The Biden administration argued before the US Supreme Court on Wednesday that torture victim Abu Zubaydah, actual name Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, should be denied the chance to learn more about the circumstances of his torture. The Department of Justice invoked the “state secrets privilege,” an all-purpose assertion of national security interests that does not exist in the Constitution or law, but was created by the Supreme Court in 1953, at the height of the Cold War, to assist the US military in covering up the deaths of airmen in an experimental plane crash.
Since then, the privilege has been gradually extended through both Democratic and Republican administrations, providing the justification for the government anytime it wishes to hide unpleasant information under the guise of “national security.” It is especially flimsy in the case of Abu Zubaydah because the facts being withheld are publicly known and have been widely debated and commented on in the corporate media. Some were even detailed in the Senate report on CIA torture, which was published in a condensed version in 2014.
In 2002, Abu Zubaydah was arrested in Pakistan. In the early days of the “war on terror,” the CIA portrayed him as a prize capture, allegedly a key assistant to Osama bin Laden, the founder and commander of Al Qaeda. Over a four-year period, he was detained in CIA torture camps in Thailand and Poland and subjected to a variety of cruel treatment before his interrogators decided that he was just a driver for Al Qaeda and possessed no significant information.
The prisoner was waterboarded 83 times in a month during one especially heinous episode of brutality. He was also imprisoned in a coffin-sized box for 11 days and hanged upside down for extended periods of time. Bugs were added to the sadistic mix after interrogators discovered he had a fear for insects. During his incarceration, he lost an eye and, according to some reports, experienced a mental collapse. He was subsequently sent to Guantanamo Bay, where he is being detained incommunicado for the remainder of his life, according to government officials.
The present case stems from an inquiry in Poland, where prosecutors attempted to charge CIA collaborators in Poland, but were thwarted by the US unwillingness to pass over information on Abu Zubaydah. Official acknowledgment that the Polish government was a collaborator in the establishment of the “black site” at Stare Kiejkuty is among the “state secrets,” despite the fact that Poland’s former president has confirmed this, and the issue has been the subject of hearings before the European Court of Human Rights.