HBO documentary The Forever Prisoner, from acclaimed director Alex Gibney (HBO’s “The Crime of the Century,” “Agents of Chaos,” “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley”), tells the chilling story of Abu Zubaydah, the first high-value detainee subjected to the CIA’s program of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs), later identified as torture by those outside the agency. Having never been charged with a crime or allowed to challenge his detention, Zubaydah remains imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay in Kafkaesque limbo, in direct contravention of America’s own ideals of justice and due process. This gripping and suspenseful film debuts Monday, December 6 (10:00 p.m.-12:00 a.m. ET/PT) on HBO.
Twenty years on, The Forever Prisoner reveals the origins of the clandestine operations that led the United States, in the “War on Terror,” on a path of cruelty, deceit, and self-deception. With new revelations and a level of detail made possible by several lawsuits launched by Gibney and producer Ray Bonner against the CIA, captivating, first-hand accounts from the first two interrogators to question Abu Zubaydah, FBI agents Ali Soufan and Stephen Gaudin, and a shocking interview with CIA contractor James Mitchell, the chief architect of EITs, the film uncovers the incompetent and deceptive practices that the U.S. government followed in order to expedite and legalize EITs in the aftermath of 9/11. As a result, torture as a government policy was authorized by the United States for the first time in history.
With newly revelatory testimony from Ali Soufan – due to Gibney’s lawsuit which forced the CIA to un-redact Soufan’s book, “The Black Banners: How Torture Derailed the War on Terror after 9/11,” and access to his never-before-seen interrogation notes about his time with Zubaydah — The Forever Prisoner details how the Palestinian national, who was incorrectly characterized as a high-level al-Qaeda operative (he was in fact an independent facilitator), was subjected to horrific torture at the hands of CIA contractors, including 83 applications of waterboarding in one month alone. The film includes never-before-seen images of brutal treatment drawn by Zubaydah himself as well as powerful entries from his pre-capture and post-capture personal diaries.
Immediately after his capture in a firefight in Pakistan, Abu Zubaydah willingly gave up vital information – including details about impending plots and the identity of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed – in traditional interrogations by Soufan and Gaudin. Despite that cooperation, the CIA insisted on pursuing brutal techniques. The agency misled the Department of Justice about Zubaydah in order to be able to obtain legal approval for waterboarding and other techniques. Despite Zubaydah’s plaintive entreaties that he was telling interrogators all he knew (he was) and despite graphic video evidence of the torture (supplied to the CIA in a “best-of” tape), former CIA director George Tenet and former director of CIA’s Counterterrorism Center José Rodriguez, with the backing of the Department of Justice and CIA lawyers, encouraged the interrogations to continue.
The Forever Prisoner reveals fascinating first-hand accounts from several high-level key players including former FBI agent and anti-terrorism expert Ali Soufan; former FBI agent Stephen Gaudin; psychologist and chief architect of the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, Dr. James Elmer Mitchell; former Acting General Counsel of the CIA John Rizzo; brother of Abu Zubaydah Hesham Abu Zubaidah; lawyer to Abu Zubaydah, Joseph Margulies; military attorney for Abu Zubaydah, Lt. Col. Chantell Higgins, Col. Steven Kleinman, former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell Lawrence Wilkerson; former General Counsel for the Navy Alberto J. Mora; and Chief Investigator for the Torture Report, Daniel Jones.
Continuing his work in uncovering institutional abuses of power at the highest levels, themes that he has explored in such films as HBO’s “Agents of Chaos” and his Academy Award® winning film “Taxi to the Dark Side,” among others, Gibney reveals shocking details about covert operations carried out in the name of national security. As noted in recent deliberations in the Supreme Court, Abu Zubaydah remains incarcerated at Guantánamo Bay with no recourse to a trial, no hope for release and no voice, leading The Forever Prisoner to raise salient and provocative questions: Is Abu Zubaydah in Guantánamo because of what he did to us or what we did to him? In the shadow of the attacks on our democracy, has America abandoned the very principles it claims to be fighting for?
Watch the official trailer for The Forever Prisoner