Abu Zubaydah’s American-Taxpayer Paid Tour of the World

You should read two pieces in conjunction this morning. First, this Andy Worthington piece from last week, that lays out new details on the black site CIA used in Poland in 2002-2003.

On Friday, the Polish Border Guard Office released a number of documents to the Warsaw-based Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, which, for the first time, provide details of the number of prisoners transferred by the CIA to a secret prison in Poland between December 5, 2002, and September 22, 2003, and, in one case, the number of prisoners who were subsequently transferred to a secret CIA prison in Romania. The documents (available here and here) provide important information about the secret prison at Szymany, in northeastern Poland, and also add to what is known about the program in Romania, which has received far less scrutiny.


Friday’s revelations by the Polish Border Guard Office are, however, even more significant, firstly because they include, for the first time, confirmation that N63MU flew into Poland on December 5, 2002, and secondly, because they provide details of the number of passengers on seven of the flights, as follows:

December 5, 2002: 8 passengers delivered

February 8, 2003: 7 passengers delivered; 4 others flown to an unknown destination

March 7, 2003: 2 passengers delivered

March 25, 2003: 1 passenger delivered

May 6, 2003: 1 passenger delivered

July 30, 2003: 1 passenger delivered

September 22, 2003: 0 passengers delivered; 5 flown to Romania

Then, read this AP piece, which fleshes out details about the first time that Abu Zubaydah and three other detainees went to Gitmo.

Four of the nation’s most highly valued terrorist prisoners were secretly moved to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2003, years earlier than has been disclosed, then whisked back into overseas prisons before the Supreme Court could give them access to lawyers, The Associated Press has learned.


Before dawn on Sept. 24, 2003, a white, unmarked Boeing 737 landed at Guantanamo Bay. At least four al-Qaida operatives, some of the CIA’s biggest captures to date, were aboard: Abu Zubaydah, Abd al-Nashiri, Ramzi Binalshibh and Mustafa al-Hawsawi.

Together, the articles provide key new details of the global voyages that Abu Zubaydah and other key detainees took between CIA black sites. And the AP piece confirms something earlier revealed in the ICRC report completed in 2007 and released last year: that at least four of the High Value Detainees were in Gitmo in 2003-2004, until they were moved again precisely to hide them from the ICRC.

ICRC notes that four detainees believed that they had previously been held in Guantanamo, for periods ranging from one week to one year during 2003/4. They reported recognising this location upon return there in September 2006, as each had been allowed outdoors on a daily basis during their earlier time there. The ICRC has been assured by DoD that it was given full notification of and access to all persons held in Guantanamo during its regular detention visits. The ICRC is concerned, if the allegations are confirmed, it had in fact been denied access to these persons during the period in which they were detained there.

Now, the two pieces in conjunction answer key questions. As Worthington points out, we know from this that Abu Zubaydah and Rahim al-Nashiri (and, he adds, Ramzi bin al-Shibh) got moved from Thailand to Poland in December 5, 2002, as CIA was making their first efforts to close the Thai black site and destroy the torture tapes. And then the three of them, plus Mustafa al-Hawsawi, got moved to Gitmo the following September 24, 2003. Then, on March 27, 2004, they were taken away from Gitmo.

One implication of this, of course, is that the death threats used against al-Nashiri–reportedly investigated by John Durham (and, I have speculated, possibly one reason Philip Mudd retired in March) happened on Polish soil.

It also times interestingly with Jack Goldsmith’s tenure at OLC (October to July) and even more interestingly with the CIA IG Report (they got Zubaydah and Nashiri–against both of whom the IG Report described torture–out of Gitmo before Congress got a hold of the report).

But the two reports also lay out further area for inquiry. At least according to what detainees told the ICRC, at least one of the detainees who were in Gitmo in this early period were only there for a week. But that also suggests some of the four might not have known they were at Gitmo when they returned in 2006, perhaps because they didn’t have the same exercise privilege (and remember that detainees, at least as of a few months ago, still exercised only with those who they had been in black sites before, so they couldn’t compare notes). Does this mean others were moved to Gitmo’s “Strawberry Fields” after this first bunch?

Finally, note how CIA’s spokesperson, in his comment to the AP, wants this story to be about events that happened six years ago.

CIA spokesman George Little said: “The so-called black sites and enhanced interrogation methods, which were administered on the basis of guidance from the Department of Justice, are a thing of the past.”

Aside from the fact that Little said this while John Durham’s inquiry into the torture that exceeded the guidance of DOJ is ongoing, it also distracts attention from other inconvenient little facts: like the presumably ongoing existence of Camp No, and the weird qualification in Obama’s Gitmo closure orders limiting them only to those at Gitmo considered to be enemy combatants.

Still, kudos to Worthington and the AP for their work to tease out the global trajectories of these detainees.

UN Special Rapporteur Condemns America’s Killer Drones

One of last Friday’s big stories somewhat lost in the hustle and focus on the BP Gulf oil disaster and the holiday weekend concerned the continuing outrage of the US drone targeted assassination program. Specifically, Charlie Savage’s report at the New York Times that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Philip Alston, was expected to issue a report calling on the United States to stop Central Intelligence Agency drone strikes thus “complicating the Obama administration’s growing reliance on that tactic in Pakistan”.

Today, the report is out, and Charlie Savage again brings the details in the Times:

A senior United Nations official said on Wednesday that the growing use of armed drones by the United States to kill terrorism suspects is undermining global constraints on the use of military force. He warned that the American example will lead to a chaotic world as the new weapons technology inevitably spreads.

In a 29-page report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the official, Philip Alston,the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, called on the United States to exercise greater restraint in its use of drones in places like Pakistan and Yemen, outside the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. The report — the most extensive effort by the United Nations to grapple with the legal implications of armed drones — also proposed a summit of “key military powers” to clarify legal limits on such killings.

In an interview, Mr. Alston, said the United States appears to think that it is “facing a unique threat from transnational terrorist networks” that justifies its effort to put forward legal justifications that would make the rules “as flexible as possible.”

Here is Alson’s official report.

Interestingly, Alston’s report comes hot on the heels of the news the biggest get yet for the Obama drone assassination program, Al-Qaida Number Three (or at least the latest Number Three) Mustafa Abu al-Yazid. But Alston, although indicating that al-Yazid migh could be distinguished because of the direct al-Qaida status, nevertheless expressed reservations even is such situations.

For example, it criticized the United States for targeting drug lords in Afghanistan suspected of giving money to the Taliban, a policy it said was contrary to the traditional understanding of the laws of war. Similarly, it said, terrorism financiers, propagandists and other non-fighters should face criminal prosecution, not summary killing. Read more