Former senior al-Qaida official Khalid Sheikh Mohammed confessed last week to a major role in masterminding the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States during a military hearing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He also confessed to 30 other acts of terrorism, including the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center in New York, a nightclub bombing in Bali, and the beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl.
The reaction around the world was largely muted and even indifferent. In Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s native Pakistan, the press was preoccupied with President Pervez Musharraf’s controversial decision to suspend the Supreme Court’s chief justice. But, Benjamin Sand, VOA correspondent in Islamabad, says what reaction there was to Mohammed’s confession was decidedly mixed. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Sand says the official line is that the confession demonstrates the degree to which Pakistan has been working closely with the United States and remains a solid ally in the war on terror.
But, Mr. Sand notes, this remains a “major bone of contention” among the Pakistani population. He says some Pakistanis discount the confession and focus on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s claims that he was tortured. At the same time, his claims to have been behind the terrorist attacks “from A to Z” underscore the sense of al-Qaida as a “global threat.” So, Benjamin Sand says, “Both sides got what they wanted.” That is, the confession supports the Pentagon’s claim that it is going after the top echelon of al-Qaida, that the Guantanamo Bay detention facility is producing results, and that the United States is winning the war on terror. However, it also substantiates al-Qaida’s propaganda that it is “behind every attack around the world.”
Anwar Iqbal, Washington correspondent for Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English-language daily, says although Pakistanis were not surprised that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is one of the key al-Qaida leaders, they wonder why the confession was released at this time. But Nadia Bilbassy, senior correspondent for Al Arabiya television, says many people in the Arab world had questioned whether Mohammed and al-Qaida’s top leadership held in secret jails would ever be brought to trial. Many Arabs, she adds, are suspicious of the declaration of responsibility for 31 separate attacks, and she calls it “debatable” whether this information was voluntary or was “extracted under severe conditions.” But, Anwar Iqbal says, there was “plenty of evidence” against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other top leaders. And, in fact, his confession suggests he was “proud” of his involvement in the attacks. However, Mr. Iqbal adds that the secrecy of the proceedings was probably “counter-productive.”
Benjamin Sand notes that both Pakistani and American publics operate from different contexts regarding the significance of 9/11. On that day, Americans lost forever their sense of security, and their view of the world was profoundly altered. Benjamin Sand notes that both sides come to the confession with a “pre-established notion of what happened,” which means those people who have questioned the “credibility of the process” from the outset do not find it very convincing. And, those people in Pakistan who still don’t believe al-Qaida was behind the 9/11 attacks surely won’t believe Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s “31-point list of terrorist atrocities” to which he reportedly confessed in Cuba, Mr. Sand says. Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Department officials say that the process of holding hearings for the rest of Guantanamo’s 14 high value detainees will continue.
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