Guantanamo detainee can pen letter on CIA mistreatment, US says

Abu Zubaydah can write declaration about alleged torture in Poland, US government tells Supreme Court.

an American flag is seen through the razor wire on the control tower in Guantanamo Bay
Abu Zubaydah is one of 39 detainees who remain at Guantanamo detention facility [File: Alex Brandon/AP Photo]

The Biden administration has informed the US Supreme Court that it would allow a Guantanamo Bay detainee to testify in a letter about being mistreated by the CIA.

In a filing to the Supreme Court filed on Friday, the US government said Abu Zubaydah can “send a declaration” to Polish investigators looking into the alleged torture of the suspect at a CIA black site in their country.

Zubaydah’s letter may be redacted to conceal information that “could prejudice the security of the United States”, acting Solicitor General Brian Fletcher told the top court.

“That review would not prevent him from describing his treatment while in CIA custody,” Fletcher wrote.

Zubaydah’s lawyers have filed a complaint against Poland in Polish and European courts for its role in the harsh treatment he received from the CIA while detained at a secret site in the country.

As part of the case, Zubaydah is seeking testimonies from James Elmer Mitchell and John Jessen, known as the architects of the CIA’s post-9/11 enhanced interrogation programme.

The US government has rejected the request, saying that interviewing the contractors could lead to revealing “state secrets”. After legal battles in the lower courts, the case has made it to the US Supreme Court.

Last week, Supreme Court justices questioned why Zubaydah cannot testify for himself.

“Why not make the witness available? What is the government’s objection to the witness testifying on his own treatment and not requiring any addition from the government of any kind?” Justice Neil Gorsuch asked.

In a previous court filing, Zubaydah’s lawyers said the US government is preventing him from speaking out “as the victim of a crime normally would”.

On Friday, US government lawyers noted that allowing Zubaydah to pen a letter would not resolve the legal dispute around compelling the CIA contractors to testify.

“The government would permit Abu Zubaydah, upon his request, to send a declaration that could then be transmitted to the Polish investigation,” Fletcher said.

Zubaydah, a stateless, Saudi-born Palestinian man whose formal name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, was captured in Pakistan in 2002 as an “enemy combatant” with suspected links to al-Qaeda.

The US government has described Zubaydah as “an associate and longtime terrorist ally of Osama bin Laden”, but his lawyers have denied the accusation. The 2014 Senate report said the “CIA records do not support” allegations that the detainee was one of the planners of the 9/11 attacks.

His lawyers allege that he was tortured at secret CIA locations for years after his capture before being transferred to the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he remains without charge.

A 2014 US Senate Intelligence Committee report detailed the harsh treatment Zubaydah underwent while in CIA custody, including repeated waterboarding, confinement in small spaces and sleep deprivation.

Zubaydah is one of 39 detainees who remain at Guantanamo, which has housed nearly 800 detainees linked to the US’s so-called “war on terror” since 2002. Most have been held without formal charges.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies