WASHINGTON – Al Jazeera America published Thursday part of the secret personal diaries of one of Guantanamo’s most high-profile prisoners, with records of meetings with al-Qaida chieftains.
The six volumes of Abu Zubaydah’s diaries, which span more than a decade from his student years to just before his March 2002 capture, were a key element of the George W. Bush administration’s justification of its “war on terror.”
U.S. officials often use the accounts to justify holding prisoners at the Guantanamo detention center in Cuba without charge or trial, but they had never before been made public.
Washington once considered Abu Zubaydah to be al-Qaida’s No. 3 leader — waterboarding him 83 times in a single month and subjecting him to other so-called enhanced interrogation techniques — though it later dialed back its portrayal of the suspect as a senior operative.
The CIA had asked to be able to waterboard Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi-born Palestinian whose real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, fearing he was withholding information about imminent terrorist attacks.
Al Jazeera said the documents — a copy of the U.S. government’s English translation of the diaries — were obtained from a former intelligence official who worked with the CIA and FBI on al-Qaida issues. It published the first of six volumes of the diaries with plans to subsequently release the remainder.
The diaries reveal Abu Zubaydah’s ambivalence but also his passion over his decision to join Osama bin Laden in the early days of al-Qaida.
“Yesterday and only yesterday I decided to go to Afghanistan,” he wrote in an entry dated Jan. 6, 1991, describing his intent to return to India to complete his studies after receiving training during the trip. “The intent is bona fide, God willing. Almost everything is ready except I am scared of the circumstances. Yet I trust in God, and we seek refuge in him.”
He also acknowledged his inner conflict between seeking martyrdom and wanting family life, writing: “In spite of my yearning for sooner martyrdom, yet it is the truth that I am not denying; I am longing to a good wife, a small house, a child and the word ‘Papa.’ “
The diaries’ value to U.S. officials was clear in their account of key terror figures Abu Zubaydah met, in addition to bin Laden. On that list were current al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, late al-Qaida military chief Mohammed Atef, the Taliban’s spiritual leader, Mullah Omar.
Abu Zubaydah has hinted that the capture of his diaries by U.S. authorities was even worse than waterboarding, and caused him to suffer 40 seizures.
“The mental anguish that came from broken promises in which they said they would give me my diary back contributed to the seizures,” Abu Zubaydah told his Combatant Status Review Tribunal hearing in March 2007. “For me, it is bigger than what the CIA (did to) me.”