The first time I wrote "war on terrorism" (in my May 2002 memo to FBI Director Mueller) I put it in quotes because I already knew "war" wasn't the right approach. Rush Limbaugh and his ilk are very wrong about this. The most pragmatic method of determining the guilt or innocence of criminals, including Al Qaeda operatives like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, has always been in criminal court. Back in 2006 at about the same time Zacarias Moussaoui's trial was taking place, I wrote op-eds and successfully debated this issue with former Assistant CIA Legal Counsel John Radsan who now teaches law at William Mitchell College in St. Paul. Radsan was on the opposite side, defending the CIA's extra-legal methods and asserting that Moussaoui would be the last terrorist to ever be tried in the criminal court system.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's trial will undoubtedly be even more challenging for prosecutors than Moussaoui's was given the fact that Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times and that none of his statements elicited as a result of torture will be admissible. The purely voluntary statements that Sheikh Mohammed made, however, before his capture, in April 2002, to Al Jazeera-London reporter Yosri Fouda may be used against him in court. Sheikh Mohammed's admissions which came almost a year before he was captured and tortured, are documented in Fouda's and Nick Fielding's book: Masterminds of Terror and they counterdict Dick Cheney's statements that waterboarding was essential to getting information from Sheikh Mohammed. (I happen to have met Al Jazeera reporter Yosri Fouda once in the course of an interview in November 2004 but I didn't get much of a chance to question him about his experience.)
VIPS colleague Ray McGovern just wrote the insightful commentary below which notes another plus--that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's trial may well provide some more truthful answers than what have been thus far forthcoming about "why they attacked us."
Shining Light on Roots of Terrorism
By Ray McGovern, first published on Consortium News, November 15, 2009
Media commentary on the upcoming 9/11 trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has raised concern that state secrets may be divulged, including details about how the Bush administration used torture to extract evidence about al-Qaeda.
"I think that we're going to shine a light on something that a lot of people don't want to look at" is how American Civil Liberties Union attorney Denney LeBoeuf put it, according to The New York Times on Saturday.
No problem, says Attorney General Eric Holder, who claims to have "great confidence" that other evidence - apart from what may have been gleaned from the 183 times Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, for example - will suffice to convict him.
Maybe so, But what the Fawning Corporate Media (or FCM) have so far neglected is the likelihood that the testimony will be so public that they will have to break their studied silence about why Sheikh Mohammed and his associates say they orchestrated the attacks of 9/11.
For reasons that are painfully obvious, the FCM have done their best to ignore or bury the role that Israel's repression of the Palestinians has played in motivating the 9/11 attacks and other anti-Western terrorism.
It is not like there is no evidence on this key issue. Rather, it appears that the Israel-Palestine connection is pretty much kept off limits for discussion.
Yet, as Sheikh Mohammed and the other alleged 9/11 conspirators go to trial, the FCM's tacit but tight embargo will be under great strain. Eyes will have to be averted from the sensitive Israeli-Palestinian motive even more than from torture, which most Americans know about (and, God help us, are willing to explain away).
To refresh our memories, let's recall the bromides we were fed by the likes of President George W. Bush about why the terrorists attacked on 9/11.
Rather than mentioning long-held grievances expressed by many Arabs - such as Western intrusion into their region, Washington's propping up of autocrats who enrich themselves in deals with multinational oil companies, and Israel's military occupation of Palestinian territory - Bush told the American people that "the terrorists hate our freedoms."
Former Vice President Dick Cheney reprised that feel-good theme in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute on May 21. Cheney said the terrorists hate "all the things that make us a force for good in the world -- for liberty, for human rights, for the rational, peaceful resolution of differences."
Some observers might have found those qualities strange for Cheney to cite given his role in violating constitutional rights, torturing captives and spreading falsehoods to justify an aggressive war against Iraq.
But Cheney also slipped up in the speech, presumably because he had lost his best speechwriters upon leaving office. He inadvertently acknowledged the Israeli albatross hanging around the neck of U.S. policy in the Middle East.
"They [terrorists] have never lacked for grievances against the United States. Our belief in freedom of speech and religion ... our belief in equal rights for women ... our support for Israel... -- these are the true sources of resentment," Cheney said.
Yet "our support for Israel" is hardly ever included in these formulations, but Cheney at least got that part right.
Rarely in the FCM - and not even often on the Web - does one find Sheikh Mohammed's explanation for what motivated him to "mastermind" 9/11. Apparently, few pundits have made it as far as page 147 of the 9/11 Commission Report.
The drafters were at work on the report when they learned that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had been captured. They knew that he earned a degree in mechanical engineering from North Carolina A&T in Greensboro in 1986, before going to Afghanistan to fight the Russian occupier.
And it seems their first assumption was that he suffered some major indignity at the hands of Americans in Greensboro. Thus the strange wording of one major finding on page 147 of the 9/11 Commission Report:
"By his own account, KSM's animus toward the United States stemmed not from his experience there as a student, but rather from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel."
Moreover, the footnote section reveals that KSM was not the only "mastermind" terrorist motivated by "U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel," although in the footnote the Commission dances around a specific reference to Israel, leaving it to the reader to infer that point from the context. Note the missing words in the footnote on page 488:
"On KSM's rationale for attacking the United States, see Intelligence report, interrogation of KSM, Sept. 5, 2003 (in this regard, KSM's statements echo those of Yousef, who delivered an extensive polemic against U.S. foreign policy at his January 1998 sentencing)," the footnote said.
Was Yousef, who happens to be Mohammed's nephew, perhaps upset about U.S. foreign policy favoring NATO expansion, or maybe toward Guam? Obviously, the unstated inference in the footnote was about Israel.
The First Attack
The family connection between Yousef and Mohammed was not incidental, either. "Yousef's instant notoriety as the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing inspired KSM to become involved in planning attacks against the United States," the 9/11 Commission Report noted on page 147.
The 1993 World Trade Center bombing occurred on Feb. 26, 1993, when a car bomb was detonated below Tower One. The 1,500-pound urea nitrate-hydrogen gas-enhanced device was intended to knock the North Tower (Tower One) into the South Tower, bringing both towers down and killing thousands of people.
It failed to accomplish that, but the bombing did kill six people and injured 1,042.
Motive? Ramzi Yousef spelled out his motive in a letter to The New York Times after the bombing:
"We declare our responsibility for the explosion on the mentioned building. This action was done in response for the American political, economical, and military support to Israel, the state of terrorism, and to the rest of the dictator countries in the region."
Yousef was captured in Pakistan in 1995, imprisoned in New York City, and held there until his trial. On Nov. 12, 1997, he was convicted of "seditious conspiracy" and was sentenced the following January to life without parole. He is held at the high-security Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.
Regarding the touchy Israel connection, the 9/11 Commission stepped up to the plate in the "Recommendations" section of its final report, which was issued on July 22, 2004, but then bunted:
"America's policy choices have consequences. Right or wrong, it is simply a fact that American policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and American actions in Iraq are dominant staples of popular commentary across the Arab and Muslim world. ... Neither Israel nor the new Iraq will be safer if worldwide Islamist terrorism grows stronger." (pp 376-377)
A more convincing swing at this issue was taken in an unclassified study published by the Pentagon-appointed U.S. Defense Science Board on Sept. 23, 2004, just two months later. The board stated:
"Muslims do not 'hate our freedom,' but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf States.
"Thus, when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy."
The report directly contradicted what Bush had been saying about "why they hate us," letting the elephant out of the bag and into the room, so to speak.
But, you say, you didn't hear much about that report either, despite 24-hour cable "news" networks and the "change-everything" importance of 9/11 in justifying U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq?
If you've read down this far, you will not be surprised that the FCM ignored the Defense Science Board findings for two months. On Nov. 24, 2004, The New York Times, erstwhile "newspaper of record," finally published a story on the report -- but only after some highly instructive surgery.
Thom Shanker of the Times quoted the paragraph beginning with "Muslims do not 'hate our freedom'" (see above), but he or his editors deliberately cut out the following sentence about what Muslims do object to, i.e., "what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights" and support for tyrannical regimes.
The Times did include the sentence that immediately followed the omitted one. In other words, it was not simply a matter of shortening the paragraph. Rather, the offending middle sentence fell victim to the "delete" key.
Similarly creative editing showed through the Times' reporting in late October 2004 on a videotaped speech by Osama bin Laden. Almost six paragraphs of the story made it onto page one, but the Times saw to it that the key point bin Laden made at the beginning of his speech was relegated to paragraphs 23 to 25 at the very bottom of page nine.
Buried there was bin Laden's assertion that the idea for 9/11 first germinated after "we witnessed the oppression and tyranny of the American-Israeli coalition against our people in Palestine and Lebanon."
There is other evidence regarding the Israeli-Palestinian motive behind 9/11.
Though Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was not allowed to talk to the attorneys in the 2006 trial of 9/11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, the judge did allow into the official record a statement by Mohammed on the "Purpose of the 9/11 Attacks," which was drawn from "numerous written summaries of Sheikh Mohammed's oral statements in response to extensive questioning."
The following statement from Sheikh Mohammed appears on page 11 of Defense Trial Exhibit 941 from "United States v. Zacarias Moussaoui, Criminal No. 01-455-A":
"Sheikh Mohammed said that the purpose of the attack on the Twin Towers was to 'wake the American people up.' Sheikh Mohammed said that if the target would have been strictly military or government, the American people would not focus on the atrocities that America is committing by supporting Israel against the Palestinian people and America's self-serving foreign policy that corrupts Arab governments and leads to further exploitation of the Arab/Muslim peoples."
Some recent articles about Mohammed's upcoming trial also have mentioned the Israel-Palestine motive behind 9/11, though usually in passing and deep inside the stories. For instance, Sunday's New York Times carries a front-page article giving a "portrait of 9/11 'Jackal,'" Mohammed.
But one has to read deep into the jump on page 26 to learn that the original plan for the 9/11 attacks envisioned Mohammed flying on one of 10 planes that were to be hijacked and that "he would be on the one plane not to crash, and after the plane landed would emerge and deliver a speech condemning American policy on Israel."
Yet, the Fawning Corporate Media won't stop performing its creative editing - or creative composition - to obscure this motive. Never mind what the 9/11 Commission Report said about Mohammed not being driven by resentments from his college days in North Carolina, the Washington Post offered a revisionist view on that point on Aug. 30:
"KSM's limited and negative experience in the United States -- which included a brief jail stay because of unpaid bills -- almost certainly helped propel him on his path to becoming a terrorist," according to an intelligence summary, the Post reported. "He stated that his contact with Americans, while minimal, confirmed his view that the United States was a debauched and racist country."
A telling revision perhaps extracted from one of Mohammed's 183 waterboarding sessions - and certainly politically more convenient in that it obscured Mohammed's other explanation implicating "U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel."
But let's look for a moment at the "debauched and racist" part. Could Mohammed be speaking some truth here - and not just about his college days of the 1980s?
Would the Washington Post's editors be so supportive of the "war on terror" if captives from a more favored ethnic or religious group were stripped naked before members of the opposite sex, put in diapers, immobilized with shackles in stress positions for long periods, denied sleep and made to soil themselves?
In my view, racism comes very much into play here. If Mohammed and other detainees looked more like us, would it be so easy to demonize and waterboard them? [See, for example, Consortiumnews.com's "Bush's Interrogators Stressed Nudity"]
At rare moments, however, hard truths about the 9/11 motivations slip out - although not in high-profile presidential speeches nor in Washington Post op-eds. For instance, at a public hearing in June 2004, 9/11 Commissioner Lee Hamilton asked a panel of government experts, "What motivated them [the hijackers] to do it?"
The CIA analyst in the group is seen in some panic, directing his eyes toward the other panelists in the all-too-obvious hope that someone else will answer the politically loaded question. FBI Supervisory Special Agent James Fitzgerald rose to the occasion, saying:
"I believe they feel a sense of outrage against the United States. They identify with the Palestinian problem; they identify with people who oppose oppressive regimes, and I believe they tend to focus their anger on the United States."
For Hamilton and his colleagues that proved to be a politically incorrect answer. Ergo, you will not find that testimony in the 9/11 Commission Report. And notably absent from the report's recommendations is any suggestion as to how one might address the question of Israeli treatment of Palestinians and U.S. support for it.
In their book Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission, Chairmen Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton are unusually candid in admitting that this issue was so sensitive and contentious that they chose the course of least resistance.
Despite the findings of the Commission staff - and FBI Agent Fitzgerald - that the hijackers were not motivated by religious ideology, many of the Commissioners much preferred attributing the attacks to Islam than to U.S. policy toward Israel.
Kean and Hamilton explain that those commissioners were dead set against identifying Israel as a major factor motivating the terrorists, because someone might get the idea that Washington should reassess its policy.
But it's a legitimate and urgent question: Would a more determined commitment by the U.S. government to secure an independent state for the Palestinians and to alleviate their suffering undercut the appeal of al-Qaeda and other extremist groups to young people in the Muslim world?
Or put differently, why should ardent supporters of Israel in the U.S. Congress behave in such a way as to make the Muslim world view the United States as disinterested in the plight of the Palestinians and thus increase the danger of future attacks against the United States, as well as against Israel?
The Goldstone Report
The rest of the world and most Americans opposed the Israeli strikes on Gaza last December and January that resulted in the killing of 1,400 Palestinians, with 13 Israelis also killed. And there was wide criticism of the silence not only of the Bush/Cheney administration, but also of President-elect Barack Obama.
The UN-authorized investigation by the widely respected South African jurist, Richard Goldstone, himself a Jew, pointed to war crimes by both Israel and Hamas, although the inquiry's harshest criticism landed on Israel for the staggering civilian death toll.
This finding led Israel's Likud government to activate its powerful U.S. lobby, which pressed the House of Representatives to denounce the Goldstone report, which the House did on a 344-36 vote.
In a wondrous display of pot-and-kettle, House members branded the Goldstone report "irredeemably biased." Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer called the report "unbalanced and unfair and inaccurate."
These so-called "friends of Israel" either don't know or don't care that this sort of resolution only makes matters worse regarding American attempts to defuse the explosive anger building across the Middle East. It is a gift to al-Qaeda.
This U.S. pandering to the Likud Lobby - and the implicit suggestion that the lives of 1,400 Palestinians don't much matter - also is bad for the people of Israel. Indeed, it may prove suicidal, by delaying the geopolitical imperative for Israel to make peace with its Arab neighbors and thus avert some future catastrophe.
Closer to home, by further identifying itself with - and justifying - Israeli repression of the Palestinians, the United States helps breed more Khalid Sheikh Mohammeds and Ramzi Yousefs, more young terrorists determined to make Washington and the American people pay a price.
It requires no logical leap to conclude that Likud-friendly lawmakers -- the Steny Hoyers, the Howard Bermans, the Ileana Ros-Lehtinens of this world -- could scarcely think up a better way to raise the threat level from terrorists who feed on festering sores like the calamity in Gaza.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He worked as an Army intelligence officer and CIA analyst for almost 30 years, and is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). He spent a few weeks in Israel and the occupied territories in summer 2008.