Supreme Court justices appeared to agree last Wednesday that it’s time for the longest-held U.S. detainee at Guantánamo Bay to tell his story in court. The prisoner, Zain al-Abidine Muhammad Hussein, better known as Abu Zubaydah, was waterboarded more than 60 times after being captured in a Pakistani military raid in March 2002. U.S. intelligence and FBI agents wrongly believed he was a top-level al-Qaida operative and subjected him to months of merciless torture.
Nineteen years later, Abu Zubaydah’s case has finally reached the Supreme Court, a testament to the ongoing reluctance of the U.S. justice system to engage on the touchy subject of the rights of suspects linked, rightly or wrongly, to the 9/11 attacks.
What should be an open-and-shut case of egregious human rights violations shockingly remains a subject of sterile courtroom debate, years after the focal point of last week’s discussion — Abu Zubaydah — was rendered a broken and irreparably maimed man because of his barbaric treatment. In addition to being waterboarded, the Palestinian was stuffed inside a coffinlike box for 11 days. His captors infested the box with insects to torment him. Already gravely injured from gunshot wounds during his capture, Abu Zubaydah also lost an eye during his CIA captivity.
Whether his torture actually yielded useful intelligence is still under debate, which is surprising considering that investigators concluded long ago he was not even a member al-Qaida.
He is mentioned 1,343 times in a 2014 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report. The committee concluded he was not a member of al-Qaida, much less a leader, and his own interrogators concluded by August 2002 that it was “highly unlikely” he possessed the information they were seeking.
Wednesday’s Supreme Court hearing focused on whether the government may continue to hide behind protecting intelligence sources and methods to block testimony from the two interrogators who tortured Abu Zubaydah.
Remarkably, no one — not even the government — denies any longer that he was tortured. Considering that the CIA denied this fact for years underscores how far the nation has come. Perhaps more remarkable was the concurrence among conservative and liberal justices that, even if the government still won’t allow the torturers to testify, Abu Zubaydah should be allowed to speak in court.
Justice Neil Gorsuch asked: “What is the government’s objection to the witness testifying to his own treatment?”
Considering the number of innocents killed because of badly flawed U.S. intelligence — including 10 in a drone strike in the final days of the Afghanistan withdrawal — Americans need to hear the story of someone left permanently scarred, physically and mentally, in the pursuit of intelligence he was incapable of providing.
The other alternative is to keep waiting for him to die in silence, so he can be carried out of Guantánamo in a box just like the one he was tortured in.
— St. Louis Post-Dispatch