'I'm responsible for 9/11'

 

crosenberg@miamiherald.com

Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the man the United States says masterminded the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, confessed to the attack and to plotting a reign of anti-American terror across the planet, according to a military transcript of a weekend hearing at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, released Wednesday.

''I was responsible for the 9/11 operation -- from A to Z,'' he is quoted as saying in the 26-page transcript, posted on the Defense Department website at the close of business Wednesday.

The confession likely clears the way for the Pentagon to try the man that the United States says was Osama bin Laden's operations chief before a military war-crimes court empowered to sentence alleged terrorists to death.

No attorney was present at the status hearing in front of a panel chaired by a Navy captain and meant to determine whether he could be classified as an ''enemy combatant.'' The Pentagon also barred the news media.

According to the transcript, an Air Force lieutenant colonel read a 31-point list of operations -- some completed, some planned -- while Mohammed sat in a hearing room on Saturday.

In them, Mohammed, 43, allegedly confessed to the Sept. 11 attacks and its 1993 World Trade Center predecessor attack, and to plotting assassination attempts on Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Pope John Paul II.

He said he dispatched so-called shoe-bomber Richard Reid to down American airplanes; plotted the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing that killed 162 people, most of them Australians, and plotted unrealized attacks on far-flung landmarks.

The unrealized attacks included the Big Ben tower in London, the Panama Canal, Chicago's Sears Tower, New York's Empire State Building, the port city of Eilat in Israel, NATO headquarters in Europe and the New York Stock Exchange.

He said he also plotted attacks on the American embassies in Indonesia, Australia and Japan, and the Israeli embassies in India, Azerbaijan, the Philippines and Australia.

LIST CLARIFIED

According to the transcript, Mohammed was listening to the U.S. officer's recitation and interrupted at item 29 to clarify he was not uniquely responsible for an unsuccessful Pope John Paul assassination attempt in the Philippines, date unknown.

''I was not responsible, but share,'' said Mohammed, prompting the officer to go back and reread the claim of shared responsibility, not sole responsibility.

Missing from the list were the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, which the United States has broadly blamed on al Qaeda.

Only one of his list of 31 was censored: No. 3.

No. 2 was the 9/11 attack. No. 4 was the ill-fated shoe-bombing, aboard a Paris-to-Miami flight.

The Defense Department had earlier ordered a news media blackout at the proceedings -- an about-face from an earlier policy. Previously, reporters watched a Guantánamo detainee address a three-officer panel in a trailer at Camp Delta at the remote U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba.

Mohammed arrived at Guantánamo last year -- three years after Pakistani security forces captured him in Rawalpindi and turned him over to U.S. intelligence agents for secret interrogation at a so-called CIA ``black site.''

CRITICS OF DETENTION

Human rights and international law attorneys have protested the secret detention.

''Why are we here in 2007 having this happen? Why wasn't Khalid Sheik Mohammed arraigned in March of 2003 in America? He wasn't captured on the battlefield. He was captured in Rawalpindi [Pakistan],'' said Human Rights Watch attorney John Sifton in New York, less than a mile from Ground Zero.

Sifton said the depth and breadth of Mohammed's statement was ''weird . . . He's linked to everything,'' he said.

''The confession sounds like something that was taken off WhiteHouse.gov,'' Sifton said. ``This is precisely why people are supposed to have lawyers.''

Before Mohammed's hearing, the Pentagon said it would issue transcripts scrubbed to protect national security after a military intelligence review.

It is unclear from the context whether operation No. 3 was completed or never carried out -- like the vast majority of operations he claimed to have plotted on the list.

Later, in broken English, Mohammed himself spoke in the transcript, seemingly supporting the statement that was read on his behalf.

He had already admitted at that point to swearing an Islamic oath of allegiance to the al Qaeda chief, bin Laden, ``to conduct jihad of self and money.''

Then he appeared to be appealing to the military panel -- as though one soldier to another.

'What I wrote here is not, `I'm making myself hero,' when I said I was responsible for this and that,'' he is quoted as telling the officers in the room.

``But you are military man. You know very well these are language for any war.''

HIGH-VALUE DETAINEES

Mohammed was the most notorious of 14 so-called high-value detainees who arrived at Guantánamo in September by order of President Bush; until then, they had been held by the CIA and had not been given contact with the International Committee of the Red Cross, which maintains international prisoner rolls the world over.

Since their arrival, they have been transferred to Pentagon custody, though kept out of sight of other prisoners on the base, and allowed to meet Red Cross delegates, who gave them the opportunity to write family. It is not known whether the Pakistani-born man who was raised in Kuwait wrote home, but another captive yet to appear before a review board wrote his mother in Indonesia.

The Pentagon released the transcript along with those of two other alleged al Qaeda masterminds -- Ramzi Binalshibh, who has been cast as a deputy planner in the 9/11 attacks, and Abu Faraj al Libi, a Libyan who allegedly plotted the unsuccessful assassination of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

Read more Guantánamo Special Coverage stories from the Miami Herald

  • Web Extra | A prison camps primer

    The Pentagon has built a series of facilities at Guantánamo Bay since it inaugurated its offshore detention and interrogation center for terrorist suspects in January 2002 by airlifting captives to remote Cuba from Bagram, Afghanistan.

  •  
In this Feb. 2, 2002 file photo, a detainee brought by airlift from Afghanistan is carried on a stretcher before being interrogated by military officials at Camp X-Ray at the U.S. Navy Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    GUANTANAMO

    ‘Flouting the rules of law and morality’

    GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — Before this onetime coaling station for the U.S. Navy ships in the Caribbean was transformed into a site holding captives in the war on terror that U.S. officials had called the worst of the worst, most Americans were unaware of its existence.

  •  
These men are among those being force-fed at Guantanamo, according to their lawyers who say they got notice from the Justice Department. Top row from left: Yemeni Tariq Ba Awdah, 34, Syrian Jihad Diyab, 41, Yemeni Mohammed Al-Hamiri, in his 30s. Bottom row rom left: Kuwaiti Fayez Kandari, 35, Yemenis Yasin Ismael and Samir Muqbil, both in their 30s. Five of the photos come from the captives' military intelligence risk assessments obtained by McClatchy from Wikileaks. Kandari's photo was taken by the International Red Cross and released by his family.

    Who's still being held at Guantánamo

    Here is a comprehensive list of who is still held at the Guantánamo detention center in Cuba. McClatchy determined who was still there using both sources and court records as well as secret intelligence files obtained by WikiLeaks and passed to McClatchy.

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