Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the man who the United States says masterminded the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, confessed to that attack and to plotting a reign of terror worldwide, according to a military transcript of a weekend hearing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that was released on Wednesday.
“I was responsible for the 9/11 Operation from A to Z,” he’s quoted as saying in the 26-page transcript, which was posted on the Defense Department Web site.
The confession likely clears the way for the Pentagon to try the man the United States says was Osama bin Laden’s operations chief in a U.S. military war-crimes court that’s empowered to sentence alleged terrorists to death.
No attorney was present at the hearing, which was in front of a panel chaired by a Navy captain and meant to determine whether Mohammed 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 laundry 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 the 1993 World Trade Center attack and to plotting assassination attempts on Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and on Pope John Paul II.
He said he dispatched so-called shoe-bomber Richard Reid to down American airplanes; plotted the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing attack that killed 162 people, most of them Australians; and plotted unrealized attacks on far-flung landmarks.
The unrealized attack targets included Big Ben in London, the Panama Canal, Chicago’s Sears Tower, New York’s Empire State Building, the New York Stock Exchange and a building identified only as “Plaza Bank, Washington State.”
There are several major bank buildings in downtown Seattle, including the Columbia Center and the Bank of America Fifth Avenue Plaza. Seattle FBI agent Ray Lauer, contacted Wednesday night, said he could not comment on what Mohammed might have meant or whether the FBI was warned to take any special precautions involving such a bank.
Mohammed also claimed he was tortured by the CIA after his capture in 2003, according to an exchange he had with the military colonel who heads the three-member panel that heard his case.
“Is any statement that you made, was it because of this treatment, to use your word, you claim torture,” the colonel asked. “Do you make any statements because of that?”
Portions of Mohammed’s response were deleted from the transcript, and his immediate answer was unclear. He later said his confession read at the hearing to the long list of attacks was given without any pressure, threats or duress.
The colonel said that Mohammed’s torture allegations would be “reported for any investigation that may be appropriate.”
According to the transcript, Mohammed interrupted the U.S. officer’s recitation at item 29 to clarify that he wasn’t uniquely responsible for an ill-fated Pope John Paul II assassination attempt in the Philippines, date unknown. Missing from the list were the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, which the United States has blamed on al-Qaida.
Human Rights Watch attorney John Sifton in New York questioned Mohammed’s confession and detention. He 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 added. “This is precisely why people are supposed to have lawyers.”
One operation on the list of 31 was censored – No. 3. No. 1 was the 1993 World Trade Center attack. No. 2 was the Sept. 11 attack. No. 4 was the ill-fated shoe-bombing attempt aboard a Paris-to-Miami flight.
Later, in broken English, Mohammed himself spoke in the transcript, seemingly supporting the statement that was read on his behalf. 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’s quoted as telling the officers in the room. “But you are military man. You know very well these are language for any war.”
Mohammed was the most notorious of 14 so-called high-value detainees who arrived at Guantanamo in September by order of President Bush; until then they had been held by the CIA and hadn’t been allowed contact with the International Committee of the Red Cross.