Analyzing an Al-Qaida Suspect's Confession

Read the Confession

*The Defense Department on Thursday issued a revised transcript to include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's confession that he beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002.

A transcript of a military hearing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, details a thorough confession from al-Qaida suspect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. But can the confession be taken at face value? Jack Cloonan, a former FBI agent who spent time on a joint-terrorism task force, offers his insights to Renee Montagne.

What do you make of this confession?

It seems like that Khalid Sheikh [Mohammed] has claimed responsibility for so much. I often wonder, now, if a lot of this isn't, frankly, exaggerated.

We had him indicted as early as 1996 for his involvement in the plot to try to blow up airlines in Manila ... [and] the plot to assassinate former President Clinton and the pope. These things we're very clear on.

The rest of it ... I'm a bit suspect of.

There's sort of a cloud hanging over the whole Khalid Sheikh Mohammed issue.

I would like to have thought that he might have been sent back to the United States to stand trial in the Southern District of New York, where he could have been confronted with the evidence, and for all of us to see exactly what it is, who he is, frankly. And that's so important, I think.

There is some evidence to support his admissions. Were there any surprises that you saw here in these confessions?

No. None of this ... [surprises] me. We know from other people from al-Qaida that they had done any number of possible surveillances. They did a lot of practical training. And he makes reference to the Sears Tower, he makes reference to the Empire State Building, all these things don't come as a surprise.

I think he's claiming a lot of responsibility for it because it's his ego. He has an enormous ego. I don't think he was a very difficult guy to ... deal with.

I did review part of the videotape when he was first captured in Pakistan. And I don't think it was going to take much to get him to confess.

So I'm suspect, a little bit, of what he claiming now to be responsible for.

Were you surprised by admissions in the transcripts that he felt bad about the deaths resulting from the Sept. 11 attacks?

I think what you're hearing now is the transition from a man who went from a person who was dedicated to the radical notion of jihad, carrying on operations, to a guy who's made the transition from that, having been captured.

He's gone through the psychological process of now accepting his fate.

He probably realizes that he's going to be sentenced to death at some point.

And I think that what you see now is that transition, and the ultimate fact that he is facing reality and that he will be sentenced to death. And I think that is what you hear coming out.

Do you think we've learned all there is to learn from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?

I don't know. The devil is always in the details.

It's one thing to just say that "I'm responsible for such-and-such." What you really have to be able to provide, and I would feel much better about this so-called confession, is if he provides more details.

He didn't do all of this alone. He had confederates. He had associates. And that's what I need to hear.

Who, what, where, when, why?

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