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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Look! It’s a terrorist!

Posted by Thomas Nephew on March 15th, 2007

Well, well, well. What with Washington going to hell in a handbasket for the Bushies, you just knew they needed some of that old 9/11 magic to get a little return fire going. Thus we have a breathless report that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, has … confessed he was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. In “9/11 Mastermind Confesses in Guantanamo,”* the AP’s Lolita Baldor reports details of a Guantanamo military hearing:

“I was responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z,” Mohammed said in a statement that was read during the session, which was held last Saturday.

Last Saturday, eh? I hope I won’t learn that hearing was suddenly expedited for some reason. At any rate, this part was darkly amusing:

“‘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 answer was unclear.

Pick KSM’s most plausible response:

“Well, yeah.”
“GURGLE… SCREAM”
“Oh certainly not. May I have some more lemon chicken?”

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is a mass murderer, he deserves no sympathy per se. But Bush and his administration have compounded KSM’s first awful “victory” on 9/11 with another: the torture, abuse, and denial of basic legal rights like habeas corpus at Guantanamo and elsewhere. These are not “merely” an affront to human rights, they’ve tainted the evidence produced — both the true and the false. “Of course he confessed! You would too!” is doubtless the refrain throughout the parts of the world where Bin Laden’s popularity is high. And with deep regret that I concede that’s plausible. With Guantanamo, we snatched yet more defeat from the jaws of defeat.

Meanwhile, it may be that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is now just a thing, to be waved at us by his captors like a living, frightening “code red” symbol when the need arises. And I wonder whether he thinks that is a defeat for him — or yet another victory.

=====
NOTE: AP story via Josh Marshall (“Talking Points Memo”).
* UPDATE, 3/15: Ms. Baldor’s story was replaced with Josh White‘s at the Post link given above last night (“9/11 Mastermind…”); to see the report I quoted above, see for example her story as published at the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette web site.

UPDATE, 3/15: Sure enough, a WaPo version of the story by Josh White is on page A1 above the fold in today’s Washington Post — while Dan Eggen’s report on the US Attorneys General scandal gets pushed below the fold. But there’s more re KSM’s answer to the torture question; White reports: “Mohammed answered: “CIA peoples. Yes. At the beginning when they transferred me . . .” The rest of the sentence is redacted from the transcript.” I.e., “yes.”

QUESTION, 3/15: A sincere one, since I sometimes don’t fully understand journalistic conventions, and may well not have all the facts about this case. But remember the ‘single-sourcing’ issue with the Newsweek’s Guantanamo Koran-trashing story? My question is, isn’t this single-sourcing too? It’s all based on one Pentagon transcript, if I understand correctly. Given the restrictions on defense attorneys and journalists at Guantanamo, that seems to be as good as the DoD plans to let it get — but maybe Newsweek’s critics at the time don’t deserve to pick and choose which stories get reported on that basis. And maybe journalists should apply the same skepticism to the Pentagon’s (otherwise unsubstantiated) Guantanamo press releases that they supposedly do to everything else. Add to that the transcribed and reported fact that KSM answered “yes”, he made some of the statements because of torture, and I think you have some real media ethics questions about this story.

POSSIBLE ANSWER, 3/16: Two Senators Secretly Flew to Cuba for Alleged 9/11 Mastermind’s Hearing (Dafna Linzer, Josh White, Washington Post). I imagine Senators Levin (D-MI) and Graham (R-SC) could confirm the substance of the Pentagon’s transcript of the KSM hearing; I don’t know yet if they will, although the report indicates they plan to issue a joint statement about their trip today. Even if they do confirm the accuracy of the transcript, I doubt if Senators are planning to attend every tribunal hearing. I continue to question the uncritical dissemination of (a) arguably coerced testimony and (b) single-sourced Pentagon communiques about proceedings at Gitmo.

2 Responses to “Look! It’s a terrorist!”

  1. Nell Says:

    Re your third footnote: Damned right. Particularly given the transparently non-news nature of it, to put it above the fold…
    The story is that he was tortured, and testified to that. His role in the September 11 attacks isn’t news. The fact that our own abuses have ruined the value of his interrogations as evidence is the story.
    But don’t hold your breath waiting for the Washington Post editors to treat Pentagon press releases with skepticism.

  2. eRobin Says:

    Every day, through another looking glass with this administration. They truly play us for morons. I suppose that’s because it works for them over and over again. I love this by the way:
    Meanwhile, it may be that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is now just a thing, to be waved at us by his captors like a living, frightening “code red” symbol when the need arises. And I wonder whether he thinks that is a defeat for him — or yet another victory.

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