Lawyers for the longest-held prisoner in the U.S. war against terrorism have begun a new legal offensive in multiple courts aimed at securing his release from Guantánamo Bay.
The prisoner, known as Abu Zubaydah, was captured in Pakistan in March 2002 in a raid by U.S. and Pakistani security services. He was the first person held in the U.S. secret prison network known as the black sites and the first to be waterboarded by the C.I.A.
The initiative follows the Pentagon’s disclosure over the summer that a national security parole-style board deemed Abu Zubaydah too dangerous to release. He has never faced criminal charges at Guantánamo. U.S. intelligence concluded that while he was a militant in Afghanistan in the 1980s and ’90s, he had never joined Al Qaeda and had no link to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Abu Zubaydah, 52, is being held indefinitely as a detainee of the war on terrorism the United States declared in response to the Sept. 11 attacks. He is colloquially called a “forever prisoner” because of the endless nature of that war.
There are other prisoners at Guantánamo Bay who were captured in 2002. But they have been approved for transfer to other countries, and one has been tried and convicted at a military commission.
Lawyers in Europe and the United States are seeking compensation and condemnations for Abu Zubaydah, who is Palestinian but was born in Saudi Arabia. His true name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Husayn.
The new initiative began last month with U.S. lawyers filing a lawsuit in Spokane, Wash., against two psychologists who waterboarded Abu Zubaydah for the C.I.A. at a black site in Thailand in August 2002. They also oversaw a program in which he was deprived of sleep, confined to a box and subjected to other “enhanced interrogation techniques,” as the C.I.A. euphemistically called them.
One of the psychologists, John Bruce Jessen, lives in the federal jurisdiction of the Spokane district. It is the same court where Dr. Jessen and his partner, James E. Mitchell, reached a settlement in 2017 with two former prisoners and the family of a third who died in U.S. custody.
The new lawsuit on behalf of Abu Zubaydah alleges that he was subjected to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, medical and scientific experimentation without his consent, war crimes and arbitrary detention.
That effort is led by Solomon B. Shinerock, a former federal and New York City prosecutor who recently joined Abu Zubaydah’s legal team.
He said the prisoner was used as “a guinea pig to test the bounds of human tolerance.”
The case has been assigned to Judge Thomas O. Rice, who was appointed by President Barack Obama. Mr. Obama ended the C.I.A. interrogation and detention program upon taking office.
Lawyers working on Abu Zubaydah’s case also filed a petition on Friday in Washington, D.C., asking a judge to rule that the C.I.A. deprived him of powerful evidence when it destroyed videotapes of his interrogations in Thailand.
The filing essentially seeks a ruling that the graphic torture depicted in the tapes would have favored Abu Zubaydah’s efforts to win release.
“Ninety tapes, covering possibly hundreds of hours of interrogations, were destroyed,” the 33-page petition said. “The tapes were relevant to terrorism investigations, criminal investigations and the petitioner’s deprivation of liberty.”
Abu Zubaydah has largely been able to tell his own story only through artwork, when it has been declassified and released by the prison. Renewed attention to his case could raise his profile and help his lawyers find a nation willing to take him in.
The expanded legal approach is part of an effort “to assist the U.S. government in releasing Mr. Abu Zubaydah and finding a safe and suitable country to resettle him peacefully and productively,” said Lt. Col. Chantell M. Higgins, a lawyer with the U.S. Marine Corps who has represented Abu Zubaydah for six years.
“He is a human being and clearly deserves a chance at freedom,” she said.
The government’s interagency Periodic Review Board last held a hearing on the prisoner’s status on July 15, 2021. The panel concluded nearly two years later that he was too dangerous to release. Such reviews have typically take about a month.
Later this month, the topic of Abu Zubaydah is on the agenda of a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva. That effort is being championed by a human rights lawyer in The Hague and a law professor at U.C.L.A.
The U.N. body has no enforcement authority. But in a brief submitted last month, Abu Zubaydah’s lawyers asked the committee to endorse the prisoner’s release and recommend that the United States pay him reparations and issue a formal apology.
Hannah R. Garry, the U.C.L.A. professor and the director of a human rights institute there, described the brief as a prong in a coordinated effort on behalf of Abu Zubaydah “to seek justice for him on multiple fronts and multiple venues.”
U.S. and European lawyers also have long-running lawsuits on his behalf in Poland, where he was held in a secret C.I.A. prison after Thailand, and in Britain.
Both seek damages and accuse those governments of complicity in his torture or detention from 2002 to 2006, when he was held by the C.I.A. beyond the reach of U.S. and international courts and visits by the International Red Cross.
“U.S. courts, including some justices of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022, the U.S. Senate and U.S. President Barack Obama have all acknowledged over the years that techniques in the C.I.A.’s enhanced interrogation program against detainees constitute torture,” the human rights lawyers’ brief said.
“Despite this, to this day, the U.S. government has never officially acknowledged this torture, offered apology or provided any effective remedies to Mr. Abu Zubaydah and other detainees subjected to its enhanced interrogation program.”