"The government doesn't retreat from who KSM is, and neither does KSM," said Joseph Margulies, a professor of law at Northwestern University and one of Abu Zubaida's attorneys, using an abbreviation for Mohammed. "With Zubaida, it's different. The government seems finally to understand he is not at all the person they thought he was. But he was tortured. And that's just a profoundly embarrassing position for the government to be in."
...Even before President Obama suspended military commissions at the military base in Cuba, prosecutors had expunged Abu Zubaida's name from the charge sheets of a number of detainees who were captured with him and stood accused of conspiracy and material support for terrorism.
When they were first charged in 2005, these detainees were accused of conspiring with Abu Zubaida, and the charge sheets contained numerous references to Abu Zubaida's alleged terrorist activities. When the charges were refiled last year, his name had vanished from the documents.
...The application of techniques such as waterboarding -- a form of simulated drowning that U.S. officials had previously deemed a crime -- prompted a sudden torrent of names and facts. Abu Zubaida began unspooling the details of various al-Qaeda plots, including plans to unleash weapons of mass destruction.
Abu Zubaida's revelations triggered a series of alerts and sent hundreds of CIA and FBI investigators scurrying in pursuit of phantoms. The interrogations led directly to the arrest of Jose Padilla, the man Abu Zubaida identified as heading an effort to explode a radiological "dirty bomb" in an American city. Padilla was held in a naval brig for 3 1/2 years on the allegation but was never charged in any such plot. Every other lead ultimately dissolved into smoke and shadow, according to high-ranking former U.S. officials with access to classified reports.
"We spent millions of dollars chasing false alarms," one former intelligence official said.
Despite the poor results, Bush White House officials and CIA leaders continued to insist that the harsh measures applied against Abu Zubaida and others produced useful intelligence that disrupted terrorist plots and saved American lives.
Two weeks ago, Bush's vice president, Richard B. Cheney, renewed that assertion in an interview with CNN, saying that "the enhanced interrogation program" stopped "a great many" terrorist attacks on the level of Sept. 11.
"I've seen a report that was written, based upon the intelligence that we collected then, that itemizes the specific attacks that were stopped by virtue of what we learned through those programs," Cheney asserted, adding that the report is "still classified," and, "I can't give you the details of it without violating classification."
Since 2006, Senate intelligence committee members have pressed the CIA, in classified briefings, to provide examples of specific leads that were obtained from Abu Zubaida through the use of waterboarding and other methods, according to officials familiar with the requests.
The agency provided none, the officials said.