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...
tudents 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.