Friday, March 16, 2007

Khaled Sheikh Mohammed confession

KSM's World War: What his confession says about our enemy--and us. In Cairo last year, Deputy Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood Mohammed Habib told us that the 9/11 attacks were "great crimes," but that he doubted Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were responsible. It's probably too much to expect that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's confession that he "was responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z" will sway minds like Mr. Habib's. But for the rest of us, the testimony by bin Laden's top operational lieutenant is a jolting re-education in the enemy we face. "I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew," he boasted to a U.S. military tribunal on March 10, referring to our colleague Daniel Pearl. "For those who would like to confirm, there are pictures of me on the Internet holding his head." One lesson of his testimony is the scope of his terror success, and his even larger ambition. Among the 31 actual events: The February 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, chiefly carried out by his nephew Ramzi Yousef; the October 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali, in which 202 were killed and another 200 injured; the killing of two U.S. GIs in Kuwait the same month; the November 2002 hotel bombings in Kenya, in which 13 Israelis and Kenyans died; and the November 2003 attacks in Istanbul against Jewish and British targets, which killed 57 and wounded 700. That's roughly 3,280 murders. But even this pales next to what might have happened had the U.S. not arisen from pre-9/11 complacency and gone on offense. By his own admission, KSM also planned attacks on targets in South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Israel, the Straits of Hormuz and Gibraltar, the Panama Canal, Brussels and London. He made extensive plans to assassinate Pope John Paul II during the pope's visit to Manila in 1995. He attempted to destroy an American oil company in Indonesia "owned," as he put it, "by the Jewish former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger." Among other U.S. targets, there was "Shoe Bomber" Richard Reid's failed attempt against American Airlines Flight 63 in December 2001, schemes to assassinate Presidents Clinton and Carter, and a "new wave" of attacks after 9/11 targeting skyscrapers in L.A., Chicago and Seattle, New York's suspension bridges and stock exchange, and nuclear power plants in "several U.S. states." Perhaps most ominously, KSM also admitted to being "directly in charge" of "managing and following up on the Cell for the Production of Biological Weapons, such as anthrax and others, and following up on Dirty Bomb Operations on American Soil." Given such a confession, is it too much to ask the FBI to reconsider its dogmatic view that the 2001 anthrax attacks could only have had a domestic source? No doubt many terror experts will declare that much or all of this is boasting, and perhaps some of it is. We can only hope so. And no doubt the truly credulous will assume it is largely a product of CIA coercion, as if the attacks KSM claims credit for had some other provenance. But we think KSM's world of war makes clear that, if anything, President Bush understated the danger posed by the 14 "high-value" enemy combatants he transferred to Guantanamo last autumn. And it reveals just how terribly mistaken was the view of those who told us, pre-9/11, that terrorism was merely a law enforcement threat like any other. That view permeated the CIA, where Paul Pillar helped run the Counterterrorist Center and wrote that "There is no . . . BinLadentern" akin to the old Communist Comintern. He denounced "overheated rhetoric that has spun out ever more frightening and unusual ways in which terrorism might inflict large numbers of casualties." And he deprecated President Clinton for ordering government agencies to examine the plausibility of a biological attack on New York City after he'd read "The Cobra Event," Richard Preston's 1998 novel on the subject. When the 9/11 Commission concluded that the failure to avert that awful day was above all "a failure of imagination," the Pillar world view is Exhibit A. And we mention it here because now, after five years without a terror attack on U.S. soil, that view is making a comeback in the growing opposition to holding enemy combatants in Guantanamo or to warrantless wiretaps of al Qaeda. As KSM makes clear, bin Laden and his acolytes declared "war" on the U.S. in his fatwa of 1998, a fact the U.S. only figured out on September 11. He professes to regret the death of women and children, but calls such indiscriminate killing "the language of any war" and justified by his religious motivation. "For sure, I'm American enemies," said KSM in his broken English. For sure, too, he is a reminder of the evil that still confronts us in this conflict with radical Islam, and one that we underestimate at our existential peril.

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