Reprinted from Truthdig
Accused terrorist Abu Zubaydah has not had his day in court yet. But earlier this week he had his day before a military Periodic Review Board, which apparently has the power to determine whether or not he should be released from the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Zubaydah wasn't allowed to speak. Instead, a soldier read the prisoner's prepared statement.
Zubaydah said he posed no threat to the United States or to anyone else and should be released. He said he had been subjected to torture by the CIA -- this is fully documented in the Senate torture report -- and that he wanted to go home.
For its part, the Periodic Review Board, a part of the military detention system and made up of representatives of six U.S. intelligence agencies, released its own report, trying to justify to itself and others why Zubaydah has no hope of ever being released.
In early 2002, when Zubaydah was captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan, the George W. Bush White House announced quickly that the Saudi Arabian citizen was al-Qaida's No. 3-ranking official. Bush told the American people that Zubaydah had intimate knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks, had personal contact with Osama bin Laden, knew of al-Qaida's plans for a second attack and was the highest-ranking counterterrorism capture in American history.
None of that was true. (Full disclosure: I led the joint CIA-FBI team that caught Zubaydah. I sat with him for the first 56 hours after his capture, spoke with him at length and saw him off to his next destination, which turned out to be a secret prison.)
Now, after 14 years of detention, of torture, of solitary confinement without a charge, all the government can say is that Zubaydah ran a "Mujahedeen facilitation network" in the 1990s, that he "played a key role in al-Qaida's communications" and, without elaboration, that at one time he "had close contact with the No. 2 in al-Qaida."
Other damning evidence against Zubaydah? He "possibly" had advance knowledge of the attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa in the late 1990s. He was "generally aware" of planning for the Sept. 11 attacks. And he "possibly" coordinated training at a camp when two of the future hijackers were there.
There are no accusations that Zubaydah himself ever committed any specific crime against the United States.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the only legal, moral and ethical thing to do is to release Zubaydah. He was not the arch-terrorist that the Bush administration and its CIA said he was. He was tortured in violation of U.S. and international law. He was never charged with a crime, and if he had indeed committed crimes against the United States, he has paid for them.
The United States is supposed to be a country governed by the rule of law. It isn't. Only lip service is paid to the rule of law. Theoretically, we all have access to the courts. But, in reality, we don't. If the government decides you are an "enemy combatant," you cannot defend yourself in court. Even American citizens are liable to be caught up in counterterrorist hysteria and find themselves in a military "justice" system that simply does not allow for a defense. It's a terrible, dangerous precedent.
The only way out is to say Abu Zubaydah has paid a price for whatever it was he did. Then declare the whole ordeal over and send him home.