US Supreme Court to hear Palestinian Guantanamo prisoner’s case

Abu Zubaydah wants to question two former CIA contractors who allegedly tortured him in Poland.

Photo provided by US Central Command, shows Abu Zubaydah, date and location unknown.
This file photo provided by US Central Command, shows Abu Zubaydah, date and location unknown [US Central Command via AP]

The Supreme Court will decide whether a Palestinian man captured in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on New York City and Washington, DC, and detained at the prison on the United States base at Guantanamo Bay can get access to information the government classifies as state secrets.

Abu Zubaydah, also known as Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, was initially captured in Pakistan in March, 2002 and imprisoned in CIA detention facilities abroad. The US government says he was an associate and longtime ally of Osama bin Laden. Zubaydah and his lawyer want to question two former CIA contractors, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, about the operation of a secret CIA facility in Poland where they say Zubaydah was held and tortured.

A Supreme Court document (PDF) details how Zubaydah was held in various CIA “black sites” and endured “a relentless regime of ‘enhanced interrogations‘” including being waterboarded 83 times in one month in 2002. Zubaydah was also “forced to remain awake for eleven consecutive days and doused again and again with cold water when he collapsed into sleep” crammed into small boxes, suspended naked from hooks for hours, and “subjected to a particularly grotesque humiliation described by the CIA as ‘rectal rehydration'”.

Al Jazeera America reported in 2014 that Zubaydah “was the only captive subjected to all 10 torture techniques identified in an August 2002 Justice Department memo”.

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco ruled 2-1 in 2019 that the two contractors could face limited questioning. In that ruling, the court used the word “torture” to describe the treatment of Zubaydah.

In asking the Supreme Court to take the case, the government said it has declassified a “significant amount of information regarding the former CIA Program, including the details of Abu Zubaydah’s treatment while in CIA custody, which included the use of enhanced interrogation techniques”. But it said it had “determined that certain categories of information – including the identities of its foreign intelligence partners and the location of former CIA detention facilities in their countries – could not be declassified without risking undue harm to the national security”.

The high court will not hear the case until sometime after its new term begins in October.

President Joe Biden’s administration has said he will seek to close the prison on the US base at Guantanamo Bay following a review process that began under the administration of former US President Barack Obama.

Obama tried to close Guantanamo Bay, and transferred nearly 200 prisoners to other countries during his eight years in office, 2009-2017, but was unable to empty the prison where 40 detainees remain.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies