Who is Khalid Sheik Mohammed?

November 20, 2009

Who is Khalid Sheik Mohammed?

by Steven Emerson
Interview on MSNBC
November 15, 2009


ALEX WITT: If it happens it will be a trial the whole world will be watching. A federal courtroom just blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood filled with the five – five, rather – of the co-conspirators of the September 11th attacks, including the self confessed mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Joining me now for some inside on the defendants is terrorism expert, Steve Emerson.

Good morning, Steve.

STEVE EMERSON: Good morning, Alex.

WITT: Before we get to the guys themselves, strategy-wise, let’s talk about that because legally speaking you think they might be looking to represent themselves where they try to use this trial as some sort of a platform for their extremist agenda; making a soapbox of all of this.

EMERSON: Well if they look towards Moussaoui, Zacarias Moussaoui who also defended himself and who made mincemeat out of the prosecution, they could easily play havoc with the prosecution, forcing state secrets into the open, forcing the government to clamp down on, or refuse to reveal information in evidence. They can really make a spectacle of this and it’s a high risk proposition by the Attorney General to make this decision so all eyes will be on this trial and you’re a 100% right. If they decide to represent themselves, they could make a circus out of this.

WITT: Let’s talk about Khalid Sheik Mohammed and we refer to him as KSM. During his 2007 military tribunal, Steve, here’s what he had to say quote, “Because war for sure, there will be victims. I said I’m not happy that 3,000 people been killed in America, I feel sorry for even. This is why the language of any war in the world is killing. I mean the language of the war is victims.” What do we know about Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his attitudes, his level of intelligence, his level to really organize what became 9/11 and anything thereafter?

EMERSON: Well he actually, under the Military Tribunals Act, Alex, he wanted to plead guilty and in fact he plead guilty but they refused to accept it.

WITT: Wait, Steve. Why would he do that? Was that so he could go down as a martyr?

EMERSON: Basically yes. He basically said after all of the interrogations that he had committed the act of 9/11. He had masterminded it, he took full responsibility for it and under the Military Tribunals Act he had plead guilty but it was rejected by his defense attorneys who were pro bono and were basically coming from New York City law firms who said “No you don’t have to plead guilty, you can plead innocent.” His guilty plea was essentially withdrawn but in fact he was ready to plead guilty and so the question arises as to why the President or the Attorney General at least, would want to bring these types of open charges in a courtroom where you cannot control the disposition of the outcome. Because face it, he was arrested without being Mirandized, without being read his rights. He was arrested without the evidence being collected by the FBI forensically. He was arrested without this regular courtroom-type of procedures so he has a lot of maneuverability in terms of squirming out of the crimes that he’s been charged of.

WITT: Who is this guy though? He speaks English, he was educated – didn’t he go to college in the US? I mean what do we know about him?

EMERSON: He went to college in North Carolina State University and he speaks English fluently, or almost fluently. But he revels in the fact that he actually carried out the largest masterminded plot in U.S. history of terrorism against U.S. civilians. It’s a perverse type of boasting but nevertheless this is the type of mentality that we are going to be presented with when he takes the stand and as you pointed out at the very beginning, the odds are he will represent himself. Maybe with some defense counsel but he will make demands of the prosecution that will force them to reveal state secrets which they would never want to reveal in an open court.

WITT: I want to quickly ask you about the waterboarding. The government’s own admission, 183 times, he was waterboarded. To what extent does that potentially dismiss all evidence, anything he may have said because they can say it was under duress of torture?

EMERSON: You raise a great question Alex. I mean clearly the waterboarding, a judge could rule that to be excessive, could be torture, even though it may not have been under the Military Tribunal’s Act and, therefore, all of the evidence that was collected pursuant to his admissions under the waterboarding after 183 times could be thrown out and that’s another one of those roadblocks that could easily rise up. There are so many roadblocks, Alex, that could rise up in this trial, that he could actually walk and if he walked then the question is does he become a free man in the United States?

WITT: That is a question that nobody wants to have answered in the affirmative. That’s for sure, Steve Emerson. Anyway, thank you very much for weighing in. We appreciate that.

EMERSON: You’re welcome.

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