WASHINGTON – Interrogators of the most senior Al Qaeda figure in U.S. custody intend to draw "every single thing out of him" that might head off terrorist acts, but they will not torture him, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Wednesday.
At a Pentagon news conference, Rumsfeld heatedly denied news reports suggesting the United States might move the captive, Abu Zubaydah, to a country where interrogators could use harsher methods of extracting information than would be deemed acceptable under U.S. human rights standards.
"Believe me, reports to that effect are wrong, inaccurate, not happening and will not happen," he said.
Rumsfeld said that for security reasons the U.S. government would not disclose where Zubaydah is being held. Of the more than 500 others taken captive since the war in Afghanistan began last October, 300 are at a U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and more than 200 are held in Afghanistan.
Zubaydah was among about 50 terrorism suspects captured in Pakistan by Pakistani authorities last week. He is the highest ranking lieutenant of Usama bin Laden taken alive in the war on terrorism.
U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, meanwhile, continued to search for other key Al Qaeda figures, including bin Laden, the Saudi exile whom the United States blames for the Sept. 11 attacks.
The top priority of those questioning Zubaydah is to extract intelligence information that could prevent bin Laden's Al Qaeda network from carrying out any acts of terror already on the drawing board, Rumsfeld said.
"He will be properly interrogated by proper people who know how to do those things," he said.
Although Rumsfeld would not say which arm of the U.S. government would conduct the questioning, he strongly suggested it would not be the military. "We will be responsible for that interrogation — not we the Department of Defense, we the United States of America." That would seem to point to the CIA or FBI, or both.
Asked whether he would rule out moving Zubaydah to a country other than Afghanistan, Pakistan or the United States for questioning, Rumsfeld replied, " I see no reason why I should get into a series of hypotheticals which are not on the radar screen. They're not on the radar screen."
Rumsfeld said Zubaydah is receiving medical care for three bullet wounds he sustained during the Pakistani raid last week and that the United States is intent on keeping him alive for interrogations.
"We are responsible for him," he said. "He is receiving medical care. And we intend to get every single thing out of him to try to prevent terrorist acts in the future." He added: "Here's a man who knows about additional terrorist acts. Here's a man who trained people to do this."
Rumsfeld would not say whether Zubaydah already has provided information about terrorist plans.
The defense secretary praised the Pakistani government and army for pursuing Al Qaeda fugitives along the Afghan border.
He contrasted that cooperation with what he called a lack of assistance from the Iranian government. He noted that Tehran officials have disputed Rumsfeld's assertion earlier this week that they are allowing Al Qaeda fighters to transit their country after escaping U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
"What they (the Iranian officials) are saying to the contrary is not true, and they have been lying to the Iranian people about what they've been doing," he said.