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When Abu Zubaydah was much later interviewed by the Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF) in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, he was shown a picture of Abu Hafs al-Masri. He put his hand on the photo, slid it back to the interrogator, and said: “Now this is the number three in al-Qaeda.” [40 words redacted]

As [1 word redacted] interrogated Abu Zubaydah, [1 word redacted] were simultaneously fighting to keep him alive. He was in terrible shape. The bullet that had hit him in his left thigh had shattered coins in his pocket. Some of this freak shrapnel entered his abdomen. [1 word redacted] had to take breaks during the interrogation as the medics opened his wounds and cleaned them to prevent infection. He couldn’t eat, drink, or even clean up after himself. As [1 word redacted] interrogated him, [1 word redacted] placed blocks of ice on his lips to give him some liquid, and [1 word redacted] cleaned him up after he soiled himself.

Abu Zubaydah knew that his situation was dire. [56 words redacted] were in a strange situation: [1 word redacted] were fighting to keep alive a terrorist dedicated to killing Americans. But [1 word redacted] needed to get information from him, and he was of no use to [1 word redacted] dead.

That first evening, after Abu Zubaydah fell asleep and [1 word redacted] filed our cables to Langley, everyone went to a nearby hotel to sleep. [1 word redacted] decided to stay at the safe house with Abu Zubaydah in case he woke up and had something to say. [1 word redacted] set up in a cot in the room next door to him. [1 word redacted] spent much of the night reviewing what [1 word redacted] knew about Abu Zubaydah and other terrorists who were in his network, along with the information he had given [1 word redacted] that day, in preparation for the next day’s interrogation.

As [1 word redacted] was drawing up an interrogation plan, at around 3:00 AM, the CIA medic tending to Abu Zubaydah came to my room. “Hey, Ali, how important is this guy?” he casually asked. He knew nothing about Abu Zubaydah and was only at the location because of his medical skills.

“He’s pretty important,” [1 word redacted] replied.

“Does he know a lot of stuff?”

“Yes, I believe so.”

“Well, if you want anything from him you’d better go and interview him now.”

“Why? What are you talking about?”

“In the morning I don’t think he’ll be alive. He’s septic.” All this the medic said in a matter-of-fact tone.

[1 word redacted] called the hotel where [1 word redacted], the medical team, and some local CIA officials were staying and woke them up. When they arrived twenty minutes later [1 word redacted] repeated what the medic had told [1 word redacted]. The doctor evaluated Abu Zubaydah and concurred: “If we don’t do something, he will be dead by morning.”

[1 word redacted] first problem was that [1 word redacted] didn’t have the necessary medical equipment at the safe house to treat Abu Zubaydah. A proper hospital was [1 word redacted] only chance of keeping him alive. The second problem was that [1 word redacted] were FBI agents and CIA officers; [1 word redacted] presence in this country was supposed to be a secret. If that information slipped out, it would alert other terrorists to where Abu Zubaydah was being held, and it would probably cause problems for our host country, too.

The CIA chief of base cabled Langley, explaining our situation and asking for guidance. A cable came straight back: “Death is not an option.” That was clearance to do whatever it took to keep Abu Zubaydah alive. His [1 word redacted] cooperation and clear intelligence value saved his life. [1 word redacted] challenge was how to get him to a local hospital without attracting notice.

The chief of security at the local station, Allen, came up with a plan: [1 word redacted] would [61 words redacted]

On the way to the hospital Abu Zubaydah’s condition deteriorated even further. [1 word redacted], Allen, and [1 word redacted] sat in the back of the ambulance with him and watched the doctors fight to keep him breathing. The anesthesiologist performed a tracheotomy by cutting a hole in his neck and putting a tube through it. [1 word redacted] took turns physically pumping air through the tube into his lungs. He was still alive as we pulled up outside the hospital. [1 word redacted] were nervous as [1 word redacted] pushed him through the hospital entrance on a stretcher. [1 word redacted] didn’t know if [1 word redacted] cover story would be accepted, and there was a good chance that Abu Zubaydah would die at any moment. People stared, no doubt trying to understand why all these soldiers were wheeling an injured and handcuffed fellow soldier through. [1 word redacted] spoke to the hospital staff, and Abu Zubaydah was rushed into the operating room. Minutes later, the doctors began surgery.

[1 word redacted] sat in the waiting room, watching television to pass the time. What if he dies? [1 word redacted] thought. If he’s alive, what should [1 word redacted] discuss next? These thoughts were only interrupted when a doctor came out and told [1 word redacted] that the operation had been a success.

A doctor from Johns Hopkins had been flown in by the CIA to evaluate Abu Zubaydah’s condition. He consulted with the surgeons, wrote a report, and left. [3 words redacted] stayed in Abu Zubaydah’s hospital room, waiting for him to regain consciousness. [1 word redacted] repeatedly asked the doctors and nurses tending to him and changing his bandages how long they thought it would be before he came to. Eventually he opened his eyes.

Abu Zubaydah later told [1 word redacted] that when he first opened his eyes, he saw that he was surrounded by women who were all covered up—nurses wearing uniforms and surgical masks—and thought perhaps that he was in heaven. The vision evaporated when he saw [3 words redacted] in [1 word redacted] military uniforms looking over him. He smiled as he said this.

As soon as he opened his eyes and it was clear he was lucid, [1 word redacted] gave him a stern lecture. “Don’t you try to make a scene,” [1 word redacted] warned him. “You just play along. [1 word redacted] doing this to save your life. If you play any games, you’re only endangering yourself.” Without delay, [3 words redacted] started asking him questions. [23 words redacted]

At the safe house [1 word redacted] had focused primarily on plots he was involved in [5 words redacted]. [1 word redacted] first priority was to stop any plots in the works. In the hospital [1 word redacted] goal in the first session was to get more details on pending threats and to see what information he could give [1 word redacted] on bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s senior leadership. That’s where [1 word redacted] steered the conversation.

[157 words redacted]

After Abu Zubaydah described that interaction, [97 words redacted]

[10 words redacted]

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[39 words redacted] asked [1 word redacted] to get me a picture of him, to double-check that Abu Zubaydah was talking about the same person.

[1 word redacted] didn’t have any of [1 word redacted] FBI photo-books with [1 word redacted], because [1 word redacted] were only meant to be supporting the CIA and hadn’t brought [1 word redacted] own interrogation materials. So [1 word redacted] downloaded on his Sony device, similar to a Palm Pilot, the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list. The list, published for the first time after the attacks of September 11, 2001, contained the names of twenty-two terrorists indicted by grand juries for terrorist crimes. [13 words redacted]