GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba – An alleged senior financier of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States acknowledged he had a role in helping the hijackers but said he is not a member of al-Qaida and denied having much prior knowledge of the plot, according to a transcript released by the Defense Department on Thursday.
Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, a Saudi national who allegedly played a key role in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, told a Combatant Status Review Tribunal last week that he was in contact with four of the Sept. 11 hijackers and that he received a series of money transfers from the men in the days before the plot was carried out, according to the transcript. He also told the tribunal that he spoke with Mohamed Atta but was unaware of what was going to unfold.
“On September 11, I knew there was an operation,” al-Hawsawi said. He later went to Pakistan and Afghanistan before his arrest in 2003. The detainee arrived in Cuba in September along with 13 other high-value detainees who had been in secret CIA custody.
Al-Hawsawi’s statements to the military tribunal were released as Defense Secretary Robert Gates repeated his public refrain about wanting to close the island detention center, telling a congressional panel in Washington that the “taint” the facility has acquired internationally could cause military commissions here to “lack credibility.” The comments came on the eve of hearings related to the guilty plea of Australian David Hicks, the first detainee to face the untested legal proceedings.
Gates told the defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee that he has wanted to move trials for terrorism suspects to the United States, and he asked Congress to consider language that would allow the United States to deal with terrorists “who really need to be incarcerated forever, but that doesn’t get them involved in a judicial system where there is a potential of them being released, frankly.”
Prosecutors here have said there are about 75 detainees who probably will be charged with crimes at military commissions, but there are hundreds more who will be either transferred to other countries or held indefinitely.