A Yemeni captive being held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, confessed to recruiting the suicide bombers and buying the speedboat that blasted a hole in the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, in 2000, killing 17 U.S. sailors, according to a transcript of a hearing released Monday by the Pentagon.
The captive, Waleed Mohammed bin Attash, also admitted in the document that he helped plan the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya that killed more than 200 people, mostly Africans.
Together, the two episodes were among the worst anti-American attacks blamed on al Qaeda before Sept. 11, 2001.
U.S. authorities have long said they held at Guantánamo conspirators in the attack that nearly sank the Cole, a $1 billion U.S. Navy destroyer. The transcript appears to offer the first explicit, if brief, admission by a U.S.-held captive of a key organizational role.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The military released the 10-page transcript of the hearing, held a week ago as part of a process of certifying bin Attash as an ''enemy combatant'' at the remote U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba.
Bin Attash was transferred to the U.S. military prison camps in Cuba from CIA custody six months ago, along with alleged al Qaeda kingpin Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Mohammed, in a transcript released last week, allegedly confessed to orchestrating the 9/11 attacks and being involved in a string of worldwide plots.
In bin Attash's 33-minute appearance, mostly filled with standard military procedures, he makes no note of any abuse while in CIA custody -- unlike Mohammed, whose reference to an allegation of torture was censored.
But he does admit to ''many roles'' in the embassy attack and the Cole bombing, which also left 37 wounded.
''I participated in the buying or purchasing of the explosives. I put together the plan for the operation a year and a half prior to the operation,'' he is quoted as saying through a civilian Arabic-English linguist.
``Buying the boat and recruiting the members that did the operation. Buying the explosives.''
Certification as an enemy combatant is a necessary step before he or any of the other 14 so-called high-value captives could face a Guantánamo war-crimes court, called a military commission.
At the status hearing, U.S. military officers are determining, through both public and secret evidence, whether a captive meets the Bush administration's minimum definition of enemy combatant, which includes membership in al Qaeda or the Taliban or association with members.
The nearly simultaneous embassy bombings on Aug. 7, 1998, in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaaam, Tanzania, where 12 people were killed and 85 injured, illustrated al Qaeda's ability to stage complex ''martyrdom missions'' using multiple teams three years before the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.
The unclassified portion of the allegations against bin Attash cited a survivor of the East African embassy attacks as saying he was tasked by bin Attash with a suicide mission.
When the White House announced bin Attash's transfer to Guantánamo in September, it described him as 27, ''the scion of a prominent terrorist family,'' and having only one leg, his left, because of a ``battlefield accident in 1997.''
Monday's transcript said his code name was ``father of the leg.''
His father was said to be close to Osama bin Laden, two brothers were said to have been killed in 2001 airstrikes on Afghanistan, and a younger brother, Hassan, has been held at Guantánamo Bay since 2004, when the last detainee airlift arrived from Bagram, Afghanistan.