KSM Asked after His Sons in December 2006

Terry McDermott will have a 9/11-timed biography of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in the New Yorker this week. But in the interim, he has posted a few of the letters he got in Pakistan as part of his research. In a letter sent December 15, 2006 to his brother–sent just months after KSM first became accessible to the Red Cross at Gitmo and described as the first his family received from him–KSM includes a request for photos of his sons:

If my wife [Umm] Hamza is living with her family in Iran Bluchistan then let her to be [in contact] with me through the Iran[ian] Red Crescent Society, but please [to write only] social and family news [not political or] Mujahideen news and to send the pictures of all sons plus [Halima] with Big Smile plus their education[‘s] grades & news. [my transcription–with your corrections/suggestions in brackets]

The passage is followed by nine lines of redaction, in turn followed by directions for the family and friends to pray.

Now, perhaps McDermott covers this in his article (I’ll chase that down, but it’s not available online yet). And there is much that I was unable to understand, either because it is illegible or seems designed to be opaque.

But the request is particular important given reports that the US captured two of KSM’s sons–then aged around 6 or 7 and 8 or 9–and interrogated them to get information on KSM.

Two young sons of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the September 11 attacks, are being used by the CIA to force their father to talk.

Yousef al-Khalid, nine, and his brother, Abed al-Khalid, seven, were taken into custody in Pakistan last September when intelligence officers raided a flat in Karachi where their father had been hiding.

He fled just hours before the raid but his two young sons, along with another senior al-Qa’eda member, were found cowering behind a wardrobe in the apartment.

The boys have been held by the Pakistani authorities but this weekend they were flown to America where they will be questioned about their father.

Last night CIA interrogators confirmed that the boys were staying at a secret address where they were being encouraged to talk about their father’s activities.

“We are handling them with kid gloves. After all, they are only little children,” said one official, “but we need to know as much about their father’s recent activities as possible. We have child psychologists on hand at all times

and they are given the best of care.”

The sons were reportedly captured in September 2002. From this letter, it appears that one of the first things KSM asked once he got contact with the outside world again through the Red Cross was proof that they–and their mother–were safe.

But I’m not entirely convinced the letter is as transparent as that. KSM names his wife, where her family lives, and then uses the name Haluma (I think). Why would KSM’s brothers need all these details? It seems that KSM may be writing in such a way that his brother can identify precisely what KSM is after.

Also note the odd detail that KSM technically asks for social news on the Mujahadeen before he asks for pictures of his sons. Update: With the correction, he’s specifically directing his brother not to forward news on the Mujahadeen.

And finally, note the long redaction, which the US presumably did before the letter was sent to KSM’s brother. Given that the passage just after the redaction is an exhortation for the family and friends to pray–precisely the topic preceding the redaction, it appears that KSM wrote things that the US found too sensitive (or deemed a coded message) to pass along.

[Thanks for the help on transcribing this.]

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  1. klynn says:

    I found Terry’s comment upon review of the letters and forms and his following KSM’s trail around the world, “It reminded me of how normal evil can be,” carrying a dual meaning.

    Wish Terry would elaborate on that stated observation.

    An interesting quote after reading the previous post by bmaz as well.

    I would agree the letter reads as a coded message.

  2. Mithras61 says:

    If my wife [illegible] Hamza is living with her family in Iran Bluchistan then let her to be [illegible] with me through the Iran [illegible] Red Crescent Society, but please soly [sic] social and family news but particular Mujahideen news and to send the pictures of all sons plus Haluma with Big Smile plus their education, grades & news. [my transcription–please add your corrections and guesses below]

    Second portion of the sentence appears to me to say “let her to be in contact with me through the Iranian Red Crescent Society, but only social and family news, not political or Mujahideen news and to send…”

  3. tjbs says:

    I’ve asked my congressman and two senators where the two kids are years ago . It must be a hard question to find an answer to.

    Torture/ Murder / Treason continues through today, nice.

    • cregan says:

      They are treading thin ice here.

      On the other hand, I’m sure there are many parents who occasionally ask about their son or daughter who was in the World Trade Center. I don’t think they get an answer.

      • Mary says:

        Ditto for parents whose children have been killed by US & Terrorist & Insurgent & Old Clusterparts bombings. And quite a few Iraqi children who have been orphaned by our war ask after their parents and get no answer.

        This one did get an answer. Her father was a taxi driver named Dilawar.

        • cregan says:

          Yes, I hear Saddam left around 2 million without parents and children over the years.

          Hitler left about 20 million, but, maybe we should have let him do his thing so that we didn’t end up harming anyone.

          • BoxTurtle says:

            Yes, I hear Saddam left around 2 million without parents and children over the years.

            So that makes it okay for us to do it?

            Hitler left about 20 million, but, maybe we should have let him do his thing so that we didn’t end up harming anyone.

            Hitler was a threat to us and the entire world. Saddam, after the first Gulf War, couldn’t even effectively threaten his neighbors.

            Boxturtle (Evil is evil, regardless of who commit it)

          • Mary says:

            Who told you Hussein killed 2 million and what support did they have? He wasn’t a good guy by any means, but that’s just a wholly unsupported number. Most of the “stretchy” numbers, the “maybe as many as” numbers that were being tossed as propaganda before the war were 1/2 that and of those, a large number killed were killed in the war between Iran & the Kurds v. Iraq.

            I think you’ve lost your way in this comment.
            You made the comment that “they” are treading on thin ice “here” (by which I think you mean gov is for your taste close to going over the line by disappearing children?? – not sure) but then seem to excuse anything that was done by saying that there are 9/11 parents who lost children.

            I responded with what I thought was a snarky example that would show you that you can’t go down that kind of line (of looking to one tragic event to justify another) by pointing out that lots of Iraqi and Afghan parents now have dead children too (and even parents all over the place who lose children all the time to the US sold cluster bombs that are still racking up casualties) so that kind of reasoning “go ahead and kidnap/torture kids bc someone did something bad to us) is always going to be self perpetuating and it’s unrelated – not an excuse at all.

            Instead your response was to somehow try to up the ante of who killed how many – Hussein and the unsupported, non-factual, number of 2 million and then Hitler at 20 Million (don’t forget our “ally” Stalin, if you are going that route – I think he runs neck and neck with Hitler on the killing front and most of those Hussein killed, he killed as our proxy, our ally).

            ANd the part I really don’t get is you then say, “but maybe we should have let him do his thing so that we didn’t end up harming anyone” ?? Ok- so our government should kidnap and torture children to keep Hitler from doing his thing? Or? Huh?

            IIRC, a part of Hitler’s “thing” was book burning. So … are you trying to say that if we shouldn’t interfere with book burnings bc those people have a right to become Hitler? Or? I don’t get any sequence or logic there and usually I do with your comments, so I’m confused.

            In any event, re: 18 – how can freedom of speech be worth so much if you are supporting the killing of other speech – burning of books – as a legitimate form of protest? In the end, I do think that things like burning the flag and the stupid cartoons that provoked riots, etc. are free speech worth protecting, even at a cost. But how burning someone else’s speech and burning their religion and sacred religious texts are seen by you as a “protest” and an exercise of free speech by the burners – I don’t get that either, but I’m more flex there. I don’t think putting up lynch nooses outside someone’s home or office is an exercise of free speech; I don’t think burning someone else’s words to silence them, their ideas and their religion is an exercise of free speech; I don’t think burning a cross while wearing white robes and hoods across from a little African American girl’s home is an exercise of free speech.

            I’m not bothered by all the protests with signs etc. against the ground zero mosque and to be honest, I’m not someone who sees the beauty of Islam – even what is held up as moderate has zero appeal to me.

            Still – my original comment was meant to be snarky and was directed more at the material support statute than the First Amendment – i.ee.,that, if burning veggies was material support of terrorism (and obviously I don’t think it is) then surely knowingly staging an event that is going to get soldiers and civilians attacked and killed and serve as a recruitment for al-Qaeda is material support.

            I thought it was clear that I don’t actually think EITHER of them (isn’t cooking for someone a way of expressing yourself btw – applying fire to veggies has to be as much a matter of “speech” as applying fire to paper) should be deemed material support, but if that wasn’t clear, I apologize. I was getting at the recent Obama/Kagan-inspired Sup Ct rulings on the material support statute

            OTOH, while I don’t have strong feelings on how much the book burning should or shouldn’t be protected, I did point out and do believe that there are times you aren’t entitled to engage in speech that has the “indirect” result hurting people (like yelling “fire” or bomb” in a crowded room so that people are “indirectly” trampled) and I don’t believe that suppressing and destroying someone else’s speech (book burning) is always speech in and of itself (which is why I asked what the nature of the *protest* was that was being expressed not by speech but by burning someone else’s speech), and I don’t believe that free speech includes materially interfering with someone else’s rights to worship (although I had partly hoped the Sup Ct years back would have struck down animal sacrifice).

            So while I don’t have a strong feeling for it one way or the other, I think you are WAY over simplifying to say that burning another religion’s holy text – esp a religion that spells out how the text should be handled and which reveres the TEXT ITSELF as holy – is “free speech.” Making a speech about how bad he thinks Islam and the Koran is – that is the exercise of speech. A Hitler-esque book burning to try to show Muslim’s they aren’t welcome here – I’m not so sure. I don’t think it will be interefered with – but I also think it is not as open a question as you feel.

  4. Mary says:

    While the very few reports about the US/Pak raid where the US took both KSM’s wife and his two children referred to the children as boys – as did the only follow up article I know of – the one you linked above – Ron Suskind in his book says that the two children the CIA had were a boy and a girl. Is Haluma his daughter?

    I once sent an email to an [email protected] address that was up for Suskind’s One Percent book, asking about two things, whether he still thought the children were a boy and girl v. both boys and a waterboarding question (I can’t remember with out going back to look at the book, but I think he says that al-Libi was waterboarded, or someone else that isn’t one of the 3 the CIA has revealed so far – anyway, at the time I had looked at it and that was the other part of my question). I never heard back.

    I’ve never even seen what children he supposedly has in toto.

    I’ve always thought it interesting that Majid Khan was who gov went to war over so strongly when they were fighting to keep lawyers from being able to talk to detainees about their interrogations (all that crap about the answers to questions being classified info that the guys who gave the answeres weren’t security cleared to hear) but he’s the detainee who also had stories of KSM’s children being abused.

    • emptywheel says:

      Incidentally, in the “people we’d prefer not to be wandering free,” John Bates just denied the habeas petition of a guy alleged to have ties to Gulbuddin.

      Which could be interesting not just because Gulbuddin is arguably not covered under AUMF. But if he does have ties to Gulbuddin it puts him close to Gul Rahman.

      • Mary says:

        I guess if Valerie Plame had simply rendered Cheney off to a forever detention somewhere instead of suing him, Bates might have looked more kindly on the whole thing. ;)

        I get too pissed off to rationally address the underlying points you have highlighted, about things like the always forgotten AUMF, the torture killings, etc.

  5. Mary says:

    BTW, though I’ve said it before, I thought this part “We have child psychologists on hand at all times” took on a different significance once the OLC memos and related info were out that allowed torture to proceed in the presence of a psychologist, who was there to make sure it wasn’t really, like, you know – really bad stuff.

  6. Mary says:

    OT, but related – now that Petraeus has said that the Koran buring is going to help al-Qaeda and the Taliban recruit and get volunteers for their nasty crimes – umm, what about the “material support of terrorism” statute Congress cooked up and the S Ct took the dive on?

    If the guy who burned root vegetables for some Taliban is being detained, surely the guys knowingly inciting recruitment and attacks by burning books qualify?

    • cregan says:

      It’s what’s called in the US, protest. Sometimes known as freedom of speech. Occasionally stupid, violent, asinine and frustrating, but a freedom we can’t do without.

      • Mary says:

        As is cooking.

        See what’s wrong with those vague, selective prosecution statutes?

        I guess, too, that while freedom of speech doesn’t protect yelling “fire” in a theater for kicks, if the people who are going to be trampled and killed from your kicks are out of sight, it doesnt matter if you’re out of your mind.

        BTW – what is it that is being protested by burning a Koran? The free exercise of religion? ;)

        Not really fussing with you – just showing how little it takes to turn all the arguments 45 – then 90 – then 180 – then 360.

        • cregan says:

          I know you’re not fussing.

          To me, protest and freedom of speech underlie EVERYTHING. Without it, you have nothing.

          Personally, I don’t mind people burning the flag, burning their Greenpeace card, burning their bra. I don’t mind people going around advocating making Bin Ladin Man of the Year. Or, even saying “Terrorism is a wonderful thing.”

          Let everyone have their say. I think burning the Flag is dumb, but I wouldn’t consider stopping it.

          You’d have to ask the man doing the burning the Koran what he’s protesting, I don’t know.

          Now, if there was a direct connection to harm, such as the guy was burning a Koran attached to a Christmas tree in someone’s home, then, I’d agree with you. Or if the Koran was attached to a mullah.

          But, indirect effects? Nah. Just like some people thought war protests gave encouragement to the other side (“Hey, see, they’re getting tired of fighting; let’s pour it on.”). So what?

      • bmaz says:

        I tend to agree with you mostly; however, ability of the Humanitarian Law Project, ACLU and other organizations to file amicus brief arguments and represent people in open court would normally fall within protected conduct as well, yet the Supreme Court in upholding the material support crime (with a giant assist from Kagan) said no. So if that cannot be considered legal speech/protest, then why should this book burning asshole? That is the problem here…..

        • cregan says:

          I see your point, but I think the two things are quite different. One is totally indirect. Any possible future harm is only one person’s opinion–even if a general.

          I don’t know enough about the situation you cite to comment, but I guess it’s getting off the topic.