Al Jazeera has obtained a copy of the government’s English translation of the secret personal diaries of Abu Zubaydah. The Bush administration once labeled him one of the key figures in its “war on terror,” and he remains one of the most high-profile prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. He was captured in Pakistan in 2002 while fleeing Afghanistan after the collapse of the Taliban regime.
The documents, which were obtained from a former U.S. government intelligence official who worked with the CIA and FBI on Al-Qaeda’s rise to power, cast fresh light on Zubaydah and provide a fuller picture of the official U.S. accounts of the campaign against Al-Qaeda and related organizations. They also provide unique insights into the chaotic Afghan civil war of the 1990s.
The diaries, repeatedly cited but never released by U.S. officials in making the case for holding a number of prisoners at Guantanamo, have been long sought by terrorism experts and journalists for their participant-observer account of the decade’s events leading to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that claimed almost 3,000 American lives. The U.S. government says the man who wrote those six notebooks chronicling his life in the mujahedeen training camps and the emergence of Al-Qaeda, amid clashing egos and the chaos of post-Soviet Afghanistan, was a senior member of Osama bin Laden’s organization.
Abu Zubaydah is mentioned 52 times in the “9/11 Commission Report.” The official account is that he fingered Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as the mastermind of the 2001 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. Those diaries have — until now — remained secret. U.S. authorities have used them as the basis for holding dozens of “war on terror” captives, including Zubaydah himself.
The six volumes of the diaries, translated from Arabic to English by government translators, have been authenticated by intelligence officials who have read them. Al Jazeera has twice tried to obtain copies of Abu Zubaydah’s diaries through Freedom of Information Act requests — the most recent one filed two months ago with the Department of Justice. In a letter dated Oct. 29, the department’s Civil Division, which handles Guantanamo detainee matters, denied Al Jazeera’s request for Zubaydah’s diaries, identifying the documents as “law enforcement records concerning third parties,” the disclosure of which would constitute an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” The CIA declined to comment when asked whether the release of the diaries would constitute a threat to national security. The FBI also declined to comment.
The official story was that Zubaydah began writing a diary in 1992, after he had suffered a shrapnel wound, impairing his memory, while fighting in Afghanistan. We now know that he began to write the first volume of his diaries in June 1990, while he was a 19-year-old college student in Mysore, India. The diaries, stamped “For Official Use Only” by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice, have been deemed “protected” by a federal court judge presiding over Zubaydah’s habeas corpus case, meaning that his attorneys cannot discuss or share its contents with the public.
Al Jazeera obtained the translated documents in PDF form (below) and reproduced them online in a searchable format.