Sitting Across from KSM: KSM’s Abu Ghaith Answers

Earlier today I noted that torture defender Philip Mudd argued the benefits of sitting across from top al Qaeda figures to learn more about them.

Now you can have that opportunity.

In the Suleiman Abu Ghaith trial, his lawyers have just posted the 14-pages of answers Khalid Sheikh Mohammed gave to their questions.

He was not a friendly witness. He said he suspected the US government had a hand in the questions, and used the opportunity to voice his suspicions as an opportunity to air what had been done to him.

I received the set of questions from the lawyer for Sulaiman Abu Ghayth (Allah preserve him) consisting of 24 pages and 451 questions. It reminded me of the interrogations at the Black Sites and the questions from the dirty team at Guantanamo.

[snip]

I want to inform Sheikh Sulaiman Abu Ghayth’s lawyer that I suspect the U.S. government has a hand in the questions because they correspond precisely with the way the CIA and FBI posed questions. I may be right or wrong in this assumption, but I feel that most of the questions do not serve the interests of his client or anyone for that matter; yet they are primary directed to me.

And there are several other places where KSM clearly engages in craft (which I’ll post in updates).

Nevertheless, this is a fairly uncensored view of that which Mudd insisted was so instructive — instructive enough to torture to get.

On camps

KSM claims that the camps the US has used as a sign of terrorism aren’t the best measure.

I don not have any information on [the training camps] during this period because I was appointed by Sheikh Osama bin Laden (Allah have mercy upon him) as head of operations abroad, meaning all the jihadist operations conducted outside of Afghanistan.

[snip]

The candidates were sent to me and I had other means of training them apart from the well-known camps. I did not need the camps to prepare my men because of the nature of the special operations that were conducted outside Afghanistan.

This is presumably true: shooting guns in the desert isn’t going to train one to live in the US inconspicuously and case out plane hijacking. But it’s also a taunt that all the attention the US pays to people who’ve trained at generalized camps isn’t going to find the people most apt to attack the US.

This claim to limited knowledge also allows him to claim Abu Ghaith did not train militarily, based on his limited knowledge.

On fighting Russia

This passage makes me wonder how recent of news coverage KSM gets.

At that time, during that particular war, the U.S. government was against the Russian forces for political and strategic reasons of their own. Thus they gave their proxies in the Arabian Peninsula countries the green light to flood the Afghan Mujahideen with money, resources, and Arab fighters; they also opened the doors for merchants and businessmen to donate money without conditions or restrictions. The selfishness and stubbornness of Uncle Sam pushed the U.S. government to flood their agent, the Paksitani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), with millions or billions of dollars in order to defeat the Russian Army by supporting the Afghan Mujahideen. This indirect support was the principle cause of the development of the non-Afghan groups and organizations in Afghanistan and their ability to achieve what they desired withotu any security pressures imposed by U.S. allies such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and other countries around the world. They never supported the non-Afghan groups directly with money or weapons, but by allowing absolute freedom for young people to spend their own money and take advantage of the open land contributed to attaining these achievements. In the end, Uncle Sam destroyed his own country by his own hand with his stupid foreign policy.

it was in this climate of complete inattention from the West that the groups in Afghanistan were able to develop their capabilities. The countries in the West were busy settling scores with the Russians and licking their chops over Mujahideen victories, and for the most part remained completely blind to what was happening in the camps and on the non-Afghan Mujahideen front.

[snip]

The American media had not yet used terms such as “foreign fighters” or “Afghan Arabs” or “terrorists” or even “the Afghan resistance”, rather the fixed term in the Western media policy at that time was “Mujahideen”. CNN, BBC, Reuters, France Press were all united in using the term “Jihad” to describe the Afghan resistance and “Mujahideen[“] to describe the fighters, whether Afghan or Arab, and the term “martyrs” for those among them who were killed.

All this was to impart international legitimacy on the Western and Islamic support for the Mujahideen in an effort to limit the expansion of the Red Bear and prevent it from obtaining a warm water port.

KSM is totally trolling here. But given events in Russia (especially concerning its warm weather port in Crimea) or — even moreso — Syria, his trolling should carry some weight (but won’t).

On Lists of Names

One of the key pieces of evidence the government used against many Gitmo detainees — and Abu Ghaith — was the list of names found on various computers captured in raids (I believe, though have not confirmed, that Abu Ghaith’s name appeared on the same computer list that Adnan Latif’s did, for example).

But KSM says they shouldn’t be used in that way.

[T]here was not a single, fixed system for dispersing funds, especially the expenses and financial guarantees distributed by Al-Qaeda and its beneficiaries. It did not limit its embers, families, and sympathizers, rather it gave freely to all needy families, regardless of their loyalties or affiliation, for two reasons: one, because it was a religious obligation ordering them to consider all the needy equally and fairly and without discriminating between them; and two, because it was a requirement for many donors to not limit funding to any particular category of people but to give to all those who needed it. There were tables and charts and lists of names of the families who received aid and these lists did not delineate the affiliation of the person on record.

I suspect KSM is partly blowing smoke here, and he’s not talking about the specific list at issue in this trial. But I also suspect there’s some truth to what he says, and that the government has been overstating the value of these lists in large numbers of terrorism trials and, more importantly, Gitmo habeas cases. Philip Mudd says we learn from KSM; is this a fact (or partial truth) we should have learned but refused to?

On bayat

KSM similarly challenges the way the government treats bayat — swearing loyalty to the Taliban or al Qaeda — pointing out that swearing bayat to Mullah Omar but swearing bayat to Osama bin Laden was not (and he did not swear bayat to OBL for years).

That said, his claim here does not entirely rebut US claims.

The United States tries to fabricate charges against innocent people, saying they swore bayat or incited others to do so. Swearing bayat does not mean that a person is placed on a list to carry out an operation; even the cook has sworn bayat.

This, of course, is not the way US law currently works. You swear loyalty to al Qaeda, you’re materially supporting them. For Abu Ghaith, the issue is somewhat different as material support laws changed with his involvement. But KSM’s rebuttal here doesn’t address the key issue of bayat.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

5 replies
  1. orionATL says:

    “… I may be right or wrong in this assumption, but…”

    that comment by khalid sheikh mohammed is an indication of some intellectual rigor.

    i do not understand the use of the jargon “trolling” in this context. “totally trolling” piles on more jargon.

    is there a clearer way to express this?

    i read kahlid sheikh mohammed’s comments as intelligent and reasonably accurate commentary on american intervention in the near east. that he attributes a motive one could question does not negate his recounting of history.

    the era of russia in afghanistan was an era of u.s. meddling where no meddling was needed.

    the cia cowboys division at its most stupid and, ultimately for our soldiers, most deadly,

    but what’s a few thousand dead soldiers and many thousands more seriously wounded two decades after the cia finished its presidentially ordered “but-for-us-disaster” intervention in afghanistan.

    the cia (operations section) is a linearly thinking tunneled-visioned organization; they do not seem to appreciate the political maxim “what goes around, comes around”.

    • emptywheel says:

      My comment is not at all a comment on his intelligence. On the contrary, this response shows how smart he is–something that I don’t think was ever under doubt.

      I call it trolling because it is not necessarily on point to Abu Ghaith’s issues, but is very on point to current events, even while showing the irony of our continued actions in Afghanistan, Syria, and Russia.

      • orionATL says:

        thanks, ew.

        i cited the quote not because i felt you didn’t appreciate ksm’s intelligence, but because i thought that trolling somehow implied calculated deceit, and that quote implied (to me) just the opposite.

        as for “trolling”, i thought a troll was a person being deliberately disruptive (of an on line conversation). here too ksm’s comments did not seem to be deliberately disruptive. in fact, they seemed a reasonably accurate history.

        “trolling” it seems has meanings i did not understand.

  2. der says:

    Tara LaMorte:

    “Please be advised that the Government’s decision not to redact any portion of the responses is not an indication that the Government believes the responses are relevant to the issues raised in the above-referenced case. To the contrary, undersigned counsel contends that portions of the responses bear no relevance, or marginal relevance, to the issues at hand. However, as the responses are unclassified, the Government is providing them to you in full.”

    For shits sake. More and more I’m coming to see that the people in charge belong in a mental institution. Their ideas of what they think we know and what we know – Rumsfeld’s “known-unkown-known unkowns”- are so far apart as to wonder who’s delusional?

    As for our Best and Brightest living up to their own high standards of relevancy no one could have predicted:

    – “The standoff over control of OPEC member Libya’s oil illustrates how fragile the North African nation’s stability remains since the NATO-backed civil war that led to the fall of Muammar Gaddafi nearly three years ago.

    With its army still nascent, a weak government has been unable to impose its will on former anti-Gaddafi fighters and militias who now use their military muscle to make demands on the state, often by targeting the vital oil sector.”
    http://news.yahoo.com/u-navy-seals-board-tanker-hijacked-libya-pentagon-082427948–finance.html

    Christ, drink, Happy St. Patrick’s Day. A double of Jameson’s is relevant, with a Harp chaser.

  3. Lawyer for Latif says:

    “I believe, though have not confirmed, that Abu Ghaith’s name appeared on the same computer list that Adnan Latif’s did, for example”

    Minor point of order — Adnan Latif’s name did not appear on any computer list. Rather, the government found on one list a name that combined portions of Adnan’s true name with portions of another name that the government alleged was an alias Adnan had used. Without explaining how Adnan’s true name and alleged alias had somehow become commingled, the government sought to justify Adnan’s detention in part based on that list. Judge Kennedy in the district court recognized this for the nonsense it is and refused to credit the list. Judges Brown and Henderson in the DC Circuit were less skeptical.

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