The government's lawyers went on to claim, bizarrely enough, that the Bush administration had never "contended that [Zubaydah] had any personal involvement in planning or executing... the attacks of September 11, 2001." They added that "the Government also has not contended in this proceeding that, at the time of his capture, [Zubaydah] had knowledge of any specific impending terrorist operations" -- an especially curious claim, since the prevention of such future attacks was how the CIA justified its torture of Zubaydah in the first place. Far from believing that he was "if not the number two, very close to the number two person in" al-Qaeda, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had once claimed, "the Government has not contended in this proceeding that [Zubaydah] was a member of al-Qaida or otherwise formally identified with al-Qaida."
And so, the case against the man who was waterboarded 83 times and contributed supposedly crucial information to the CIA on al-Qaeda plotting was oh-so-quietly withdrawn without either fuss or media attention. Exhibit one was now exhibit none.
Seven years after the initial filing of Zubaydah's habeas petition, the DC District Court has yet to rule on it. Given the court's average 751-day turnaround time on such petitions, this is an extraordinary length of time. Here, justice delayed is truly justice denied.
Perhaps we should not be surprised, however. According to the Senate Intelligence Committee report, CIA headquarters assured those who were interrogating Zubaydah that he would "never be placed in a situation where he has any significant contact with others and/or has the opportunity to be released." In fact, "all major players are in concurrence," stated the agency, that he "should remain incommunicado for the remainder of his life." And so far, that's exactly what's happened.
The capture, torture, and propaganda use of Abu Zubaydah is the perfect example of the U.S. government's unique combination of willful law-breaking, ass-covering memo-writing, and what some Salvadorans I once worked with called "strategic incompetence." The fact that no one -- not George Bush or Dick Cheney, not Jessen or Mitchell, nor multiple directors of the CIA -- has been held accountable means that, unless we are very lucky, we will see more of the same in the future.
Rebecca Gordon, a TomDispatch regular, teaches in the Philosophy department at the University of San Francisco. She is the author of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes (Hot Books, April 2016). Her previous books include Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States and Letters from Nicaragua .
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Copyright 2016 Rebecca Gordon