The Pentagon said Thursday it would not release for the public to see a 2015 letter from the alleged 9/11 mastermind to Barack Obama — a day after the Miami Herald posted the document on its website.
“The letter from Khalid Sheik Mohammad to President Obama has been classified by the reviewing authority as ‘not for public release,’ and as such will not be made publicly available by the Military Commissions,” Air Force Maj. Ben Sakrisson, a Defense Department spokesman on Guantánamo issues, said by email.
Mohammed, 51, who is at Guantánamo awaiting a death-penalty trial, is accused of orchestrating the hijackings of Sept. 11, 2001, that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, at the Pentagon and in a Pennsylvania field. He wrote the letter, rife with insulting commentary on U.S. foreign policy, at Guantánamo, but the prison refused to mail it.
Then on Jan. 6, Mohammed’s judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, ordered prosecutors to get it to the departing president at least a week before Donald Trump took office. He gave the prison an extra month to scrub it of sensitive information before releasing it on the Pentagon war court website whose motto is “Fairness * Transparency * Justice.”
“The commission finds no other legal basis for continued sealing of the letter’s contents,” the judge wrote in a Jan. 6 order. “There appears to be an inconsistency in the government’s position with respect to the propriety of sealing writings of the accused. The government proposes to seal Mr. Mohammed’s letter … throughout the pendency of this trial as inflammatory propaganda; yet, the Government also attached a submission by the accused entitled ‘The Islamic Response to the Government’s Nine Accusations,’ ” as a public filing in other motions.
Sakrisson did not elaborate on what constituted “the reviewing authority” or the basis for continued sealing.
In court, prosecutors had argued that the prison concluded it should not be sent to the president, while defense attorneys for Mohammed noted that they had previously submitted it for an intelligence review and found it contained no classified material.
So, at the request of the Herald, the lawyers provided a copy after the 30-day review timetable expired.
The Miami Herald asked Sakrisson both Tuesday and Wednesday why the letter had not been released after the 30-day review. He did not explain that the Pentagon chose not to release it until Thursday afternoon.