Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: make me a martyr for 9/11

WEARING thick glasses and fussing with his turban, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed bore little resemblance to the slovenly, scruffy man whose image was beamed around the world following his capture in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi five years ago.

Then, the self-confessed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks was overweight and unshaven.

Yesterday, following two years of incarceration at Guantanamo Bay, a notably thinner, grey-haired Mohammed emerged dressed in a neat white tunic as the long-awaited military tribunal into his involvement in the attacks began.

There was a dramatic beginning to the war crimes trial as he declared that he wanted the death penalty for his part in 9/11, for which he is said to have claimed responsibility "from A to Z". "Yes, this is what I wish, to be a martyr for a long time," Mohammed announced.

The judge, Ralph Kohlmann, had warned him he faced execution if convicted of organising the attacks that claimed 2,973 lives at the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania where passengers forced down their hijacked plane. "I will, God willing, have this, by you," Mohammed said.

He may be seeking martyrdom, but he expressed concern for his appearance while in this world. A court artist employed was told to redraw her work after Mohammed said she'd made his nose look too big.

He and his four alleged co-conspirators each face death if convicted of war crimes, including murder, conspiracy, attacking civilians and terrorism by hijacking planes to attack the US landmarks. The proceedings represent a milestone for the US authorities, who have been on Mohammed's tail for 15 years.

But the military tribunal has been mired in controversy, with lawyers and human rights campaigners declaring that the hearing is fundamentally unfair and seriously harmful to America's already damaged image as a defender of freedom.

It has declared Mohammed and other al-Qaeda accused to be "illegal enemy combatants", stateless individuals who should not be afforded the usual protections given to prisoners of war.

None of the defendants wore handcuffs yesterday, but retractable leg chains hidden beneath the raised courtroom floor were available to restrain them if they became unruly.

Mohammed defiantly sacked his defence team and insisted he wanted to represent himself.

Joining him at the long-awaited hearing were Ramzi Binalshibh, who is said to have been the main intermediary between the hijackers and al-Qaeda leaders; Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, known as Ammar al-Baluchi, a nephew and lieutenant of Mohammed; Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, al-Baluchi's assistant; and Waleed bin Attash, who allegedly selected and trained some of the 19 hijackers who turned planes into missiles in the attacks. Mohammed was dramatically captured in March 2003, when Pakistani agents in bullet-proof vests scaled the wall of his al-Qaeda safe house and handcuffed him, placing a black hood over his head.

The operation, thought to have been guided by the FBI, followed an international hunt for a man said to have confessed to being involved in more than 30 terrorist plots worldwide, including plans to attack Big Ben and Canary Wharf in London.

BROUGHT up in Kuwait in a family whose roots lie in the Baluchistan region of Pakistan, Mohammed developed extremist Islamic beliefs as a teenager. He claims to have joined the Muslim Brotherhood at 16 and to have fallen for violent jihad at youth camps in the desert.

In 1983, he left Kuwait to enrol at a small Baptist school in North Carolina, later transferring to a university in Greensboro, which he attended with the brother of his nephew, Ramzi Yousef, another al-Qaeda member in the making.

Mohammed came to the attention of the US over his role in the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing – he provided financial support to the bombers. That inspired him to become more heavily involved in terrorism and he developed into a capable and respected al-Qaeda plotter.

Among many other operations, he masterminded the "Bojinka" plot – the intended bombing of 12 commercial US jets over the Pacific.

After his arrest, Mohammed was held at a CIA secret prison, where he was subjected to controversial interrogation techniques and a practice known as waterboarding, that simulates drowning, until he was moved to Guantanamo Bay two years ago.

His capture provided an intelligence bonanza for the US as he had links to almost every aspect of al-Qaeda. His arrest led authorities to terrorists' mobile phones and computers, allowing them to break up rings in Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Qatar and Indonesia.

In March 2007, the Pentagon released an apparent confession from Mohammed, in which he claimed overall responsibility for the Twin Towers attacks. He expressed sorrow for those who died and said he "did not like to kill children" but that "in war, there were always victims".

Yesterday, as the judge asked him whether he was satisfied with the US military lawyer appointed to defend him, Mohammed stood and began to sing in Arabic, cheerfully pausing to translate his own words. "My shield is Allah most high", he said, adding that his religion forbade him from accepting a US lawyer and that he wanted to represent himself.

He criticised America for fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, waging what he called "a crusader war", and for enacting illegal laws, including those authorising same-sex marriages.

Mohammed seemed calm during most of yesterday's proceedings, but denounced the tribunal as unfair after the judge told defence lawyers to be quiet. "It's an inquisition. It's not a trial," he said. "After torturing, they transfer us to inquisition land in Guantanamo."

He added: "All of this has been taken under torturing. You know that very well."

The five accused, sitting at separate tables, speaking to each other in Arabic, appeared to pass notes and at one point looked back and chuckled at reporters watching from behind a courtroom window. All appeared to be in robust health, except for al-Hawsawi, who looked thin and frail and sat on a pillow on his chair.

CALMLY propping his glasses on his turban to peer at legal papers, Mohammed grinned at times and insisted that he would not be represented by any lawyers, telling judge that he could "only accept Sharia law". He sang "There is no God but him, in him I have put my trust", until the judge asked him to stop.

Mohammed told the judge he understood there were certain subjects he should not bring up in court, but said the Koran should be within the "green line", or permitted. "I can't mention about the torturing," he said in broken English. "I know this is the red line."

He also sought to cast doubt on last year's "confession" to a military review panel. "They mistranslated my words and put many words in my mouth," he said. The arraignment marked the beginning of the highest-profile test of the US military's controversial tribunal system, which could yet be halted by a US Supreme Court ruling later this month on the rights of Guantanamo prisoners. Fearing the possibility of the trial backfiring by allowing Mohammed to spread anti-Western propaganda in courtroom speeches, the judge revealed journalists would be prevented from hearing classified information, thanks to a 20-second delay on the closed-circuit video feed of the proceedings.

Professor Paul Wilkinson, one of the UK's leading terrorism experts, said the US military was acting "as judge and jury", and he highlighted the denial of rights given to those in civilian courts. These include not being able to appoint their own lawyers and a lesser burden of proof on the prosecution.

Huge list of charges includes 2,973 counts of murder

KHALID Sheikh Mohammed and co- defendants Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Ramzi Binalshibh, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi and Walid bin Attash were yesterday charged with committing terrorism and conspiring with al-Qaeda to murder civilians in attacks which launched George Bush's global "war on terrorism".

They also face 2,973 counts of murder, one for each person killed in 2001 when hijacked passenger planes slammed into the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field. Mohammed has, however, attempted to take "credit" for many more al-Qaeda-related plots and attacks across the world. In March 2007, Mohammed testified before a closed-door hearing in Guantanamo Bay. An edited transcript of his testimony was subsequently released by the Pentagon.

Although Mohammed yesterday denied some of the comments attributed to him from the transcript, it is inconceivable it was an entire work of fiction.

Too numerous to list in their entirety, the attacks detailed in the 2007 statement included the February 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York; the November 2002 suicide bombing of a hotel in Mombasa, Kenya; the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan in 2002; Richard Reid's shoe-bombing attempt to blow up an airliner over the Atlantic; and the Bali nightclub bombing.

His most famous quote from the transcript concerns al-Qaeda's biggest ever attack: "I was responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A to Z." He also apparently confessed to being a member of the al-Qaeda council and "military operational commander for all foreign operations".

In all, he allegedly confessed to being responsible for 31 attacks or planned attacks, including ones on Heathrow airport, Canary Wharf and Big Ben.

Of beheading Mr Pearl, he said: "I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew."

Rob Corbidge

Court artist 'got the nose wrong'

KHALID Sheikh Mohammed complained a courtroom artist had made his nose look too big.

No photographers were allowed in the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base courtroom for the first appearance of Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators on war crimes charges.

So it fell to artist Janet Hamlin to provide the world with the first image of the al-Qaeda kingpin since his capture in Pakistan in 2003. Her rendering was reviewed to make sure it did not include classified information, and wound up in Mohammed's hands when his defence team was given a look. But Mohammed wasn't pleased.

"I heard he said I should compare it to the FBI photo of him," Ms Hamlin said, clutching a copy of the capture photo that showed Mohammed in a T-shirt and looking dishevelled.

Asked if Mohammed had a point, Ms Hamlin said: "I agree," before rushing back to the courtroom to downsize his nose.

How trial will be conducted – with life or death in hands of president

Where is the trial being held?

Under the terms of the Military Commissions Act passed by the US Congress in 2006, trials are held at Camp Justice.

This is a huge tent city at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, which will provide sleeping, living and working quarters for up to 500 people involved with the military commission process.

How will the tribunal work?

The military commission will be made up of US armed forces officers. If the death penalty is sought, at least 12 members have to be on the commission. A qualified military judge is presiding over the hearing.

To get a conviction, at least two-thirds of the commission members have to be in favour.

For a sentence of death, which can be sought if death occurred as a result of a defendant's action, all 12 commission members have to agree. The final decision on carrying out an execution will be taken by the US president.

What safeguards are there for the defendant?

Some basic requirements of US criminal law have been kept.

The accused will have the presumption of innocence and proof of guilt will have to be "beyond reasonable doubt".

He cannot be forced to testify against himself. He will have a military lawyer and can also have a civilian one.

The accused will be able to be present for the proceedings unless he is ruled disruptive, and will be able to present evidence and witnesses in his defence and cross-examine any witnesses against him. He will have the right to be shown the evidence against him, though this will be in summary form if the judge decides that sources are to be kept secret for security reasons.

What drawbacks are there for the defendant in the case?

There are some serious differences between the commissions and normal US law.

The decision to convict is by two-thirds vote, not unanimity as in a US jury trial. The commission itself, in effect the jury, is made up of military officers, not members of the public.

Also, a key difference is that any evidence, including hearsay, and some obtained by coercion, will be allowed, "if the military judge determines that the evidence would have probative value to a reasonable person".

Evidence that contains classified information will be summarised to protect its sources, so the accused will not have a complete picture of the case against him.

What about evidence obtained by torture or coercion?

Evidence obtained under torture will not be permitted, but evidence obtained by "coercion" could be. One problem is that "water-boarding" – simulated drowning to elicit information – is not classified as torture by the Bush administration and it admits that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was subjected to it. If evidence was obtained before 30 December 2005, (that is, the date when the Detainee Treatment Act came into force, outlawing "cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment") the military judge can allow the evidence if "the totality of the circumstances renders the statement reliable" and "the interests of justice would best be served". This suggests that some evidence obtained in the so-called "secret prisons" operated by the CIA might be admissible.

Will his alleged previous confession be admissible?

This remains to be determined and will probably be argued out in the court. He is quoted in a transcript of a review hearing that he was "responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z".

What about legal objections to the tribunals?

They are being challenged in the US Supreme Court. Lawyers for two prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Lakhdar Boumediene and Fawzi al-Odah, argue that the Military Commissions Act (MCA) unlawfully deprives them of their right under habeas corpus – concerning the state's authority to detain – to have their cases heard by a US civilian court.

This right was acknowledged in an earlier Supreme Court ruling but the MCA removed it, claiming the suspects are illegal enemy combatants and "stateless". The prisoners say habeas corpus should extend to Guantanamo even though it is technically not US territory. The Supreme Court is to issue a ruling by 30 June.

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