WASHINGTON--Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Wednesday that U.S. interrogators "intend to get every single thing out of" captured al Qaida suspect Abu Zubaydah, but will not torture him to do so. Rumsfeld denied reports that the United States might move Osama bin Laden's lieutenant to a country where interrogators would be less restrained in prying information from him.
"Believe me, reports to that effect are wrong, inaccurate, not happening and will not happen," he said.
He said Zubaydah was in U.S. custody, but declined to identify whether he is among 300 al Qaida and Taliban captives at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or elsewhere, citing security concerns. The United States has another 200 detainees at bases in Afghanistan.
Rumsfeld said Zubaydah, the third highest ranking official in the organization believed responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, is undergoing treatment for three gunshot wounds received during his capture last week by Pakistani authorities. He is the highest-ranking bin Laden lieutenant captured since the war began. "We are responsible for him. He is receiving medical care," Rumsfeld said. "And we intend to get every single thing out of him to try and prevent terrorist acts in the future. . . . Here's a man who knows about additional acts. Here's a man who trained people to do this."
Rumsfeld declined to say whether Zubaydah would be questioned by U.S. military officials or those from another agency.
"He will be properly interrogated by proper people who know how to do those things," Rumsfeld said, but he declined to say whether Zubaydah has divulged anything of value.
A senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Zubaydah is "not under military control at all," and suggested he may be undergoing questioning by the CIA or FBI.
Zubaydah was captured March 28 in Pakistan during a sweep that netted more than 50 al Qaida and Taliban suspects. He took over al Qaida's operations after Mohammed Atef was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan last fall.
American officials say Zubaydah was the primary link between bin Laden and al Qaida cells around the world and represents a potential wealth of information about the group's structure, operational methods and targets.
FBI officials also are eager to question Zubaydah because they believe he might help lead them to about 20 suspected operatives who were living in the United States at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks but have since disappeared.
The officials fear that some or all of the 20, most of whom were Saudis living in Fairfax, Va., or Paterson, N.J., may still be in the United States preparing to carry out attacks.
Law enforcement officials who asked not to be identified said there was no evidence that the 20 had roles in the attacks on the Pentagon and New York's World Trade Center.
Zubaydah may have known about or even approved other al Qaida operations in the United States, intelligence and law enforcement officials believe.
He helped plan and direct attacks aimed at the Radisson SAS hotel in Amman, the Jordanian capital, and at Los Angeles International Airport during the millennium celebrations, according to court records in the United States and Jordan. Neither attack took place.
Administration officials are skeptical that U.S. interrogators can get much out of Zubaydah. Other al Qaida and Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay have provided little useful information, and in some cases are still concealing their identities.
Some administration officials had suggested that the United States hand Zubaydah over to Jordan, where he is under a death sentence for his role in the aborted millennium bombings. The sentence, plus the Jordanians' ability to question prisoners with fewer, if any, restrictions, might yield more information, these officials suggested.
But a senior official said Rumsfeld, Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller insisted that U.S. law enforcement officials should be the ones to question Zubaydah.
Most officials, however, agree that the computers and other gear that were captured along with Zubaydah and other suspected al Qaida members may turn out to be more valuable than any information they get from Zubaydah.