The Arrest of Khalid Sheik Mohammed - an Enemy Seized

The World and I, May 2003 | Go to article overview

The Arrest of Khalid Sheik Mohammed - an Enemy Seized


UNITED STATES--How much can one arrest advance the war on terrorism? A great deal, according to the emerging accounts of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the al Qaeda leader captured in Pakistan. The Kuwaiti-born extremist is now believed to have been the architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington, along with numerous other murderous actions before and after.

Officials describe him as the operations chief for al Qaeda, responsible for nurturing networks and planning operations around the world, including suspected plots aimed at the United States that prompted the recent Code Orange alert. Depending on how quickly and fully Mr. Mohammed can be induced to provide information, and what can be gleaned from the papers and computer disks seized from his hideout, U.S. officials said they may be able to roll up terrorist cells in various parts of the world and perhaps track down Osama bin Laden or other senior al Qaeda figures. ...

There's obviously cause for celebration, and for congratulations to U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies that were able to track and capture Mr. Mohammed with the help of Pakistani security forces. The operation offered a timely answer to critics who have contended that the Bush administration's focus on Iraq has weakened its campaign against al Qaeda.

--Washington Post

March 4, 2003

How to question terrorists

UNITED STATES--The president's first word upon hearing the news was "fantastic." We can only imagine the elation among FBI and CIA officials who stalked Khalid Shaikh Mohammed for the past 18 months. Mohammed is reportedly the No. 3 man in al Qaeda, responsible for operational planning. The idea to hijack airliners loaded with fuel and human beings, and crash them into buildings was reportedly his brain child, as were the details--which pilots to use, how to pull off the hijackings, how to transfer the funds, which targets to choose.

The New York Times reports that since September 11, 2001, Mohammed moved frequently, staying one step ahead of his pursuers by staying briefly in Karachi, Faisalabad, Peshawar and other cities, before finally being apprehended in Rawalpindi. Throughout his travels, however, Mohammed remained the hub of the al Qaeda organization, staying in touch with many operatives through e-mail, coded telephone messages and couriers. ... He was called the "brain" of al Qaeda. And what a twisted, evil brain it is. Mohammed is believed to have planned the Bali nightclub bombing that killed 192 people and may well be the man who personally beheaded Daniel Pearl on videotape. He knows everything there is to know about al Qaeda. But so far, during interrogations, he has merely recited phrases from the Koran. What should we do with him?

Professor Alan Dershowitz, the noted liberal law professor at Harvard, caused heads to snap after September 11 by recommending torture for captured but uncooperative terrorists. Suppose, Mr. Dershowitz asked, a criminal had kidnapped your child and placed him in an underground bunker with only enough oxygen to last for three hours. He is captured but refuses to reveal the child's location. Should we not use torture on the kidnapper to save the child? Or suppose the hypothetical were changed to make it a nuclear bomb timed to explode in three hours. Would we then countenance torture to save a city?

I would. My rage over what was done to Americans on September 11 has not cooled. The trouble is, torture makes my skin crawl--even torture of a disgusting killer. Besides, life is rarely like a law school hypothetical. The hypothetical assumes that the kidnapper has the information to impart. That may or may not be true of a terrorist. He may know only his small piece of the puzzle. It is also possible that the Pakistani police could capture the wrong guy, and we might torture an innocent man. ...

"The events of September 11 require us to imagine the unimaginable and think the unthinkable," Mr. …

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