After serving tea and crumpets, CIA interviewers delicately broached the subject of terror with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, asking whether he was responsible for all the bad stuff that’s been happening in the world the last quarter-century.
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To which he replied in perfect English, "Why, old chaps, since you ask, the world knows I’m responsible for 9/11. Don’t you remember? I bundled all the evidence on the hard drive of my computer, the one I loaned you. I like to say I did it my way, like old Frank Sinatra. From doing my best to assassinate the pope and presidents, to the destruction on 9/11, to the death Anna Nicole Smith, I declare I’m your man. So please, make me a star, dahlings.
"Here’s the list of 31 crimes I compiled for you after evening devotions--and those were off the top of my head. I’ll gladly tell you more, but kindly permit me to swear an oath on your Bible or the Koran. That way you’ll know I’m telling Allah’s truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Then I beg you, make a martyr of me so I may dally daily with virgins in Paradise…."
OK, I made that part up. No tea and crumpets. No perfect English. No sworn oath. No Anna Nicole Smith. No admission to owning the computer used as evidence. No virgins.
So, what’s one to believe about Mohammed’s alleged confession in a military hearing? (available at: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/transcript_ISN10024.pdf. Why looky here: I do believe the March 15 New York Times nailed it. I know, I know, Der Times got a lot of things wrong the past decade about terrorists and the War in Iraq. Judith Miller allowed herself to be a mouthpiece for Scooter Libby, of all people, in the run-up to war in Iraq, writing as she did about nukes, aluminum tubes, anthrax and mobile labs. Still, I’ve gotta say, some obscure Page One headline writer for The Times nailed this one, telling the world as precise a truth as headline writers ever get to tell: "Suspected Leader of 9/11 Attacks Is Said to Confess."
Bravo. I’d swear that’s exactly what’s happened. Mohammed was said to confess by the Pentagon. Some fuzzy, indistinct Pentagon bureaucrat stamped UNCLASSIFIED across every page of the official version of how a formerly fuzzy, indistinct terrorist admitted to planning the 9/11 attacks and some 30 other big crimes or wannabe crimes, while said bureaucrat left most of the hard evidence classified and unavailable.
Stop the presses while we roll this bundle of newsprint on. Better yet, stop the presses and turn on your computer. But please pause in your browsing to admire The Times headline because that’s about all that’s admirable about this story. Der Times handled this piece of waste from the bowels of our government about as delicately as one would expect.
I’m not saying Khalid Shaikh, um, Mohammed is guilty or innocent of the 30 or so allegations by the Pentagon. All I’m saying is, I don’t know and neither do you. Furthermore, I have no way of knowing, and I wonder whether the world will ever know more about the guilt or innocence of this particular Mohammed than, say, the truth of Santa Claus’s alleged confession that he entered all those houses last December. Mohammed dwells in the land of indeterminate truth. He’s become legend, partly truth, partly fiction.
Why so skeptical, you conveniently ask? I’ll give you a fraction more than seven good reasons.
1. Torture. In his military hearing transcript, Khalid Shaikh um… Mohammed, alludes to torture. I’m sure you know I have big problems with torture. We know from press reports (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9991919/site/newsweek) that Shaykh Ibn al-Libi told a pack of whoppers, while being tortured, that made it into Colin Powell’s 2003 speech to the United Nations before we invaded Iraq.
2. Secrecy. Every page of the classified document hints at dark mysteries that may never make it into the public record. We have no way of confirming anything Khalid had to say. He disputes owning the computer, for instance, and we don’t see a chain of evidence in the government transcript linking that hard drive to him.
3. Lack of an oath. In one of Mohammed’s longest speeches in the transcript he goes into great detail about why he will not swear to telling the truth in American courts.
4. Consider the source. It was the Pentagon who told us pro footballer Pat Tillman went down with guns ablazin’ in Afghanistan, when in fact he was killed by so-called friendly fire. And wasn’t it the Pentagon who suggested Jessica Lynch had to be rescued commando style from a hospital where she’d been taken after fighting heroically to defend her convoy in Iraq? Come to think of it, the Bush Administration has lied about so much that only an idiot would take anything uttered by most anyone associated with it at face value.
5. Motivation. Beyond the unpleasant circumstances of his questioning, why wouldn’t Mohammed confess? As he describes himself in the transcript, he’s in a war, sort of like George Washington dontcha know? Why not take credit for your team’s successes? He’s in so deep at this point, nothing good can come of it except earthly fame and whatever pleasures await in paradise.
6 (Plus). Language barriers (and lack of defense witnesses). Here’s a direct quote from Mohammed in the transcript: "Other things are which is very old even nobody can bring any witnesses for that as you written here if it will be ah a value for the witness nearby ah you will do it. This computer is not for me. Is for Hawsawi himself. So I’m saying I need Hawsawi because me and him we both been arrested day. Same way. So this computer is from him long time." (Sshhh. No, Mohammed was not permitted to call Hawsawi or any other witness during this tribunal but that's our little secret, otherwise people will call us unpatriotic).
7. Timing: Mohammed’s confession goes public just as Scooter Libby is convicted of lying and obstruction in the Plame case. Just as Pulitzer Prize winner Seymour Hersh exposes Bush’s illegal funding of murderous Sunni groups with ties to al-Qaida, in order to conduct covert wars in Iran. And just as Alberto Gonzales and Karl Rove come under extreme pressure for purging US attorneys across the country…. What better way to push these scandals to the end of columns like this than to break the earth-shattering news that the biggest terrorist of the 21st century has been captured?
Come to think of it, if that was their plan, it almost worked. But not quite, because I have one more follow-up observation, which I’ll advance in the form of a question:
If Khalid Shaikh Mohammed committed most of the terrorist acts of the past quarter-century, trained his 9/11 hijackers in Afghanistan, was funded by rich Arabs in Kuwait and was busted in Pakistan—as his standard bio declares--then what in God’s name are our brave soldiers doing half a decade after 9/11 dodging suicide bombers in Iraq?