9-11 mastermind confesses at hearing
Thursday, March 15, 2007
WASHINGTON -- Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, confessed to that attack and a chilling string of other terror plots during a military hearing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to a transcript released Wednesday by the Pentagon.
"I was responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z," Mohammed said in a statement read during the session, which was held last Saturday.
The transcripts also refer to a claim by Mohammed that he was tortured by the CIA, although he said he was not under duress at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo when he confessed to his role in the attacks.
In a section of the statement that was blacked out, he confessed to the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, The Associated Press has learned. Pearl was abducted in January 2002 in Pakistan while researching a story on Islamic militancy. Mohammed has long been a suspect in the killing.
Using his own words, the extraordinary transcript connects Mohammed to dozens of the worst terror plots attempted or carried out in the last 15 years -- and to others that have not occurred. All told, thousands have died in operations he directed.
His words draw al-Qaida closer to plots of the early 1990s than the group has previously been connected to, including the 1993 World Trade Center truck bombing. Six people with links to global terror networks were convicted in federal court and sentenced to life in prison.
It also makes clear that al-Qaida wanted to down a second trans-Atlantic aircraft during would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid's operation.
Mohammed said he was involved in planning the 2002 bombing of a Kenya beach resort frequented by Israelis and the failed missile attack on an Israeli passenger jet after it took off from Mombasa, Kenya. He also said he was responsible for the bombing of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia. In 2002, 202 were killed when two Bali nightclubs were bombed.
Other plots he said he was responsible for included planned attacks against the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Empire State Building and New York Stock Exchange, the Panama Canal and Big Ben and Heathrow Airport in London -- none of which happened.
He said he was involved in planning assassination attempts against former Presidents Carter and Clinton, attacks on U.S. nuclear power plants and suspension bridges in New York, the destruction of American and Israeli embassies in Asia and Australia, attacks on American naval vessels and oil tankers around the world, and an attempt to "destroy" an oil company he said was owned by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on Sumatra, Indonesia.
He also claimed he shared responsibility for assassination attempts against Pope John Paul II and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.
In all, Mohammed said he was responsible for planning 28 attacks and assisting in three others. The comments were included in a 26-page transcript released by the Pentagon, which blacked out some of his remarks.
Mohammed also claimed he was tortured by the CIA after his capture in 2003, according to an exchange he had with the unidentified military colonel who heads the three-member panel that heard his case.
"Is any statement that you made, was it because of this treatment, to use your word, you claim torture," the colonel asked. "Do you make any statements because of that?"
Portions of Mohammed's response were deleted from the transcript, and his immediate answer was unclear. He later said his confession read at the hearing to the long list of attacks was given without any pressure, threats or duress.
The colonel said Mohammed's torture allegations would be "reported for any investigation that may be appropriate" and also would be taken into account in consideration of his enemy combatant status.
In one rambling remark apparently spoken through a translator, Mohammed appeared to express some regret for some of the casualties of 9/11.
"When I said I'm not happy that 3,000 been killed in America, I feel sorry even. I don't like to kill children and the kids," the transcript said.
The Pentagon also released transcripts of the hearings of Abu Faraj al-Libi and Ramzi Binalshibh. Both refused to attended the hearings, though al-Libi submitted a statement.
Binalshibh, a Yemeni, is suspected of helping Mohammed with the Sept. 11, 2001, attack plan and is also linked to a foiled plot to crash aircraft into London's Heathrow Airport. Al-Libi is a Libyan who reportedly masterminded two bombings 11 days apart in Pakistan in December 2003 that targeted Musharraf for his support of the U.S.-led war on terror.
The hearings, which began last Friday, are being conducted in secret by the military as it tries to determine whether 14 alleged terrorist leaders should be declared "enemy combatants" who can be held indefinitely and prosecuted by military tribunals.
If, as expected, the 14 are declared enemy combatants, the military would then draft and file charges against them. The detainees would then be tried under the new military commissions law signed by President Bush in October.
Hearings for six of the 14 have already been held, though only three transcripts have been released. The military is not allowing reporters to attend the sessions and is limiting the information it provides about them, arguing that it wants to prevent sensitive information from being disclosed.
The 14 were moved in September from a secret CIA prison network to the prison at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, where about 385 men are being held on suspicion of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban.
Mohammed's confession was read at the hearing by a member of the U.S. military who is serving as his personal representative.
The transcripts also lay out evidence against Mohammed, saying that a computer seized during his capture included detailed information about the Sept. 11 plot -- ranging from names and photos of the hijackers to photos of hijacker Mohammad Atta's pilot's license and even letters from al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
Al-Libi made a statement through his personal representative largely claiming that the hearing process is unfair and that he will not attend unless it is corrected.
"The detainee is in a lose-lose situation," his statement said.
Binalshibh's hearing was conducted in his absence. Military officials expected some of the 14 suspects not to participate.
Legal experts have criticized the U.S. decision to bar independent observers from the hearings from the high-value targets. The Associated Press filed a letter of protest, arguing that it would be "an unconstitutional mistake to close the proceedings in their entirety."
Mark Denbeaux, a Seton Hall University law professor who represents two Tunisians held at Guantanamo, said that based on the transcripts, Mohammed might be the only detainee who would qualify as an enemy combatant.
"The government has finally brought someone into Gitmo who apparently admits to being someone who could be called an enemy combatant," Denbeaux, a critic of most of the detentions, said in a telephone interview from London. "None of the others rise to this level. The government has now got one."
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, questioned the legality of the closed-door session and confession and whether the confession was the result of torture.
"We won't know that unless there is an independent hearing," he said. "We need to know if this purported confession would be enough to convict him at a fair trial or would it have to be suppressed as the fruit of torture?"
The military held 558 combatant status review tribunals between July 2004 and March 2005 and the panels concluded that all but 38 detainees were enemy combatants who should be held. Those 38 were eventually released from Guantanamo.
Associated Press writers Katherine Shrader and Matthew Lee contributed to this report.
On the Net:
Transcripts for the three detainees have been posted at: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Combatant--Tribunals.html