Detainee Abu Zubaydah Denies Al-Qaida Ties

The U.S. government says Guantanamo Bay detainee Abu Zubaydah was al-Qaida's chief recruiter. But transcripts of a hearing last month show that Zubaydah denied he's even affiliated with the terrorist organization.

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We're bringing you the latest on the Virginia Tech story throughout the morning, and also keeping you up-to-date on other news like the detainee whose story is now available in his own words.

There are competing accounts of the role this one man played in the war on terror. The Bush administration says Abu Zubaydah belonged to Osama bin Laden's inner circle and that his capture in Pakistan in 2002 was a key milestone. Critics, however, say Zubaydah was actually a minor player, possibly delusional. Now, in a Pentagon transcript of his March 27 hearing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Zubaydah has weighed in with his own version of events. And NPR's Mary Louise Kelly has more.

MARY LOUISE KELLY: Abu Zubaydah is one of the 14 high-value detainees transferred to Guantanamo last fall. U.S. intelligence officials say he ran a training camp in Afghanistan and helped smuggle al-Qaida leaders out of the country after the U.S. invasion. They also say that after his capture, he provided vital intelligence that helped catch other terrorists, such the 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

But Zubaydah himself, according to the transcript the Pentagon has just resealed, is now denying he's a member of al-Qaida. He insists he didn't meet bin Laden before 2000, and adds, I am not his partner, we had different ideas. Chiefly, Zubaydah says he believes it's against Islam to kill innocent civilians.

Much of what U.S. officials know about Abu Zubaydah comes from interrogations during his time in CIA prisons overseas, interrogations in which Zubaydah now says he lied. Zubaydah says that's because he was tortured for months while in U.S. custody. So severely that, he says, the abuse has damaged his ability to speak and write.

President Bush has acknowledged the CIA used, quote, "an alternative set of procedures," to question Zubaydah but insists they were safe and legal. Zubaydah's testimony before the military panel is confusing and at times contradictory, but he does not come across as unhinged. Critics have argued the Bush administration inflated Zubaydah's importance in order to claim a victory in the war on terror and to justify harsh interrogations.

Dan Coleman, a top FBI al-Qaida analyst until his retirement in 2004, has in the past called Zubaydah, quote, "insane certifiable." Reached yesterday, Coleman said Zubaydah's diaries reflect multiple personalities, and that the Bush administration did overplay his importance. But Coleman says there's no question he is al-Qaida.

A U.S. counterterrorism official speaking on condition of anonymity concurs, saying, the way to think about Abu Zubaydah is as a key facilitator for al-Qaida. It's all about the people he knew and the things he made happen.

Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News, Washington.

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