fact that Padmanabhan is finally getting around to saying something as un-, de-, mal- and mis-calming as, Yeppers, we had hundreds of innocent people at GITMO and the President was authorizing torture for them, it’s a bit hard to read his tsking on overreactions and foolishness, sans references to crime, and end up feeling that the discussions were all that “robust.”

    It’s also interesting that he was involved in a lot of the repatriation negotiations for the inncents being returned. IIRC, those transfers involved having detainees sign off on waivers of torture claims. And I’ve already said my spiel on lawyers who would tender that kind of crap under the guise of it being a defensible instrument.

    If I were an innocent person being kidnapped and tortured under a claim of Presidential perogative, I’d have to hope that the US legal system would have produced something very different than Mr. Padmanabhan to take part in the “robust” discussion over how much more and how much longer my kidnap and torture would include and continue. And some lawyer who would flat out say that making me sign a waiver of rights to pursue torture claims was NOT worth the paper it was written on and that it was degrading this nation and the rule of law to even offer up a pretense to the contrary.

    OTOH, since we have Constitutional Scholar and President Obama also agreeing that a lack of calm is a valid defense against torture prosecutions, I guess I’d realize pretty damn quickly that I’d set my expectations way too high.

  9. pmorlan says:

    We now have a 2nd British prisoner of the US accusing MI5 and MI6 of watching an encouraging torture.

    New claim of MI5 involvement in torture

    Fresh allegations in the High Court this week will increase pressure on the Government to open a judicial inquiry into collusion between the CIA and British security services in torture during the “war on terror”.

    Shaker Aamer, 42, the final British resident in Guantanamo Bay, claims that like Binyam Mohamed, he was tortured in American custody in 2002.

    On Thursday the Attorney General took the unprecedented step of calling in Scotland Yard to investigate allegations that MI5 collaborated in the alleged torture of Mr Mohamed. Mr Aamer’s case is believed to be one of 15 similar new cases. In a legal claim against the Government to be lodged at the High Court this week, Mr Aamer’s lawyers allege that MI5 and MI6 were complicit in the torture of Mr Aamer.…..57047.html

  10. pmorlan says:

    While looking through various news reports about our own country’s torture over the weekend I ran across this video of Chinese torture. It’s just a heart breaking video. Warning it is extremely graphic.

    YouTube Remove Tibetan Video showing torture and brutality – Caving in to Chinese pressure ?

    Wednesday, March 25 2009 @ 11:36 pm GMT…..2523363654

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