a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

"You’re not going to let me lose face on this, are you?"

Posted by Thomas Nephew on June 20th, 2006

The Washington Post’s Barton Gellman, reviewing Ron Suskind’s new book “The One Percent Doctrine,” writes that Suskind learned that supposed Al Qaeda linchpin Abu Zubaydah was almost certainly nothing of the kind:

Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be. CIA and FBI analysts, poring over a diary he kept for more than a decade, found entries “in the voice of three people: Hani 1, Hani 2, and Hani 3” — a boy, a young man and a middle-aged alter ego. All three recorded in numbing detail “what people ate, or wore, or trifling things they said.” Dan Coleman, then the FBI’s top al-Qaeda analyst, told a senior bureau official, “This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality.”

Entrusted with no more than arranging minor logistics — “travel for wives and children and the like,” Gellman summarizes — it seems Zubaydah may have known where the odd loaner pickup truck was located, at best. Nonetheless, he was identified as an important Al Qaeda operative, for instance in a April 20, 2002 radio address by President Bush:

The United States also continues to work with our friends and allies around the world to round up individual terrorists, such as Abu Zubaydah, a top al Qaeda leader captured in Pakistan.

Zubaydah continued to be touted as a prize catch in the “Global War on Terror”: in July 2003, the White House Press Secretary released a “fact sheet” referring to him as a “key plotter,” and Bush himself referred to him as a “key operator”; in January of this year, Bush bragged “But Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad — there’s a series of chief operators who are no longer a threat to the United States. I mean, we are dismantling the operators. And when we find them, we bring them to justice as quickly as we can.” And on November 8, 2005, during the debate over the McCain amendment, Scott McClellan used Zubaydah to deflect questions about why the CIA should be permitted to torture:

MR. McCLELLAN: We are also going to do so in a way that adheres to our laws and to our values. We have made that very clear. The President directed everybody within this government that we do not engage in torture. We will not torture. He made that very clear. […]

Q Why does the CIA need an exemption from the military?

MR. McCLELLAN: David, let’s talk about people that you’re talking about who have been brought to justice and captured. You’re talking about people like Khalid Shaykh Muhammad; people like Abu Zubaydah.

And to top it off, Suskind reports the disturbed “key operator” Zubaydah had in fact become the object of directly, presidentially condoned torture. While Bush’s involvement in U.S. torture has been widely assumed, I don’t think that involvement has been reported this directly and in this much detail before. From Gellman’s review:

‘I said he was important,’ Bush reportedly told Tenet at one of their daily meetings. ‘You’re not going to let me lose face on this, are you?’ ‘No sir, Mr. President,’ Tenet replied. Bush ‘was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth,’ Suskind writes, and he asked one briefer, ‘Do some of these harsh methods really work?’ Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports. They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a water-board, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep. Under that duress, he began to speak of plots of every variety — against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, ‘thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each . . . target.’ And so, Suskind writes, ‘the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered.’

(Emphases added.)

Jesus wept. “You’re not going to let me lose face on this, are you?” Too late to worry about that; impeach Bush — then put him in day care under close supervision. And I’d like his supporters to never, ever talk to me or anyone else about their “moral values” again.

Via Jack Balkin (“Balkinization”).

3 Responses to “"You’re not going to let me lose face on this, are you?"”

  1. Gary Farber Says:

    Mine was here, where I got it via the Washington Post, and NY Times.

  2. eRobin Says:

    It all really is very sad.

  3. » Blog Archive » Kiriakou: apologist or whistleblower? Says:

    […] sources in his 2006 book “One Percent Solution.” In Suskind’s account (mentioned here in June, 2006) Zubaydah was a low-level Al Qaeda schlemiel with severe mental health issues, put in […]

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