The Blog

Al Qaeda Lawyer vs. Marc Thiessen

12:25 PM, Feb 20, 2010 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

The Huffington Post has published a piece explaining how awful it supposedly is that Marc Thiessen, author of Courting Disaster (full disclosure: I reviewed a draft at Thiessen’s request), has been hired by the Washington Post to write a column.  The Huffington Post’s chief witness against Thiessen is attorney Brent Mickum, of Hollingsworth LLP, “who is one of the attorneys serving in Abu Zubaydah's defense.”   

Thiessen’s book deals with the controversial interrogations of Zubaydah. And this obviously “angers” al Qaeda attorney Mickum. You see, according to Mickum he isn’t an al Qaeda attorney at all because Abu Zubaydah isn’t really an al Qaeda member:

"Abu Zubaydah, categorically, was not affiliated with al Qaeda," Mickum said. "He was never a top leader of al Qaeda because he was never a member and he openly disagreed with the militaristic policies of al Qaeda. The camp he is alleged to have been involved with was closed in 2000 -- two years before his capture -- because the emir who oversaw it refused to allow it to fall under the control of al Qaeda. Thus, he is not, and never was, the man that the Bush administration made him out to be -- someone who orchestrated terrorist attacks."

This is absolute nonsense. And I’ve debunked it before, see here, here and here.

Here are just some of the sources that contradict Mickum’s claim that Zubaydah “was not affiliated with al Qaeda”:

(1) The 9/11 Commission’s Final Report repeatedly details Zubaydah’s role inside al Qaeda’s operations, calling him a “longtime ally of Bin Ladin” and an “al Qaeda lieutenant.”  

(2) George Tenet discusses Zubaydah’s al Qaeda role (calling him a “notorious” al Qaeda operative) at length in his book, At the Center of the Storm. Tenet explains that information from Zubaydah was used to track down Ramzi Binalshibh, al Qaeda’s point man for the 9/11 attack, months after Zubaydah himself was captured. Tenet describes the information the CIA got from Zubaydah (during his interrogations and by examining his computer and other materials) as the “mother lode.”

(3) Ali Soufan, who was one of the FBI agents who questioned Zubaydah early on, has testified that the FBI’s questioning led Zubaydah to identify Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as the mastermind of the September 11 attacks. This is important because Soufan is a critic of the enhanced interrogation program that Thiessen defends. I won’t wade into the Thiessen-Soufan debate here, but it is worth noting that this critical information could only be known by a well-placed al Qaeda member.

(4) Declassified CIA documents released by the Obama administration report that Zubaydah was a key source on al Qaeda’s operations once he was taken into custody. (See, for example: “Detainee Reporting Pivotal for the War Against Al-Qa’ida,” June 3, 2005.)

(5) A 2004 Department of Defense memo titled, “Summary of Jose Padilla’s Activities with Al Qaeda,” details Zubaydah’s role in convicted al Qaeda terrorist Jose Padilla’s post-9/11 plotting.

(6) Convicted terrorist Ahmed Ressam testified that he conspired with Zubaydah and others to launch an attack against the LAX Airport. The August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing warning of bin Laden’s determination to strike American targets relied on Ressam’s testimony with respect to Zubaydah’s role in that plotting.

(7) Steve Coll explains in his excellent book Ghost Wars that Jordanian authorities listened in on Zubaydah’s telephone conversations with an al Qaeda cell in Jordan as it plotted an attack that was intended to coincide with Ressam’s attack on the LAX Airport. The 9/11 Commission reported that during one such intercepted call Zubaydah told an al Qaeda plotter: “The time for training is over.”

(8) A short biography of Zubaydah (see p. 9 of the pdf), which was released by the Department of Defense, explains his al Qaeda role (including helping other al Qaeda members relocate from Sudan to Afghanistan at the behest of Osama bin Laden in the mid-1990s) and says that some of the money Zubaydah raised for an operation against Israel may have been transferred to al Qaeda’s 9/11 coffers.

(9) Djamel Beghal, an al Qaeda terrorist who plotted to hit American targets in France in 2001, told authorities that he conspired with Zubaydah.

(10) In his book Inside the Jihad, Omar Nasiri (pseudonym) describes how he penetrated al Qaeda and trained at Zubaydah-run camps in Afghanistan prior to 9/11. Nasiri had no doubts about Zubaydah’s high-level position within al Qaeda. “Abu Zubaydah was bin Laden's chief recruiter for al Qaeda,” Nasiri wrote. “He oversaw the administration of sleeper cells all over the world, and his name has appeared in connection to any number of attacks.”

(11) Independent al Qaeda experts such as Rohan Gunaratna, see Inside Al Qaeda, have detailed Zubaydah’s role in al Qaeda.

(12) Zubaydah’s own diary contains some of the details of how he first became affiliated with al Qaeda in the early 1990’s. (The 9/11 Commission explained: “In late 1992, Abu Zubaydah confided to his diary that he was getting ready to go to one of al Qaeda’s military camps: ‘Perhaps later I will tell you about the Qa’ida and Bin Laden group.’ ”) Amazingly, some have tried to use Zubaydah’s diary to claim that he wasn’t all that important within al Qaeda, but this is also nonsense for a variety of reasons.

(13) Counterterrorism officials who are critical of the Bush administration have repeatedly pointed to Zubaydah’s al Qaeda role. For example, Richard Clarke explains in his book Against All Enemies, that the Clinton administration wanted to get Zubaydah because he “had been identified as a key target for CIA action after the Millennium threats” and had they got him “he might have told of his plot with Khalid Sheikh Muhammad to stage aircraft attacks in America.”

(14) Lastly, it is worth remembering some of the al Qaeda terrorists who graduated from Zubaydah’s Khalden camp in pre-9/11 Afghanistan: Zacarias Moussaoui (slated for participation in 9/11 or a similar follow-on attack), Richard Reid (the shoe bomber), and at least three of the 9/11 hijackers. It is true that Zubaydah’s Khalden camp, as well as the Derunta camp that Zubaydah also operated, were not solely al Qaeda camps. Terrorists from other, affiliated organizations also trained there. But, according to the 9/11 Commission, Zubaydah used these camps to screen for candidates who were suitable candidates for direct membership inside al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden would not, of course, trust this mission to just any old person.

There is more – much more. But we’ll stop here because by now it should be obvious that al Qaeda lawyer Brent Mickum’s claims are total rubbish.  

But in deciding whether to run with (a) the overwhelming evidence against Zubaydah or (b) the word of a shill for a top al Qaeda terrorist, the Huffington Post chose the shill.

It is no wonder that the Huffington Post is upset that Marc Thiessen is writing for the Washington Post.

Thiessen knows a lot about al Qaeda. The Huffington Post and its sources clearly do not know anything at all about these matters.      

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Recent Blog Posts