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Abu Zubaydah and Iran

11:55 AM, Jun 13, 2012 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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At the Washington Free Beacon, Bill Gertz has a piece about Jose Rodriguez, the former chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center. Rodriguez warns that the CIA is “out of the business” of interrogating senior al Qaeda terrorists and this will eventually lead to a hole in America’s counterterrorism efforts, if it hasn’t already. Time will tell if Rodriguez is right. The Obama administration is betting that he isn’t, and that by killing select al Qaeda leaders in drone strikes the terrorist threat is fully neutralized. There are significant problems with the Obama administration’s approach, even absent the prickly debate over interrogations.

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Putting that debate to the side, there are interesting nuggets in Rodriguez’s recent book, Hard Measures, concerning top al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah’s ties to Iran.

Zubaydah was the first detainee subjected to so-called enhanced interrogation techniques in 2002. Attorneys for Zubaydah and others have endorsed a story, told by Zubaydah himself during his tribunal session at Guantanamo, that he wasn’t really a senior al Qaeda operative. Rodriguez blasts this argument, and rightfully so.

Zubaydah had a wealth of knowledge about al Qaeda’s inner-workings, including details about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s role in masterminding the 9/11 attacks. There is no way Zubaydah could have known such things without being allowed into Osama bin Laden’s inner sanctum. In addition, a mountain of evidence ties Zubaydah to al Qaeda’s operations and international plotting well before the 9/11 attacks. (I have previously debunked the canard about Zubaydah not being a senior al Qaeda leader on several occasions. See, for example, here, here, and here.)

In March 2002, the CIA and others were closing in on Zubaydah. They had narrowed the search to sixteen locations in Pakistan – a somewhat daunting range of possible hideouts. Rodriguez explains (emphasis added):

Working with our Pakistani partners, we decided to raid all sixteen sites simultaneously. With the recent influx of FBI special agents, we now had enough U.S. assets to have people at each target site along with the Pakistanis. The decision to go after all the sites at once was unusual but if we had worked through them one by one, [Zubaydah] would likely have found out that we were closing in on him and fled the area entirely. There were reports that Abu Zubaydah planned to relocate to Iran, so time was of the essence.

Other ties between Zubaydah and Iran can be found in declassified and leaked documents. But, to my knowledge, reports of Zubaydah himself planning to relocate to Iran in 2002 were not previously available to the public.

In addition, Rodriguez reports (emphasis added):

Among the material found at the time of Abu Zubaydah’s capture were videotapes he had prepared in advance to celebrate another yet-to-happen al Qaeda success. The tapes were designed to rally supporters and solicit funds from backers of their evil jihad. At least one of them suggested that Abu Zubaydah had been to Iran or was somehow cooperating with the Iranians. Surely Abu Zubaydah would not have gone to the trouble of making these tapes unless they had some very specific and sizable plans in mind. But what were those plans?

Zubaydah’s attorneys recently pressed the U.S. government to try him before a military commission. By all means, if Zubaydah is eventually tried, his videotapes and other documents should be used against him. Even better, these materials should be declassified and released to the public, so we can see them for ourselves. We can then see what Zubaydah had to say about Iran, too.

Rodriguez’s revelations about Zubaydah’s ties to Iran, including his putative plan to move there, are not surprising. Zubaydah helped other top al Qaeda operatives and associates relocate to Iran after the 9/11 attacks.

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