Suspected Leader of 9/11 Attacks Is Said to Confess
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, long said to be the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, confessed to them at a military hearing held in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on Saturday, according to a transcript released by the Pentagon yesterday. He also acknowledged full or partial responsibility for more than 30 other terror attacks or plots.
“I was responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A to Z,” he said.
In a rambling statement, Mr. Mohammed, a chief aide to Osama bin Laden, said his actions were part of a military campaign. “I’m not happy that 3,000 been killed in America,” he said in broken English. “I feel sorry even. I don’t like to kill children and the kids.” [Excerpts, Page A23.]
He added, “The language of war is victims.”
Though American officials had linked Mr. Mohammed to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and to several others, his confession was the first time he spelled out in his own words a panoply of global terror activities, ranging from plans to bomb landmarks in New York City and London to assassination plots against former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and Pope John Paul II. Some of the plots he claimed to plan, including the attempt on Mr. Carter, had not previously been publicly disclosed.
Mr. Mohammed indicated in the transcript that some of his earlier statements to C.I.A. interrogators were the result of torture. But he said that his statements at the tribunal on Saturday were not made under duress or pressure.
His actions, he said, were like those of other revolutionaries. Had the British arrested George Washington during the Revolutionary War, Mr. Mohammed said, “for sure they would consider him enemy combatant.”
The hearing also summarized some of the evidence the Pentagon says supports the designation of Mr. Mohammed as an enemy combatant, including a computer hard drive containing information about the Sept. 11 hijackers, letters from Mr. bin Laden and the details of other plots. It was seized, the government says, when Mr. Mohammed was captured.
Mr. Mohammed spoke before a combatant status review tribunal that has the narrow task of determining whether President Bush had properly designated him an enemy combatant. Mr. Mohammed’s confession will almost certainly be used against him if and when he is tried for war crimes by a military commission.
Parts of the transcript were redacted by the military, and there were suggestions in it that Mr. Mohammed contended he was mistreated while in the custody of the C.I.A. after his arrest in 2003. He was transferred to military custody at Guantánamo Bay last year.
By tribunal rules, Mr. Mohammed was aided by a “personal representative,” not a lawyer. His attempt to call two witnesses was denied. And the tribunal indicated that it would consider classified evidence not made available to Mr. Mohammed.
Combatant status review tribunals are informal hearings created in response to a 2004 decision by the United States Supreme Court to judge whether prisoners at Guantánamo were properly designated as enemy combatants and subject to indefinite detention. Unlike the military commissions that hear war crimes charges, the combatant status review tribunals offer minimal procedural protections and are not recognizably judicial.
In the past, the hearings have been partly open to the press. But a series of recent hearings, involving some of the 14 so-called high-value detainees transferred to Guantánamo from secret C.I.A. prisons last year, were closed. In addition to the Mohammed transcript, the Pentagon yesterday also released transcripts of the hearings of Abu Faraj al-Libbi and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, top Qaeda operatives.
Mr. Libbi did not attend his hearing, and in a statement contained in the transcript he said he would refuse to do so until he could be tried according to accepted judicial principles in the United States. He said he had not been granted a lawyer and could not introduce witnesses in his defense.
“If I am classified as an enemy combatant,” he said in the statement, “it is possible that the United States will deem my witnesses are enemy combatants and judicial or administration action may be taken against them. It is my opinion the detainee is in a lose-lose situation.”
The tribunals in all three cases reserved judgment on the question of whether the men were indeed properly classified as enemy combatants, but there is little doubt that the president’s designation will be affirmed.
The prisoners may appeal the conclusions of the tribunals to a federal appeals court in Washington. While not contesting his own guilt, Mr. Mohammed asked the United States government to “be fair with people.” He said that many people who had been arrested as terrorists in the wake of 9/11 were innocent.
Mr. Mohammed’s representative, an Air Force lieutenant colonel whose name was not released, read a statement on Mr. Mohammed’s behalf “with the understanding he may interject or add statements if he needs to.”
In the statement, Mr. Mohammed described himself as the “military operational commander for all foreign operations around the world” for Al Qaeda.
He also took responsibility for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the 2002 bombing of a nightclub in Bali.
Mr. Mohammed also outlined a vast series of plots that were not completed. Among his targets, he said, were office buildings in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York; suspension bridges in New York; the New York Stock Exchange “and other financial targets after 9/11”; the Panama Canal; British landmarks including Big Ben; buildings in Israel; American embassies in Indonesia, Australia and Japan; Israeli embassies in India, Azerbaijan, the Philippines and Australia; airliners around the world; and nuclear power plants in the United States.
He said he managed “the cell for the production of biological weapons, such as anthrax and others, and following up on dirty-bomb operations on American soil.”
Mr. Mohammed also said that he had taken part in “surveying and financing for the assassination of several former American presidents, including President Carter.” He added that he was responsible for an assassination plot against President Clinton in the Philippines in 1994.
But Mr. Mohammed interrupted his representative to clarify that he was not solely responsible for a 1995 attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II during a visit to the Philippines.
“I was not responsible,” Mr. Mohammed said, “but share.”
American officials and President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan have said that Mr. Mohammed took part in killing Daniel Pearl, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, in Pakistan in 2002. Though Mr. Mohammed referred to Mr. Pearl in passing in the transcript, he did not confess to the killing. He did say that he had plotted to assassinate President Musharraf.
At the end of the recitation, Mr. Mohammed was asked, “Were those your words?”
“Yes,” he answered.
Later, he said: “What I wrote here, is not I’m making myself hero, when I said I was responsible for this or that. But you are military man. You know very well there are language for war.”
It is not clear how many of Mr. Mohammed’s expansive claims were legitimate. In 2005, the Sept. 11 commission said that Mr. Mohammed was noted for his extravagant ambitions, and, using his initials, described his vision as “theater, a spectacle of destruction with KSM as the self-cast star, the superterrorist.”
Mr. Mohammed declined to speak under oath, saying his religious beliefs prohibited it. But he said he was telling the truth.
“To be or accept the tribunal as to be, I’ll accept it,” he said. “That I’m accepting American Constitution, American law or whatever you are doing here. That is why religiously I cannot accept anything you do.”
He added: “When I not take oath does not mean I’m lying.”
Mr. Mohammed, 41, is an ethnic Pakistani who grew up in Kuwait and graduated from North Carolina State Agricultural and Technical State University in 1986. He was captured on March 1, 2003, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, and was held in the secret C.I.A. prison system, where he is believed to have been subjected to harsh interrogation.
In a long monologue that fills about four single-spaced pages of the transcript, Mr. Mohammed said his motives were military ones.
“If America they want to invade Iraq they will not send for Saddam roses or kisses, they send for a bombardment,” he said. “I consider myself, for what you are doing, a religious thing as you consider us fundamentalist. So, we derive from religious leading that we consider we and George Washington doing the same thing.”
He pleaded on behalf of some of his fellow detainees. “I’m asking you again to be fair with many detainees which are not enemy combatant,” Mr. Mohammed said. “Because many of them have been unjustly arrested.”
The unclassified part of the hearing lasted for a little more than an hour, according to the transcript.
Near the end, Mr. Mohammed summed up. “The American have human right,” he said. “So, enemy combatant itself, it flexible word.”
“War start from Adam when Cain killed Abel until now,” he said.