Mohammed says he was behind Sept. 11 attacks

March 15, 2007|By Peter Spiegel | Peter Spiegel,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the Kuwaiti national who is believed to be the highest-ranking al-Qaida operative in U.S. custody, told a military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that he was responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to a transcript of last weekend's hearing.

In a written statement read to the three-officer panel, Mohammed claimed he was al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden's "operational leader" for the "9/11 Operation," responsible for the "organizing, planning, follow-up, and execution" of the plot.

"I was responsible for the 9/11 Operation, from A to Z," he said, according to the transcript released by the Pentagon last night.

Mohammed was present at the hourlong, closed-door hearing held on Saturday, and he interjected frequently in slightly broken English. His admission was read to the tribunal by an Air Force lieutenant colonel who was serving as his personal representative.

But Mohammed gave a lengthy, apparently spontaneous speech in which he likened al-Qaida operatives to American revolutionaries, described a war against a dominating U.S. presence and expressed some remorse.

"I'm not happy that 3,000 been killed in America," he said, according to the transcript. "I feel sorry, even. I don't like to kill children and the kids. Never Islam are give me green light to kill people. Killing, as in the Christianity, Jews and Islam, are prohibited."

In his 31-point statement, Mohammed claimed responsibility for a wide range of terrorist plots -- including the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center; the 2002 bombings of nightclubs in Bali, Indonesia; and the so-called shoe bomber plot to down U.S. airliners traveling across the Atlantic. He said he took part in plans to kill former Presidents Carter and Clinton, as well as the late Pope John Paul II.

Mohammed in the past has made similar claims about his involvement in attacks. The Sept. 11 commission report, published three years ago, cited several interrogation reports compiled by U.S. intelligence agencies in which Mohammed described his role in the attacks in great detail. And the trial of alleged al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui last year included statements by Mohammed that were read to jurors, in which he described his role in several other terrorist plots.

But Saturday's hearing was the first time Mohammed has faced any U.S. legal proceeding since he was captured in Pakistan in March 2003. And it was the first time he was allowed to freely discuss U.S. allegations without interrogators present. He used the opportunity to present charges that he had been tortured by his U.S. captors and attempted to portray himself as a mere soldier fighting a war of independence.

"What I wrote here, is not I'm making myself hero, when I said I was responsible for this or that," Mohammed said, addressing the U.S. Navy captain who presided over the tribunal. "You are military man. You know very well there are language for any war."

None of the military officers who participated was named, a common practice in the tribunals that is intended to prevent any possible retribution.

Mohammed was held by the CIA in a secret U.S. detention facility for more than three years. He was moved into military custody in September after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all al-Qaida detainees were covered by the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit inhumane treatment.

Saturday's hearing, formally called a combatant status review tribunal, was intended to determine whether Mohammed will officially be classified as an enemy combatant and held at Guantanamo. Although Mohammed's tribunal is largely a formality, under military detention rules adopted after a series of Supreme Court rulings, all Guantanamo detainees must be accorded such a hearing. A decision is likely to take several weeks.

In some of the plots, Mohammed appears to have exaggerated his role. The 1993 World Trade Center bombing, for instance, was masterminded by Pakistani Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted of coordinating the plot by a U.S. federal court in 1996.

But Bruce Hoffman, a leading terrorism expert at Georgetown University, said most of the nearly three dozen attacks listed -- many of which were foiled -- appear to have been masterminded or guided by Mohammed.

"It's almost every single al-Qaida plot up until he was apprehended," Hoffman said. "This just shows that bin Laden and [al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman] al-Zawahiri can make threats, but Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the go-to guy."

Peter Spiegel writes for the Los Angeles Times.

Excerpts

Excerpts of transcripts of the military hearings for terrorist suspects Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Faraj al-Libi and Ramzi Binalshibh:

KHALID SHEIKH MOHAMMED

FROM CALLING OF WITNESS

Q: Now what you have told us about your previous treatment is on the record of these proceeding now and will be reported for any investigation that may be appropriate. Also, we will consider what you have told us in making our determination regarding your enemy combatant status.

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