Читать онлайн "The Black Banners" автора Soufan Ali H. - RuLit - Страница 110

 
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I looked through photos of detainees. One man of interest appeared to be Moroccan and in his forties, and fit Abu Jandal’s description of Abu Assim al-Maghrebi, who supervised bin Laden’s bodyguards. His name, according to the file, was Abdullah Tabarak, and the notes in the file said that he had been captured, with others, crossing the Afghani border into Pakistan. The whole group claimed that they were in Afghanistan to teach the Quran. Their cover story seemed suspicious. I began looking through the photos of the other group members to see if I recognized any of them as well. Ibrahim al-Qosi, a Sudanese, seemed to match a description I had been given by several al-Qaeda members, including L’Houssaine Kherchtou, Fahd al-Quso, and Abu Jandal, of Abu Khubaib al-Sudani, who had been with bin Laden from the start and served at one point as an accountant for al-Qaeda. He was also Abu Assim al-Maghrebi’s son-in-law.

I asked for copies of the photos of Tabarak and Qosi to be sent to Mike Anticev, John’s brother and a squad mate at I-49 in New York. They would be shown to Junior and L’Houssaine Kherchtou, the former al-Qaeda members who had become U.S. government cooperating witnesses. The message came back a day later from Mike that the witnesses had separately identified the men in the photos as Abu Assim and Abu Khubaib.

When the first detainees were brought to Gitmo, the base was split between two commanders: Maj. Gen. Michael E. Dunlavey, the commander of Joint Task Force 170, responsible for military interrogations; and Brig. Gen. Rick Baccus, the commander of Joint Task Force 160, responsible for running the base and guarding prisoners.

FBI agents at Gitmo operated under the auspices of the Defense Department’s Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF), headed by Col. Brittain P. Mallow, from the army’s Criminal Investigation Command. (The latter is referred to as CID, an acronym formed from the original name of the unit, the Criminal Investigation Division.) Colonel Mallow’s deputy was Mark Fallon, from NCIS. CITF was charged with investigating the detainees and deciding who should be prosecuted, a separate function from the military interrogators, whose mandate was just to get intelligence.

I took the pictures of Tabarak and Qosi to General Dunlavey. He told me that while other groups of prisoners were violent and regularly fought with guards and caused trouble, Tabarak, Qosi, and the other detainees in their bloc were “model prisoners.” General Dunlavey asked, “What do you recommend doing?”

“First we need to take them out of their comfort zone,” I said, “and show them that we know who they are and that the game is up. We also need to isolate them from their support base. Tabarak is the most senior al-Qaeda guy we have caught since 9/11. He’s higher up than Abu Jandal. He’s important and should be an amazing source of intelligence, if we handle him correctly.”

General Dunlavey escorted Tabarak to the brig, at the time the only facility at Gitmo available to separate valuable detainees from the general population. One problem, however, was that the brig is located on the top of a hill in the middle of the island, and the cells had windows, enabling inmates to see where they were and who was coming and going. We were not allowed to tell detainees that they were being held in Cuba, though eventually they guessed (and later on they knew for certain, from Red Cross visits). We also didn’t want them to see who was coming and going, so the guards covered the windows.

Once Abu Assim was installed in the brig, I went to see him. “Abu Assim, As-Salamu Alaykum.”

“Wa Alaykum as-Salam.”

Speaking in Arabic, I got straight to the point. “I know who you are and I know your importance. The game is up.”

“You’ve got the wrong person,” he replied. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Denial is pointless,” I told him. “I have witnesses who have identified you, fellow al-Qaeda members. We are aware of your long journey with Sheikh Abu Abdullah. My sources told me a lot about you and your family.” I invoked the bin Laden alias to convey the point that we understood the group’s dynamics.

“My family, what about them?”

“There is a lot, after Abu Ata’a was killed.”

“Who is Abu Ata’a?” he interrupted.

“Abu Ata’a al-Tunisi, your son-in-law, who was killed fighting against Ahmed Shah Massoud. Al-Qaeda even named a mountain after him on the front lines in Afghanistan. Do you remember him?”

Abu Assim did not respond. He was assessing me.

“Now, to go back to your family. Your widowed daughter got remarried to another brother, Abu Khubaib, the one who was apprehended with you.” I wanted him to know that we had successfully identified all those who were picked up with him. The message to him was that we had sources and possibly other detainees already cooperating with us. It would make it easier for him to cooperate if he knew others were talking to us.

“I have to go, but when we next speak I hope you find it in your best interest to cooperate with me. In the meantime, rest up, because we’ve got a lot of talking to do.” I wanted him to reflect on his new circumstances and realize that his cover was blown. Inexplicably, soon after, we were informed that Abu Assim was off-limits and that no one had access to him. I appealed to Blaine Thomas, the CITF commander on the ground. “This is a prisoner we identified. He’s our subject.”

“We’ve been told he is probably already off the island.”

CITF protested up the chain of command, to no avail. When I asked others at the base if they knew what was going on with Abu Assim, no one seemed to have any information. There were plenty of other detainees to deal with, so I put his file to the side.

Months later, I was reading an Arabic newspaper and spotted an article saying that Abu Assim had been freed by a Moroccan judge. I made some inquiries and found out that soon after we identified him, the Bush administration had authorized his transfer to Morocco. After questioning him, the Moroccans eventually freed him.

“Is this a joke?” I vented my frustration to my partner Bob McFadden. “Tabarak was the most senior al-Qaeda guy we had in our custody. He was with bin Laden from the start and was his confidant.”

“Man, the amount of intelligence he had surpasses anyone else in our custody,” Bob said. “Not to mention that he deserved to spend his life behind bars.”

Qosi, on the other hand, remained in Gitmo and was interrogated by Bob and me. We took time establishing rapport with him, and he offered valuable information about bin Laden and his security team. As the first bodyguard assigned to protect bin Laden after he was attacked in Sudan, he was well placed to do so. He also provided details on how he delivered money given to him by Abu Hafs al-Masri to an Egyptian operative in Ethiopia. Days after the delivery, the operative led a failed assassination attempt on Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa.

At one point Qosi asked me: “Has the U.S. invaded Iraq yet?” The U.S. invasion of Iraq didn’t come until much later, in 2003, so it seemed a very strange question.

“No, we haven’t, but why do you ask?” He told me that there was a hadith saying that the end of days would come after the land that is today Iraq is invaded by armies fighting over its black gold, a reference to oil. Later, other al-Qaeda detainees also quoted the black gold hadith. They all firmly believed al-Qaeda’s rhetoric and use of questionable hadith and saw themselves as part of a divine prophecy.

Qosi also told me that bin Laden often said that his strategy to defeat America was through the death by a thousand cuts. Bin Laden knew that he could never defeat America straight up or with one blow, or even a series of blows, so his aim was to keeping pricking the United States, in a variety of ways, until life was made unbearable. This was not only through carrying out operations in the United States but by creating a constant source of worry. Qosi said that at times bin Laden had operatives talk about nonexistent operations on lines they thought the United States would be listening in on, so that the United States would waste time and resources chasing those “plots.”

     

 

2011 - 2018