Mohammed Confession Leaves Room for Skepticism Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, seen as the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, is said to claim responsibility for more than 30 major crimes and plots. A transcript of a secret military hearing details his confession. Is he over-inflating his role?

Mohammed Confession Leaves Room for Skepticism

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

The man named by the United States as the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks said he's guilty. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed admitted to an astonishing series of plots in a statement attributed to him and read in a hearing at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. NPR national security correspondent Jackie Northam has been covering this story and joins us now.

Jackie, good morning.

JACKIE NORTHAM: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I'm looking at a copy of this. It runs for two pages, this statement, this confession. He says in one statement after another: I was responsible for the World Trade Center operation in '93; I was responsible for the 9/11 operation; I was responsible for surveying and financing for the assassination of several former American presidents, including President Carter; bridges and tunnels. It goes on and on. Is he really guilty of all of this?

NORTHAM: Well, he says he is. Obviously, you know, it's very difficult to say, though, why he is doing this. It's very interesting. The 9/11 Commission, when it did its report about the September 11th attacks, it actually talked about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and it said that he had a rather inflated view of himself as a super-terrorist. So there's a possibility that he may want to claim credit even if he wasn't fully involved.

Mohammed said at this hearing that he wasn't trying to turn himself into a "hero" - and I put the word hero in quotation marks - and that he was telling the truth. But, you know, Steve, he wasn't sworn in. He didn't want that. He said it was against Islam. And he wasn't permitted a lawyer, all he had was a personal representative. So, is he guilty? You know, he says that he did this thing. And as you say, there's a whole litany of things that he's confessed to, really just about every al-Qaida-linked attack known out there. But it's hard to say if, in fact, he really did have a hand in every last one of these things.

INSKEEP: According to the transcript, his personal representative, this non-lawyer is reading the statement. He sits there and listens to it all, except at one point when the representative says I was responsible for the assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II in the Philippines, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed breaks in to say I was not responsible, but share responsibility. And other than that...

NORTHAM: You know, he also disputed how his name was being spelled. He disputed some of the most sort of insignificant things and then went ahead with all these other admissions. So, it's really hard to say. And in fact, actually, these statements are in two parts. There is, as you say, there is the written statement that was read by his personal representative, and this is a government-appointed person.

But there is also an oral statement, and this goes on for about four pages, single space. And if you read it, it often just rambles and drifts in all sorts of directions. One of the interesting things that it does say in there, though, Steve, is that he regrets that nearly 3,000 people died in the 9/11 attacks, particularly children. So, he does express a little bit of remorse. But these are long, rambling statements.

INSKEEP: Jackie, because of all the questions about torture or alternative methods of interrogation, if you will, people will ask if this confession was made under duress.

NORTHAM: Well, you know, and that did come up during the hearing, certainly. You know, he said that he was tortured. You know - let me just explain. He's one of 14 prisoners that was taken to Guantanamo last fall, about six months ago, and these were considered high-value detainees. And they'd been held in secret CIA prison for several years and there was always allegations that they had been tortured while they were at these secret CIA prisons.

Now during this hearing he did say that he was tortured while he was at the CIA site. You can see from the transcript that one of the officers on the military panel asked him if he made any statements under duress while at the CIA prison. And part of Mohammed's response was deleted from the transcript. So you don't get a clear sense of what his answer is. However, he did say that any statements he made at this hearing at Guantanamo were not made with any pressure or duress, and that the military panel says that any allegations of torture at the CIA sites would be followed up.

INSKEEP: So, very, very briefly, he's been through this hearing, what happens now to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?

NORTHAM: Well, these hearings are to determine whether he should be charged. And if that - it's a road that they follow. They charge them, then if the government wants, then they can put him before military tribunal.

INSKEEP: Jackie, thanks. That's NPR national security correspondent Jackie Northam on word that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has confessed to planning that September 11 attacks.

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