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True Confessions? The Amazing Tale of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

JURIST Guest Columnist Anthony D'Amato of Northwestern University School of Law says the sweeping Guantanamo "confessions" of al Qaeda leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed rival the scope of those made in the Stalinist purge trials of the 1930s, and should equally prompt us to question the legal process in which they were made...

Students of the Stalinist purges of the 1930s will recall the astounding confessions made in open court by the accused persons. They had been severely tortured over weeks and months. But they showed up in court without external marks of torture. With all apparent voluntariness, they admitted subverting the Five-Year Plans that would have provided the Soviet people with necessary food items. They sabotaged factories, making sure the production lines were inefficient. They managed to import inferior metals so that Soviet tanks and automobiles would fall apart after a few months’ use. They infiltrated the Soviet Army and through dint of their persuasiveness, convinced the foot soldier that it was absurd to risk his life defending a dictatorial government. In short these accused persons, briefly in court on their way to the firing squad, took responsibility for everything that had gone wrong for the past two decades in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

So why is it today that no one draws the connection between the Soviet purge trials and the confession of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed? Mohammed said that he had been tortured by his American captors. No one contradicted his assertion. Then he went on, with a straight and sincere face, to take responsibility for a long list of crimes recently perpetrated.

Mr. Mohammed personally decapitated “the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl, in the city of Karachi, Pakistan,” he testified. He must have been on an overnight flight from South Korea, where he personally identified targets “such as American military bases and a few night clubs frequented by American soldiers.” Perhaps it was on that flight that he planned the “Shoe Bomber Operation to down two American airplanes.”

The busy Mr. Mohammed planned, financed, surveyed, trained, and followed up the operations to destroy American military vessels and oil tankers in the Straits of Hormuz, the Straits of Gibralter, the Port of Singapore, and the Panama Canal. On a side trip to the Philippines, he masterminded the assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II.

What about the Big One, namely, the crash into the World Trade Center Towers on 9/11? Mr. Mohammed was responsible “from A to Z,” he said. He also was responsible for the earlier attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.

This person really got around; you’ve got to give him credit for that. Maybe he had a job as a chef aboard Air Force One; he didn’t say. But he did manage to get all the way to Bali, Indonesia, where he supervised the infamous nightclub bombing that killed many British and Australian nationals.

At least he was arrested before he managed to carry out a few of his plans, such as assassinating President Carter (Mohammed surveyed and financed this assassination plan), and blowing up Library Tower in California, the Sears Tower in Chicago, several suspension bridges in New York, Heathrow Airport in London, the Canary Wharf Building, New York Stock Exchange, the Plaza Bank in Washington State, and last but not least, the Empire State Building in New York City. It’s a good thing the latter was averted as it would have drained all the drama out of the remake of King Kong.

Anything else you want to say for yourself, Mr. Mohammed? Why yes, he replies. Don’t forget my responsibility for the Filka Island Operation in Kuwait that killed two American soldiers, the destruction of numerous nightclubs in Thailand, planning the destruction of buildings in the Israeli city of Elat by using Saudi airplanes, planning and financing for the destruction of American embassies in Indonesia, Australia, and Japan, the bombing of the hotel in Mombasa that is frequented by Jewish travelers, and planning, surveying and financing to hit several nuclear power plants in the United States. And . . .

O.K., Mr. Mohammed, just ask your lawyer to hand over the complete list. Do you have any explanations for the Court?

Yes, “not I’m making myself hero when I said I was responsible for this or that. If America they want to invade Iraq they will not send for Saddam roses or kisses, they send a bombardment. This is the best way if I want. I’m American enemies.”

It gives me a warm feeling that these proceedings took place on board U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with the Review Tribunal made up of a Captain from the United States Navy, Lieutenant Colonels from the United States Air Force and Marine Corps, and a Gunnery Sergeant as Reporter (all names redacted). A confession before a tribunal is the best evidence of guilt, isn’t it? Whether it’s Guantanamo Bay or the Gulag Archipelago.

Anthony D.Amato is Leighton Professor of Law at Northwestern University, where he teaches international law and human rights.

March 16, 2007

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How fashionable a leftist fantasy: disdainful of the military, stiking a blow for moral relativism, and implying exoneration of a murderer who rails against the very values that protect the professor's position and preposterious opinions. Those genuine innocents who died in the purges of the Stalin regime are besmirched. The comparison of today's US to the Soviet Union of Stalin's time is laughable. A disgusting post replete with deliberate distortion. Cute, cynical, ugly.

March 16, 2007  

The confessions in the Soviet Union were always believable. This one is not. That is the most striking difference.

Anyone who has been subject to torture whould immediately be set free. It is a basic human right to be free from governmental torture. Any government that uses torture to extract a confession loses its right to judge people guilty or innocent. Those who do the torture should be put on trial in place of the defendent.

March 16, 2007  

"Those genuine innocents who died in the purges of the Stalin regime are besmirched. The comparison of today's US to the Soviet Union of Stalin's time is laughable."

Give it time. Bush isn't done yet, but heading that way and it's not funny.

"implying exoneration of a murderer"
murderer - they should give evidence and information to show this not the confession of a tortured patsy, but in the this day and age of 'national security' it is convienently too dangerous to give out this info. Nice Catch 22 if you ask me.

March 17, 2007  

One would expect that one with the legal acumen as the author of this article is presumed to have would realize what this man was doing--it was not the result of torture, but a tactic of data bombardment. Not only that, but by taking personal responsibility--for things others were responsible for, he makes the prosecution of other men more difficult. He's going up the river regardless--so by taking "credit"--and you can be sure that he is taking credit for these things proudly--it is only obvious by his attitude that he is _still_ proud for those things he did--others may walk free--at least that would be his hope.

It would do well to remember that this was not a "trial" but merely an attempt to decide if he can be tried as an enemy combatant. The tribunal didn't need this long laundary list--only one item would be sufficient. The fact that he went _way_ beyond this is not the result of torture--but a personal agenda.

As I said, these are plainly obvious to the average person who reads the details of this tribunal. This leaves us with one question.... Was this article one based on ignorance? Or one with another agenda? Personally, I suspect the latter, but also suspect that we have here the result of an ideolog who cannot see past his own spite to see the truth. Sorry, Mr. D'Amato, but this article missed the point by so far that I really wonder what you were aiming at!

However, I'm more amazed at the readers who have fallen for the article! Blind leading the blind...


March 19, 2007  

The reason why the spurious confessions could definitely be a sign of torture is because that is a tactic used by people who have been tortured in order to send a message to everybody else that they were tortured and everything is a farce.

March 19, 2007  

I've been chided here and in the Wall St. Journal Online for failure to appreciate that this wasn't a "trial" but rather a "mere" proceeding to determine whether Khalid is or is not an enemy combatant.

But the latter is still a fact-finding proceeding. To determine whether Khalid is an enemy combatant requires evidence rather than Khalid's preposterous claims.

And what a determination! If Khalid is "found" to be an "enemy combatant," he can be held indefinitely and denied access to a lawyer.

How long is "indefinite"? It lasts as long as the war that Khalid is a combatant in.

How long is that? Since it's a war against terrorism, it should go on for a few thousand years.

Thus, WITHOUT a trial, Khalid is
facing a jail cell for the rest of his life. And this is supposed to be a "mere" proceeding to determine his status?

-- Anthony D'Amato

March 20, 2007  

On March 16 an anonymous commentator wrote: "How fashionable a leftist fantasy: disdainful of the military, stiking a blow for moral relativism, and implying exoneration of a murderer who rails against the very values that protect the professor's position and preposterious opinions."

I'm coming to this late, but anonymous accusations were also a feature of Stalinist Russia. An attack upon Prof D'Amato by someone who will not identify him/herself is hardly worth the while to respond to.

However, as to leftist fantasies, consider the Padilla and Hicks' trials. Padilla is accused of offering material support to terrorists. The charge exists in ordinary US law, and can be considered by ordinary US courts. Hicks too is charged with a single count of material support, but he will go in front of a military tribunal, established by the Commander-in-Chief, who will order his junior officer-judges to obtain a predetermined outcome (unless the military judges find a bit of backbone). Tell me that's not Stalinist, will you?

Bush is so scared of the case collapsing that he is not prepared to try Hicks, or any other Guantanamo detainee, in ordinary courts of law.

Bush has put himself above the law. That should worry every one of us. It's not a "leftist" concern -- conservatives should be just as worried.

March 25, 2007  


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