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  • Bruce Klein

The Forever Prisoner: No One Won

What you need in order to make a documentary like The Forever Prisoner (2021) is an unrelenting filmmaker and a guy on the inside who saw it all happen. Director/Producer Alex Gibney is an Academy Award Winner for Best Documentary with 2007s Taxi to the Dark Side. He fulfills the first requirement. The inside man is Ali Sufian, a former honorable FBI agent who is an American Muslim who speaks Farci. Their work together has resulted in an uncompromising film.



The documentary is about a Palestinian who was captured after 9-11, tortured and is still behind bars in Camp Number 5 at the Guantanamo Bay Army Base. Abu Zubaydad was part of the terrorist al-Qaeda network. He was captured and brought to a secret CIA base in Thailand for interrogation. There, FBI agents met with him and made it clear that U.S. intelligence knew who he was. Sufian, spoke to him. After Abu introduced himself using an alias, Ali called him by his childhood nickname. Abu was shocked and knew that the jig was up and Abu defenses broke down. He became cooperative and told what he knew.


But this wasn’t good enough for the CIA. They wanted more. Their most important mission was to pry out of him planned attacks on the US. They sent in psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. Mitchell and Jessen devised “enhanced interrogation techniques” which was based on experiments with dogs. The dogs were placed in a box divided into two compartments. The dog could jump from one to another. After receiving an electric shock, the dog would jump from one compartment to the other compartment. Once there, he would receive another electric shock. When the dog jumped back to compartment one, he would be shocked again. This procedure would be repeated until the dog felt helpless.

Their interrogation method was adopted and used on Zubaydad. But it yielded no new information. The CIA and the Executive Branch led by Vice President Cheney wanted to get him to talk about terrorist plots on the US. So thereafter, grim inhumane torture was inflicted on Zubaydad over a period for 47 days. These measures inflected terrible pain. After constant 24-hour a day torture, he swore through tears that he knew nothing about any planned attacks on US. Finally, the torture stopped but his solitary confinement continued.


Mitchell viewed himself as a true patriot and felt his cruel and unusual punishment of Zubaydad was necessary to save American lives that would be lost in the next terror attack. For his efforts, his company received over $80 million. Although I found the subject matter abhorrent and disgusting, viewing the film truly enlightened me. As an American, I felt responsibly for these horrors which denigrated the sacred honor of our republic. I felt angry and personally betrayed. How could this happen in secret with the guidance and knowledge of our higher elected officials?

This documentary opened a window into the dark side of the US reaction to 9-11. We smashed this suspect to the point of near death. Alex Gibney and Ali Sufian have made something extraordinry in an impossible situation. The film premiers on Monday night, December 6th on HBO. Although painful to watch, see it to learn the truths of the US’s post 9-11 operations.