The self-portrait of an Al Qaeda leader
Most Americans know him from the unflattering picture taken shortly after his arrest in Pakistan in 2003. Disheveled and drowsy, alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed appeared as anything but a stoic Islamic warrior engaged in a heroic struggle.
This week a more complete – and complex – portrait of the man began to emerge. He knows Islam does not support wanton killing, but he rationalizes that Muslims are under siege by America.
He boasts of involvement in the 9/11 and other attacks and then expresses remorse for the loss of life – particularly the deaths of children.
He acknowledges involvement in what amount to gigantic international crimes, then takes exception to an Al Jazeera press report that misidentified his rank and position in Al Qaeda.
In one breath he admits to decapitating American reporter Daniel Pearl, and in another he complains that the American military is misspelling his name.
Overall, the portrait that emerges of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is that of an individual who represents the worst kind of enemy – a man who believes with certainty that his cause is just and that God is on his side.
These new details about Mr. Mohammed come via a transcript released by the Pentagon of a proceeding conducted last Saturday at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.
A panel of military officers convened at the base to determine whether there was enough evidence to classify Mohammed as an enemy combatant. Mohammed did not dispute that classification.
"For sure," he told the tribunal, he was America's enemy.
"When we say we are enemy combatant, that['s] right. We are," he said.
But he didn't stop there. He admitted to an encyclopedic list of terror attacks and attempted or planned attacks worldwide. Some had never been previously disclosed. Others were long suspected.
"I was responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A to Z," he told the panel in a written statement.
He added: "I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl, in the city of Karachi, Pakistan. For those who would like to confirm, there are pictures of me on the Internet holding his head."
Mr. Pearl was a Wall Street Journal reporter who was abducted and murdered in Pakistan in 2002.
Mohammed also claimed participation in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; the "shoe bomb" plot involving Richard Reid; the nightclub bombing in Bali, Indonesia in October 2002; a planned second wave of 9/11-like attacks on skyscrapers in Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, and New York; planned attacks on the Panama Canal; attacks on suspension bridges in New York and the New York Stock Exchange; attacks in London against Heathrow Airport, the Canary Wharf building, and Big Ben; and a missile attack against an El Al airliner near Mombasa, Kenya, among others.
He also admitted to involvement in assassination plots against then President Bill Clinton, former President Jimmy Carter, and Pope John Paul II.
"I'm not making myself [a] hero when I said I was responsible for this or that," Mohammed told the panel, in broken English.
He said he was engaged in a war against America and that the language of war is killing. "We are jackals fighting in the night," he said.
But at the same time, Mohammed said he felt remorse for the victims.
"I don't like to kill people," he said. "I feel very sorry kids [were killed] in 9/11."
In attempting to justify his actions, Mohammed likened himself to George Washington. "If now we were living in the Revolutionary War and George Washington [was] arrested [by] Britain, for sure they would consider him enemy combatant," he said. "But Americans they consider him as hero."
In addition to admitting his widespread involvement with Al Qaeda, Mohammed also used his hearing before the panel to try to expose alleged illegal conduct by American officials in their treatment of detainees.
He said some statements he made while in the custody of the Central Intelligence Agency were made under "torture."
He said he and many other detainees had made false statements under torture that were then used against others. He added that none of his statements and admissions made during the Saturday hearing at Guantánamo was in any way forced or coerced.
The president of the military panel sought to assure Mohammed that his allegation of torture would be made part of the record "and will be reported for any investigation that may be appropriate."
Mohammed told the panel, "I hope you will take care of other detainees with what I said. It's up to you."
He used part of his statement to appeal to the US military to release what he said were a significant number of detainees at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp who were unconnected to Al Qaeda or any hostilities against America. "I'm asking you again to be fair with many detainees which are not enemy combatant," he said. "Many of them have been unjustly arrested."
Mohammed's statement comes as the US Supreme Court is set to consider on Friday whether to take up on an expedited schedule the plight of 45 detainees who say they are being held illegally without charge at Guantánamo.
Lawyers for the detainees say they have no connection to Al Qaeda and are asking for an opportunity to prove their innocence to a federal judge.
The Bush administration is arguing that under the terms of the Military Commissions Act the federal courts lack jurisdiction to hear their cases.
Instead, government lawyers say, the detainees must make their cases in Combat Status Review Tribunals – the same forum at which Mohammed appeared on Saturday.
Mohammed's tribunal must decide whether there is sufficient evidence to continue to hold him as an enemy combatant. If there is, he might then be considered for trial for alleged war crimes before a military commission at Guantánamo.
• Staff writer Gordon Lubold contributed to this report.