9/11 "Confession": How Real? (Updated and Bumped)
Wired | March 16, 2007
Towards the end of The Wire's first season, Ronald "Wee-Bey" Price -- soldier to Baltimore drug lord Avon Barksdale -- gets nailed for a murder. He knows he's headed to jail for a long, long time. So he confesses to crime after crime after crime, in order to protect the rest of the Barksdale crew from homicide raps.
The police know the confessions are all wrong; Wee-Bey screws up some of the cases' key facts. But there's nothing they can do; they've "solved" a slew of murders, all at once.
Wee-Bey came to mind, as I read about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's confession to the 9/11 attacks and to " more than 30 other terror attacks or plots ." Like Wee-Bey, " KSM " is clearly a bad, bad dude. A murderer. Worse: a serial killer.
But was he personally responsible for everything from "attempting to destroy an American oil company in Sumatra owned by...Henry Kissinger" to to "launching a Russian surface-to-air missile at an El Al airliner leaving Mombasa" to masterminding "an assassination attempt on President Clinton in the Philippines in 1994 or 1995?" And he personally beheaded Daniel Pearl , too?
Sorry, that feels just a little too pat, a little too tidy. It could be that KSM is, as the 9/11 Commission noted, someone who sees himself as " the self-cast star -- the super terrorist " in "a spectacle of destruction." But to me, it sounds like a man taking on as many bodies as he can, so the rest of his group can go free.
UPDATE : TalkLeft has a ton of interesting material -- 60 posts' worth -- on KSM.
UPDATE 2 : Bill Roggio isn't buying the Wee-Bey theory. "KSM was implicated in the Bojinka Philippines plot – as well as the Clinton and Pope assassination attempts in the 90's -- long before he was captured. KSM was Al-Qaeda's operational commander, when the organization was far more centralized prior to 9-11. In other words, KSM wasn't a one-trick 9-11 pony," Roggio tells the DANGER ROOM.
That's like saying General McCrystal , the SOCOM [U.S. Special Operations Command] leader who runs [the Al-Qaeda hunting] Task Force 145 , doesn't have operational knowledge of the TF-145's operations -- including in the deaths of Zarqawi, Khalifa, etc., the attacks on al-Qaeda camps in Pakistan (Chingai, Danda Saidgai, Damadola, Zamazola, etc.), and the hunts for Islamic Courts fighters in Somalia.
UPDATE 2A : However, this AP story (along the Counterrorism Blog post, below ) really undercuts Roggio, it seems to me. "Mohammed's claims that he was responsible for dozens of successful, foiled and imagined attacks in the past 15 years relies on a loose definition of the word 'responsible ,'" according to the AP. "Officials say the 9/11 mastermind was key to some plots but a bit player in others."
• Mohammed claims that he was "responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center Operation," which killed six and injured more than 1,000 when a bomb was detonated in an underground garage. Six jihadists with ties to international terror networks are serving life sentences. One official said Mohammed didn't hatch the plot, but he and elements of al-Qaida may have supported it.
• He also claims to be responsible for the bombing of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia, which was frequented by British and Australian tourists. Current and former officials say that his role was probably that of a financier for an al-Qaida affiliate group — Jemaah Islamiyah — operating in Southeast Asia. Mohammed's link "could have been as small as arranging a safe house for travel. It could have been arranging finance," Rogers said. "But for his own self-worth, he may have tended to say, 'I was responsible for Bali.'"
• He claims to have been responsible for providing financial support to "hit American, Jewish and British targets in Turkey." That's probably a reference to the 2003 bombing of two synagogues, a British-based bank and the British consulate in Istanbul, killing 58 people including the British consul-general. Prosecutors said Osama bin Laden personally ordered the plot, and Mohammed was not named as a key provider of financial support during a three-year trial. Instead, Turkish authorities say a Syrian — Loa'i Mohammad Haj Bakr al-Saqa — masterminded the attacks and ran $170,000 between al-Qaida and the Turkey-based militants.
UPDATE 3 : The consistently spot-on Kevin Drum is skeptical of the Wee-Bey theory, too . But then he notes:
Still, if you read the transcript of Saturday's tribunal session, it's striking how often KSM asks that other prisoners at Guantanamo be treated "fairly." This might be merely a reference to interrogation methods, but it might also be a plea to give all these other guys the benefit of the doubt when they say they had nothing to do with any of this stuff. It's not likely to work, but it might explain why he decided to so fully take the rap for everything under the sun.
UPDATE 4 : " Tainted by torture " says lawyer, former Army captain, and military sage Phil Carter, echoing many of the comments here.
UPDATE 5 : "The notes to the [9/11] Commission's conclusions mention the possibility of Mohammed ' inflating his own role .' He may also be attempting to defend his part in the 9/11 planning against the testimony of other terror suspects," Time says.
The Commission's notes indicate that, according to another terror chieftain, Abu Zubaydah, Mohammed originally offered Osama bin Laden a more modest proposal for attacking the U.S., but that bin Laden reportedly berated him, saying "Why do you use an ax when you can use a bulldozer?" What's more, Mohammed has also used disinformation in the past. He admitted under previous interrogation that a list of 30 supposed U.S. targets, which he circulated shortly after 9/11, was a lie to exaggerate the scale of al-Qaeda's planning. Terrorism experts say that though there is no doubt Mohammed played a major role in planning 9/11, he's famous among interrogators for his braggadocio. "He has nothing else in life but to be remembered as a famous terrorist," says Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow at the Saban Center at the Brookings Institute and a 29-year veteran of the CIA. "He wants to promote his own importance. It's been a problem since he was captured," says Reidel, who went on to say he wouldn't be surprised is Mohammed was exaggerating his role in other plots.
UPDATE 6 : Looks like Blake and I have the same tastes in TV .
UPDATE 7 : The Counterterrorism Blog has a point-by-point ... well, response , to many of KSM's claims. I'd say this falls somewhere between rebuttal and clarification. Here's an example:
KSM spoke of pushing for an attack against an American oil company in Sumatra owned by Henry Kissinger. Comment: Before selecting Bali as their target in October 2002, Jemaah Islamiyah contemplated attacks against the ExxonMobil gas field in Aceh (on the island of Sumatra), the Dumai port used by Caltex (on the island of Sumatra), a gold mine on Sumbawa island (in Nusa Tenggara Barat province) and the Freeport gold mine (in Papua). Kissinger is on the board of Freeport. KSM probably heard of these targets, and confused the oil targets on Sumatra with Kissinger's affilation with Freeport.