The scathing report on the CIA’s brutal interrogation techniques from the U.S. Senate repeatedly mentions a terrorism suspect called Abu Zubaydah, describing how the torture inflicted on him yielded no valuable information.

Abu Zubaydah is the source the Canadian government cited a decade ago in court documents about two suspects arrested in Canada, Adil Charkaoui and Mohamed Harkat.

Canadian judges eventually ruled that the evidence Abu Zubaydah gave to his U.S. interrogators was not reliable, even though federal lawyers at one point insisted there was no coercion.

The government argued that the information implicating Mr. Charkaoui was “obtained freely and without constraint,” according to a Federal Court ruling in July, 2004.

In the case against Mr. Harkat, the government told the judge there was “no proof, on a balance of probabilities, that evidence obtained from Abu [Zubaydah] was obtained as a result of torture,” a 2005 ruling said.

The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report released this week reveals Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times while he was held by the Central Intelligence Agency, leaving him coughing, vomiting and shaking with spasms.

“Abu Zubaydah frequently ‘cried,’ ‘begged,’ ‘pleaded,’ and ‘whimpered,’ but continued to deny that he had any additional information on current threats to, or operatives in, the United States,” the report says.

When asked at an event in Ottawa on Wednesday about Canadian officials using information obtained from torture, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird replied: “Canada doesn’t torture anyone, period.” He did not elaborate.

Abu Zubaydah is a stateless Palestinian whose real name is Zayn Al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn. He became the CIA’s first detainee after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He was arrested in Pakistan in March, 2002, then flown to a secret CIA site in Thailand.

Because he was wrongly thought to be a high-ranking lieutenant of Osama bin Laden, he was repeatedly questioned about whether he knew of other al-Qaeda plots and operatives. Kept in isolation for 47 days, he was tortured starting in August, 2002, the Senate report says.

The next spring, Mr. Charkaoui, an immigrant of Moroccan origin, was arrested in Montreal under a national security certificate.

Most of the evidence against Mr. Charkaoui was secret. However, in a declassified court filing in 2003, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service said it had been told by “a foreign intelligence service” that Abu Zubaydah had recognized Mr. Charkaoui after being shown a photo and added that the Montrealer was someone he had seen in Afghanistan.

Around the same time, Ottawa cited evidence from Abu Zubaydah in a security certificate case against Mr. Harkat, an Algerian immigrant living in Ottawa.

Government lawyers told Justice Eleanor Dawson of the Federal Court that Abu Zubaydah had identified Mr. Harkat “by his physical description and his activities, including that he operated a guest house … for mujahedeentravelling to Chechnya.”

By then, news reports had started to raise the possibility that Abu Zubaydah was mistreated after his arrest.

Mr. Charkaoui brought up the concern when he challenged his detention.

In his ruling in July, 2004, Federal Court Justice Simon Noël said he heard secret evidence from government lawyers that Abu Zubaydah was not tortured. “They claim that [Abu Zubaydah] was not mistreated. They presented some evidence in the absence of Mr. Charkaoui and his counsel for the purpose of supporting this claim,” the judge wrote.

Justice Noël decided not to take the statement from Abu Zubaydah into consideration.

Mr. Charkaoui was cleared in 2009, when the government withdrew its evidence against him rather than comply with a court order to reveal more of its information.

Mr. Harkat also tried to argue that the allegations against him were coerced from Abu Zubaydah. Federal lawyers told Justice Dawson the onus was on Mr. Harkat to prove there was torture.

Justice Dawson decided nevertheless to give no weight to the allegation because the court could not assess the context of Abu Zubaydah’s incriminating statements.

By 2010, the government came back with new allegations that Mr. Harkat knew Abu Zubaydah, citing conversations that appeared to have been wiretapped. The national security certificate against him has been upheld and he remains under house arrest.

The 525-page U.S. Senate report says the CIA repeatedly claimed falsely that Abu Zubaydah provided key information about other suspects. In fact, the report says, the best information he provided stemmed from non-violent questioning by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents.

The Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Dec. 10 2014, 2:33 PM EST
Last updated Wednesday, Dec. 10 2014, 7:54 PM EST