According to a just-released U.S.
transcript, accused al-Qaida operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammad has
confessed to a leading role in at least 31 alleged terrorist plots,
including the attacks of September 11, 2001. The admissions came in the
transcript of a closed-door U.S. military hearing at the U.S. detention
facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But, as VOA correspondent Gary Thomas
reports, Mohammad's multiple confessions raise some
Khalid Sheikh Mohammad says
he was the foreign operations chief for Osama bin Laden
and claims a key role, if not the leading one, in
some 31 alleged plots around the world and spanning a
But some experts believe that while Mohammad was indeed a key al-Qaida
figure, they also say some of his claims are open to question and that he
may be inflating his importance in some areas. In 2005, the commission
that investigated the September 11 attacks noted Mohammad's sometimes
extravagant ambitions and said that he liked to cast himself as a
Former FBI agent Jack Cloonan, who was on the Osama bin Laden
counter-terrorist team in New York, says Mohammad has what he terms an
enormous ego. He also notes that the transcript of the March 10 military
tribunal hearing has no details of any of the alleged plots.
"Well, one of the things that strikes out at me is that of the 31
operations that he has claimed credit for, claimed credit for himself, is
actually the lack of specificity," he said. "Some of the ones are
obviously well known, obviously the attacks on the [World] Trade Center,
both in '93 and 2001. But some of the other things he's alluding to lack
specificity. Now there may be more information that was provided either to
the CIA or in fact to the military interrogators. And I hope that
information was disseminated."
Other counter-terrorism experts, however, are not troubled by the fact
that many of the plots Mohammad alludes to never actually occurred. Former
CIA officer Michael Scheuer, who headed the agency's hunt for bin Laden,
say al-Qaida was engaging in contingency planning. He adds that while
Khalid Sheikh Mohammad may have embellished somewhat, even the potential
planning he outlines is a chilling indicator of al-Qaida's danger.
"I think you come away from KSM's [Khalid Sheikh Mohammad's] testimony
- even if you accept maybe a quarter of it being embroidery or swagger
[exaggeration] - with a very clear view of a very potent, very
intelligent, very innovative enemy," he said.
Mohammad was captured in March, 2003, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, near the
capital city of Islamabad. As one of the so-called high-value terrorist
detainees, he was held in a network of CIA secret prisons in various
countries until his transfer to Guantanamo Bay last year. On March 10, he
was given what the Pentagon calls a Combatant Status Review hearing to
determine if he is to be released or detained indefinitely. The hearing
was closed to the media.
Mohammad himself claims to have been tortured in his CIA
interrogations, but the hearing transcript that was released edited out
any further comment from him in that regard.
Tom Parker, a former British counter-terrorism officer, says Mohammad's
claims of his terrorist leader status could be true. But he says what kind
of treatment Khalid Sheikh Mohammad received could have affected his
"We don't know what he'd been through in the last three years," he
said. "But if he has been subjected to highly coercive interrogation
techniques, he could be a broken man. At this point he may be entirely
prepared to confess to kidnapping [the late singer] Elvis [Presley]. We
just don't know."
Former CIA officer Michael Scheuer says that while Mohammad could have
been mistreated, he also knows that the issue of U.S. interrogation
methods has been the subject of intense political debate.
"He is an informed observer of the propaganda and public diplomacy
aspects of the war between the United States, and al-Qaida and its
allies," he said. "And he has exploited that with a combination of
truthfulness in terms of many of the attacks we know that he was involved
with that he claimed, and in terms of a really acute eye for exacerbating
problems of the American government in handling people that they capture."
Analysts say that because four years has elapsed since Khalid Sheikh
Mohammad's capture, any further information gleaned from interrogation
would be outdated and of little use now.