This page can be viewed at http://www.historycommons.org/entity.jsp?entity=muhammad_al-darbi
a.k.a. Ahmed Muhammad Haza al-Darbi, Ahmed Mohammed Haza al-Darbi, Abdul Aziz al-Janoubi, Ahmed al-Darbi
In May 2002, the CIA began using new torture techniques on captured al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see Mid-May 2002 and After), and by June senior CIA officials prepare a preliminary report to determine whether Zubaida’s confessions are accurate or not. According to author Gerald Posner, they “found nothing that could definitively prove Zubaida a liar. And they had uncovered some minor corroborating evidence about the times and places of the meetings he had mentioned, which meant he could be telling the truth.” (Posner 2003, pp. 192) Vanity Fair will later comment that the “CIA would go on to claim credit for breaking Zubaida, and celebrate [James] Mitchell”—the psychologist who devised the torture techniques used on Zubaida by the CIA (see Late 2001-Mid-March 2002, January 2002 and After, and Mid-April 2002)—“as a psychological wizard who held the key to getting hardened terrorists to talk. Word soon spread that Mitchell and [his business partner Bruce] Jessen had been awarded a medal by the CIA for their advanced interrogation techniques. While the claim is impossible to confirm, what matters is that others believed it. The reputed success of the tactics was ‘absolutely in the ether,’ says one Pentagon civilian who worked on detainee policy.” (Eban 7/17/2007)
Much Intelligence Comes from His Possessions and FBI Interrogations - However, the reliability of Zubaida’s confessions remains controversial years later, and several factors complicate accessing their impact. For one, it appears that some of his most important confessions took place a month earlier when the FBI was interrogating him using rapport building instead of torture (see Late March through Early June, 2002). What the New York Times calls his two most notable confessions—that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the 9/11 mastermind and giving up the name of Jose Padilla, a militant living in the US—appear to come from this earlier period, although some accounts conflict. (Johnston and Risen 6/27/2004; Suskind 2006, pp. 116-117; Johnston 9/10/2006; Eban 7/17/2007) Furthermore, it is often not clear what was obtained from Zubaida’s confessions and what was obtained from his possessions. Journalist Ron Suskind will later write: “The phone numbers, computers, CDs, and e-mail address seized at Zubaida’s apartment now—a month after his capture—began to show a yield.… These higher-quality inputs were entered into big Cray supercomputers at NSA; many then formed the roots of a surveillance tree—truck to branches to limbs and buds.” (Suskind 2006, pp. 116-117) So while it is said that information from Zubaida helped lead to the capture of al-Qaeda figures such as Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Omar al-Faruq, and Ahmed Muhammad al-Darbi, it is unclear where this information came from exactly. (Priest 6/27/2004) Additionally, it is not even clear if he provided such leads. For instance, it has been reported that the main break that led to bin al-Shibh’s capture had nothing to do with Zubaida (see June 14, 2002 and Shortly After). (Suskind 9/7/2006)
Zubaida Describes Vague and Unverifiable Plots - By most accounts, Zubaida’s confessions under torture around this time are frustratingly vague. He describes many planned attacks, such as al-Qaeda attacks on US shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, and more. Red alerts are sounded and thousands of law enforcement personnel are activated each time, but the warnings are too vague to lead to any arrests. Suskind will later comment that Zubaida’s information was “maybe nonsense, maybe not. There was almost no way to tell.” (Suskind 2006, pp. 115-116, 121) But Suskind will later say more definitively: “[Zubaida] said, as people will, anything to make the pain stop. And we essentially followed every word and various uniformed public servants of the United States went running all over the country to various places that Zubaydah said were targets, and were not. Ultimately, we tortured an insane man and ran screaming at every word he uttered.” (Suskind 9/7/2006) Posner claims that Zubaida provided “false information intended to misdirect his captors.” For instance, “He caused the New York police to deploy massive manpower to guard the Brooklyn Bridge at the end of May , after he told his interrogators that al-Qaeda had a plan to destroy ‘the bridge in the Godzilla movie.’” (Posner 2003, pp. 191)
Link between Iraq, al-Qaeda - Perhaps the most important claims Zubaida makes, at least from the viewpoint of Bush administration officials, are his allegations of an operational relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Some of Zubaida’s claims will later be leaked by administration officials, particularly his assertion that Osama bin Laden’s ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was working directly with Saddam Hussein to destabilize the autonomous Kurdish regime in northern Iraq (see December 2001-Mid-2002, October 2, 2002, and January 28, 2003). A former Pentagon analyst will later say: “I first saw the reports soon after Abu Zubaida’s capture. There was a lot of stuff about the nuts and bolts of al-Qaeda’s supposed relationship with the Iraqi Intelligence Service. The intelligence community was lapping this up, and so was the administration, obviously. Abu Zubaida was saying Iraq and al-Qaeda had an operational relationship. It was everything the administration hoped it would be.” Another Pentagon analyst will recall: “As soon as I learned that the reports had come from torture, once my anger had subsided I understood the damage it had done. I was so angry, knowing that the higher-ups in the administration knew he was tortured, and that the information he was giving up was tainted by the torture, and that it became one reason to attack Iraq.” (Rose 12/16/2008)
Zubaida Appears to Be Feeding Interrogators' Expectations - Dan Coleman, the FBI’s top al-Qaeda expert at the time who was able to analyze all the evidence from Zubaida, will later claim that the CIA “got nothing useful from the guy.” (Stein 12/14/2007) Coleman will say: “The CIA wants everything in five minutes. It’s not possible, and it’s not productive. What you get in that circumstance are captives and captors playing to each other’s expectations, playing roles, essentially, that gives you a lot of garbage information and nothing you can use.” (Suskind 2006, pp. 114) Given his low position in the jihadist hierachy, Coleman will add, Zubaida “would not have known that if it was true. But you can lead people down a course and make them say anything.” (Rose 12/16/2008) Counterterrorism “tsar” General Wayne Downing is apparently intimately involved in Zubaida’s interrogation and will later recall: “[Zubaida] and some of the others are very clever guys. At times I felt we were in a classic counter-interrogation class: They were telling us what they think we already knew. Then, what they thought we wanted to know. As they did that, they fabricated and weaved in threads that went nowhere. But, even with these ploys, we still get valuable information and they are off the street, unable to plot and coordinate future attacks.” (Priest and Gellman 12/26/2002) In legal papers to prepare for a military tribunal hearing in 2007, Zubaida himself will assert that he told his interrogators whatever they wanted to hear to make the torture stop. (Eggen and Pincus 12/18/2007)
Saudi national Ahmed Muhammad al-Darbi flies from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to Baku, Azerbaijan. While he is at customs at Baku airport waiting to be processed for entry, he is taken into custody by the local authorities. He will later say that when he was apprehended he did not know why the Azerbaijani authorities had taken him into custody and that he did not think beforehand that they would do so. He is held in Azerbaijani custody for about two months, later being handed over to the US (see August 2002). (al-Darbi 7/1/2009)
In August 2002, alleged al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Muhammad al-Darbi, a Saudi, reportedly comes into US custody. On October 6, 2002, a French oil tanker is attacked by a suicide bomber off the coast of Yemen (see October 6, 2002). Later that month, the Washington Post will report that al-Darbi warned in interrogation interviews that a Yemen cell was planning an attack on a Western oil tanker. It will later be claimed that he was arrested based on information gained by the interrogation of prisoner Abu Zubaida (see June 2002). (Priest and Schmidt 10/18/2002; Human Rights Watch 11/30/2005) In December 2002, another Post article will mention that al-Darbi remains “under CIA control.” (Priest and Gellman 12/26/2002) However, his whereabouts will then be unknown for some time. In late 2005, Human Rights Watch will list him as a likely “ghost prisoner” probably still being held by the CIA. (Human Rights Watch 11/30/2005)
The Azerbaijani authorities turn Ahmed Muhammad al-Darbi, a Saudi they are holding (see June 2002), over to US agents. In 2009 Al-Darbi will issue a public statement alleging he is tortured by the US (see July 1, 2009), and a section of the statement concerning what these agents do to him in Azerbaijan will be redacted. However, an unredacted section says, “They then blindfolded me, wrapped their arms around my neck in a way that strangled me, and cursed at me.” Al-Darbi will later say he is frightened because he does not know who is holding him and where they are taking him. He will eventually be flown to Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. (al-Darbi 7/1/2009)
According to his own later statement (see July 1, 2009), Saudi detainee Ahmed Muhammad al-Darbi is tortured at Bagram Air Force Base by US forces. During the approximately eight months he is held at Bagram, al-Darbi is allegedly subjected to:
Isolation during the first two weeks, when he does not even know he is in Afghanistan;
Stress positions. He will say: “While I was questioned, I was kept for many hours in painful positions. For example, I would be forced to kneel with my hands cuffed above my head”;
Sleep deprivation—because he is forced to maintain the stress positions overnight, he cannot sleep;
Hooding, including during the interrogations. He will say: “The hood they used had a sort of rope or drawstring that they would pull tight around my neck. The darkness, combined with little sleep, would leave me disoriented”;
Bright lights in a cell where he is kept;
Denial of time to pray;
Insufficient food, which was “inedible”;
Photos are taken that humiliate him. His hood is taken off on these occasions and there are “several US agents, male and female, standing around”;
US officials allegedly spray water on his face and then blow a powder he will later say may have been pepper onto him. The water absorbs the powder, which burns his skin and makes his nose run;
Hairs are ripped from his chest and head by US personnel; and
US officials threaten to send him to Israeli, Egyptian, or Afghan jails for torture and rape.
Al-Darbi will also say that a US solider named Damien Corsetti is often present during the interrogations. Corsetti, a “big, heavy man,” sometimes steps on al-Darbi’s handcuffs while he is lying on the floor with his arms above his head, causing them to tighten around his wrists. On one occasion, Corsetti kneels on his chest, pressing down with all his weight until he stops breathing and another guard pulls Corsetti off.
False Statements - Al-Darbi makes a number of statements incriminating himself at Bagram, but will later say that they are false, adding: “The military guards and interrogators would show me pictures of people, and told me I must identify them and confess things about them. After they tortured me, I would say what they wanted me to say. I was fed detailed statements and names of individuals to whom I was to attribute certain activities.” The military personnel then say he has to repeat these statements to other interrogators, from the FBI, and they will continue to abuse him if he does not do so. Al-Darbi repeats the statements to three FBI agents, two of whom he knows as “Tom” and “Jerry,” but does not sign a written statement.
'Hard Labor' - Al-Darbi is also forced to perform what he will call “degrading, hard labor” at Bagram. This consists of replacing the full port-a-potty buckets with empty buckets, sweeping the floor, and, on one occasion, scrubbing the entire floor with a toothbrush. In addition, he is forced to carry boxes filled with water bottles while his hands are cuffed together, which allegedly causes him sciatic and back pain for several years.
Witnessing the Abuse of Dilawar - Al-Darbi will also say that he witnesses the abuse of an Afghan prisoner called Dilawar (see December 5-9, 2002), who is shackled up in a cage near where he is held. (al-Darbi 7/1/2009)
Saudi detainee Ahmed Muhammad al-Darbi is transferred from Bagram, Afghanistan (see August 2002), to Guantanamo. According to a statement he will later make (see July 1, 2009), he is abused at Guantanamo. The abuse includes:
US personnel disrespecting the Koran by throwing it to the ground; and
Not being allowed to go to the bathroom during interrogations.
Al-Darbi is mostly questioned by the FBI, including an agent he knows as “Tom” and who questioned him at Bagram. Tom allegedly tells al-Darbi that “if I did not stick with my Bagram confessions, I would not ‘escape Bagram.’” If he does not cooperate he is allegedly to be sentenced to death and executed, or tortured, raped, and sexually abused at Guantanamo, or sent back to Bagram or to other countries. Al-Darbi will later claim, “The interrogators at Bagram and Guantanamo fed me particular details in my statements and forced me to identify individuals based on photographs or to ascribe to those individuals certain conduct.” However, he apparently never signs a written statement and will say that he makes “numerous false statements” under questioning. (al-Darbi 7/1/2009)
Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Muhammad al-Darbi makes a wide-ranging declaration alleging he was tortured into confessing links to al-Qaeda. The declaration covers his detention in Azerbaijan (see June 2002), rendition to Afghanistan (see August 2002), and alleged torture at Bagram (see August 2002) and Guantanamo (see (March 23, 2003)). Al-Darbi will say that he frequently feels “anxious, depressed, and worried,” and that he has “recurring nightmares of the US guards and interrogators from Bagram chasing me.” He also says he needs mental health counseling, but does not trust the staff at Guantanamo. He concludes that he would like to go home to Saudi Arabia, and would be willing to participate in what he calls “the Saudi reintegration program for repatriated detainees.” (al-Darbi 7/1/2009)
The US Justice and Defense Departments announce that five detainees are to be moved from Guantanamo to New York, where they will face trial in ordinary civilian courts for the 9/11 attacks. The five are alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who helped coordinate the attacks, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, who assisted some of the 19 hijackers in Asia, and Khallad bin Attash, who attended a meeting with two of the hijackers in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000). The five previously indicated they intend to plead guilty (see December 8, 2008). US Attorney General Eric Holder says: “For over 200 years, our nation has relied on a faithful adherence to the rule of law to bring criminals to justice and provide accountability to victims. Once again we will ask our legal system to rise to that challenge, and I am confident it will answer the call with fairness and justice.” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was also involved in the decision on where to try the men. (US Department of Justice 11/13/2009) However, five detainees are to remain in the military commissions system. They are Ibrahim al-Qosi, Omar Khadr, Ahmed al-Darbi, Noor Uthman Mohammed, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. (McClatchy 11/14/2009) These five detainees are fighting the charges against them:
Ibrahim al-Qosi denies the charges against him, saying he was coerced into making incriminating statements; (USA v. Ihrahm Ahmed Mohmoud al Qosi 7/16/2009 )
Khadr’s lawyers claim he was coerced into admitting the murder of a US solider in Afghanistan; (Edwards 11/14/2009)
Ahmed Muhammad al-Darbi also claims he was forced to make false confessions (see July 1, 2009); (al-Darbi 7/1/2009)
Noor Uthman Mohammed denies most of the charges against him (see (Late 2004));
Al-Nashiri claims he was forced to confess to trumped up charges under torture (see March 10-April 15, 2007). (US department of Defense 3/14/2007 )
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