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9/11 Planner Confesses To Many Plots

He compares Al Qaeda operatives to American revolutionaries in his tribunal testimony.

He Says He Was Tortured

March 15, 2007|Peter Spiegel | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the Kuwaiti national who is thought to be the highest-ranking Al Qaeda operative in U.S. custody, told a military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, last weekend that he was responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to a transcript of the hearing.

In a written statement read to a three-officer panel, Mohammed claimed he was Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's "operational leader" for the "9/11 operation," responsible for the "organizing, planning, follow-up and execution" of the plot.

"I was responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A to Z," Mohammed said, according to the transcript, which was released by the Pentagon on Wednesday night.

Mohammed was present at the hourlong, closed-door hearing Saturday, and he interjected frequently in slightly broken English. His admission was read to the tribunal by an Air Force lieutenant colonel who was serving as Mohammed's representative.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday March 17, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed: An article in Thursday's Section A described accused terrorist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed as a Kuwaiti national. Mohammed was born in Kuwait to Pakistani parents, and was raised and educated there. Kuwaiti officials have said he does not have Kuwaiti citizenship.

Mohammed also gave a lengthy, apparently spontaneous speech in which he likened Al Qaeda operatives to American revolutionaries, described a war against a dominating U.S. presence and even expressed a measure of remorse.

"I'm not happy that 3,000 been killed in America," he said, according to the transcript. "I feel sorry, even. I don't like to kill children and the kids. Never Islam are give me green light to kill people. Killing, as in the Christianity, Jews and Islam, are prohibited."

In his 31-point statement, Mohammed claimed responsibility for a wide range of terrorist plots, including the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center; the 2002 bombings of nightclubs in Bali, Indonesia; and the so-called shoe-bomber plot to down U.S. airliners traveling across the Atlantic. He said he took part in plans to kill former Presidents Carter and Clinton, as well as the late Pope John Paul II.

Mohammed has made similar claims in the past about his involvement in terrorist attacks. The Sept. 11 commission report, published three years ago, cited several interrogation reports compiled by U.S. intelligence agencies in which Mohammed described his role in the attacks in detail.

In addition, the trial of alleged Al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui last year included statements by Mohammed that were read to jurors, in which he described his role in several terrorist plots.

But Saturday's hearing was the first time Mohammed had faced a U.S. legal proceeding since he was captured in Pakistan in March 2003. And it was the first time he was allowed to freely discuss U.S. allegations without interrogators present. He used the opportunity to present charges that he had been tortured by his U.S. captors, and he attempted to portray himself as a soldier fighting a war of independence.

"What I wrote here is not I'm making myself hero when I said I was responsible for this or that," Mohammed said, addressing the U.S. Navy captain who presided over the tribunal. "You are military man. You know very well there are language for any war."

None of the military officers who participated were named, a common practice in the tribunals that is intended to prevent possible retribution.

Mohammed was held by the CIA in a secret U.S. detention facility for more than three years. He was moved into military custody at Guantanamo Bay in September after the Supreme Court ruled that all Al Qaeda detainees were covered by the Geneva Convention, which prohibits inhumane treatment.

Saturday's hearing, formally called a combatant status review tribunal, was intended to determine whether Mohammed will officially be classified as an "enemy combatant" and held at Guantanamo Bay.

Although Mohammed's tribunal is largely a formality, under military detention rules adopted after a series of Supreme Court rulings, all Guantanamo Bay detainees must be accorded such a hearing. A ruling is likely to take several weeks.

The government's case against him is based at least in part on a computer hard drive that the Pentagon said was seized when Mohammed was captured and that contained code names, flight numbers and photos of the Sept. 11 hijackers. But the case also may include classified evidence that was not made public or provided to Mohammed.

In addition to his claims of being involved in dozens of successful and foiled terrorist plots -- including the so-called second wave of planned attacks on U.S. buildings, the Library Tower in Los Angeles among them -- Mohammed asked that other detainees at Guantanamo Bay be treated humanely, arguing that many of them were not Al Qaeda or Taliban operatives.

Mohammed appears to have exaggerated his role in some of the plots. The 1993 World Trade Center bombing, for instance, was masterminded by Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, who was convicted of coordinating the attack by a U.S. court in 1996.

But Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University, said most of the nearly three dozen attacks listed -- many of which were foiled -- appeared to have been masterminded or guided by Mohammed.

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