US classifies detainee’s tribunal from own lawyers, raising eyebrows


The United States is classifying the writings and testimony of an alleged terrorist whom interrogators waterboarded dozens of times, possibly in an effort to keep nettlesome CIA secrets under wraps, his attorneys say.

Lawyers for Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein — known more widely by the name Abu Zubaida — say the Pentagon has capriciously classified their client’s writings and statements to investigators, raising questions of why the government has sought to keep Zubaida’s assertions private. They argue, plausibly, that the US’ penchant for secrecy in Zubaida’s case may be linked to efforts to keep controversial intelligence activities out of the public eye.

Remarkably, the Pentagon has refused to provide transcripts of the Zubaida’s military tribunal even to his own lawyers.

In May, according to Walter Pincus of The Washington Post, the suspect’s lawyers asked the government in a legal brief why their client couldn’t be permitted to respond to claims regarding his activities.

“If Petitioner [Abu Zubaida] were able to respond, he would inform the public that [REDACTED] . . .” they wrote.

The US has argued that the Guantanamo detainee has commented on CIA detention and rendition programs which remain classified.

“That could be, for example, the locations of former CIA secret prisons and complicity of foreign governments,” Pincus writes. “In the declassified version of the lawyers’ first motion, the government blacked out footnotes to some but not all published articles that listed where the CIA ‘black sites’ may have been located, indicating that the redacted stories may have identified the correct countries.”

But Zubaida’s lawyers have argued that some of the information their client was said to have shared he couldn’t possibly have first hand knowledge of and are based solely on public reports.

Moreover, they note that the Obama Administration has declassified some of his remarks selectively. They released a declassified version of Zubaida’s military tribunal in which he describes his “months of suffering and torture” at the hands of US operatives or surrogates, but not the specific details of what his interrogators engaged in. Some of the practices of US operatives — including partial drowning, or waterboarding — were temporarily interpreted as legal by Bush Administration lawyers. Others, including torture by insects in contained spaces, were referred to in Bush Administration documents but are said to never have been used.

Zubaida’s “lawyers argue that the material should never have been classified in the first place,” Pincus writes. “They add, however, that they still have yet to receive ‘an unredacted complete transcript’ of [his] 2007 tribunal.”

The US executive order that allows for classification asserts that material to be classified must be “owned,” “produced” or “controlled” by the US government. The Justice Department has argued that because they effectively “own” Zubaida as a prisoner, they are in control of information he might provide.

His lawyers disagree.