Waleed bin Attash, a suspected key al-Qaida operative, has confessed to plotting the bombings of the USS Cole back in 2000, according to a newly released Pentagon transcript of a hearing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Attash also admits to planning the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, according to the document.
Defense lawyers and human rights groups says the sweeping confession by Attash — and that of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed last week — are worrying. Attash is one of 14 men transferred to Guantanamo last fall after being held and interrogated in secret CIA prisons.
The Pentagon transcript of Attash's brief hearing before a military panel at Guantanamo provides details of three major attacks against the United States. In it, Attash admits that he helped purchase explosives that were used in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which left 213 people dead, and for the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000.
Attash also says he bought the boat, recruited the suicide bombers and was with Osama bin Laden when the U.S. battleship was attacked off the Yemen coast. Seventeen sailors were killed and 37 injured in the incident.
The transcript hints of a stiff, short hearing with little back-and-forth between the players. Eugene Fidell, a Washington lawyer and the president of the National Institute for Military Justice, says he is astonished at the lack of curiosity among the officers hearing Attash's case.
"You'd think that they'd have a million questions for these people, but they don't," Fidell says. "In the latest transcript, they have one or two, but there's no follow-up, there's a lack of curiosity that sort of baffles me."
The unclassified evidence against Attash is laid out in one very long paragraph, which is read by the court recorder and translated into Arabic for the prisoner.
Attash disputes a couple of very minor points, but he otherwise agrees to the unclassified evidence against him. This is similar to the transcript of a hearing released last week for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who also made a broad range of confessions about bombings and other attacks.
The detainees are not given lawyers, only government-appointed representatives, for the hearings.
Wells Dixon, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents hundreds of Guantanamo detainees, says the breadth and the seeming ease with which the confessions are made is disturbing.
"I think the only question that remains to be asked," Dixon says, "is whether these confessions were coerced. Whether they were the product of torture or coercion, particularly torture that occurred while these men were detained in secret CIA prisons."
Mohammed did mention that he was tortured while being held in a secret CIA prison. But much of that part of the transcript was censored. And the military panel did not probe the issue.