WASHINGTON -- The mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks now says that the use of violence to spread Islam is forbidden by the Quran, a major shift away from the more militaristic view he had put forward previously.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's thinking is detailed in a first-of-its-kind 36-page manifesto obtained by The Huffington Post. In a departure from his previous stance, which led the Guantanamo Bay prisoner to tell a military commission, "it would have been the greatest religious duty to fight you over your infidelity," KSM, as he's known in intelligence circles, instead seeks to convert the court to Islam through persuasion and theological reflection, going so far as to argue that “The Holy Quran forbids us to use force as a means of converting" and that reaching "truth and reality never comes by muscles and force but by using the mind and wisdom."
"Don’t believe the media that the Mujahedeen believe that Islam spread in the past and will prevail in the future with the sword," writes KSM, who has previously admitted to his role in the 9/11 attacks that killed thousands of Americans. He uses the bulk of the manifesto to put his newfound principle into practice, attempting to persuade his captors, prosecutors and lawyers that the path to true happiness lies in Islam.
KSM, who grew up in Kuwait and attended college in North Carolina, turns 50 this year. He has been held at the Guantanamo prison camp since 2006, after several years of being tortured by the CIA at "black sites" in undisclosed locations, and faces the death penalty for his 9/11 crimes. He also claims to have personally beheaded American journalist Daniel Pearl with his "blessed right hand," as he said at a 2007 military commission hearing -- a claim that subsequent investigative reporting has backed up. According to The Hunt for KSM, by former Los Angeles Times reporters Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer, an FBI agent who tracked KSM long before he was a household name described him as the type of guy you could have a beer with, if he wasn't one of the worst mass murderers in American history.
In his new writing, while contending that he does not believe Islam should be instituted by force, KSM justifies the terrorist attacks for which he claims credit as acts of “self defense sanctioned by every constitution and international laws as the right of everyone whose land is occupied and whose people are attacked."
KSM seeks to clarify one particular critique of al-Qaeda: He and the organization do not hate American freedoms.
"Do not believe those who claim that the Mujahedeen fight infidels to turn them to Islam or that we are fighting you because you practice democracy, freedom or claim that you uphold human rights," he says, instead repeating the al-Qaeda narrative of a "jihad" or cosmic war against America in retaliation for attacking and oppressing Muslims and supporting Israel. He singles out the media and the intelligence services as responsible for misleading the public, claiming that “They hide from them why the Mujahedeen carried out 9/11 and what the truth is about the War on Terror."
Although Western freedoms may not justify violence for KSM, that doesn't mean he finds the values appealing. "Happiness is not found only in money, in hearing music, in dancing, or in living a so-called 'free life,'" he says in one illustrative passage. Those who live in the Western world have "missed the right path to happiness" and are "like a fisherman who went to the desert searching for fish or a hunter diving to the depths of the sea trying to catch a deer."
In the manifesto, KSM -- who asserted at a military commission hearing in 2007 that he had planned the Sept. 11 attacks "from A to Z" -- touches on a wide array of other issues, from video game consoles to marriage equality, military suicides, U.S. prison overcrowding, AIDS, the military-industrial complex, scientific evidence of evolution, the Catholic Church's sex scandal, former President Richard Nixon's views, and then-President George W. Bush's embrace of the word "crusade."
Mohammed, the highest-value al-Qaeda operative in U.S. custody, wrote his "Statement to the Crusaders of the Military Commissions in Guantanamo” in October, addressing a copy to each member of the military court. The military judge overseeing the commissions process ruled last month that the experiences of "high-value detainees" being held in military custody at Guantanamo are no longer presumed to be classified -- a decision that enabled HuffPost to obtain a copy of KSM's manifesto, which is being published in collaboration with Great Britain's Channel 4 News.
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The October document, KSM's first significant communication with the outside world since 2009, is presented as the first of three chapters. His next section, yet to be completed, will lay out "why the Mujahedeen carried out 9/11 and whether it was a terrorist operation or an act of self-defense,” and a final chapter will delve into "the truth about the so-called ‘War on Terror’."
"For whose benefits or interests were these wars fought?" KSM writes in previewing that final chapter. "Did these wars take place to defend the American people and their interests? Were they fought to defend freedom and human rights? Women's rights? Or were they fought for the benefits and interests of individuals and corporations? Who are those individuals and corporations? What are their interests and benefits? Isn't it true that they work for the weapons industry lobbies, security contractors or Halliburton sister companies etc.?"
In chapter one, he gives further hints as to the direction he'll take, quoting George W. Bush repeatedly using the word "crusade" to describe the global war on terror and even highlighting an interview from the 1990s with Nixon, who said that the American people held those from the Middle East in very low regard.
KSM writes that he originally began drafting his essay back in 2009 with the aid of a laptop that he, like other Guantanamo defendants, was given to work on his defense. Those laptops were later seized, though there has recently been some discussion about returning them to the defendants.
Despite his long detention, KSM insists that he feels free at heart, writing that he is "very happy" in his cell "because my spirit is free even while my body is being held captive.” He says he has been “neither sad nor distressed" in his confinement "because I have been with the Only One True God.” His manifesto aims to convince the members of his military tribunal that they, too, could find such happiness if they adopted Islam.
"It is my religious duty in dealing with any non-Muslims such as the people in the court (the Judge, the prosecution, attorneys, etc.) to invite them to embrace Islam. I realize very well that you have heard about Islam and know much about it. But it is my own belief that Allah will ask me on the Day of Judgment why I did not invite these people to Islam?" he writes.
KSM also takes shots at the U.S. military's suicide rate. "[H]undreds of American crusader soldier men and women join the U.S. army, wear the latest military gear, eat the best food in Iraq and Afghanistan, and play with their play stations while their enemies, the poor Muslim can’t find their daily bread or jacket to protect themselves from the harsh snowstorms over Afghanistan mountains, but at the end, the American soldiers go home and commit suicide but the poor man still with his dry bread and black tea lives with his poor wife in their humble muddy house but with happy hearts and souls."
The rapid advance of same-sex marriage is further evidence for KSM of the collapse of Western civilization. "If God said no adultery or no sexual contact without a marriage contract between man and woman, the Westerner's God says men and women are free to do whatever they want to do," he says. "A mother can even lie with her son and they can issue a marriage certificate for them if the majority in Congress or Parliament agrees to such a thing. Or a man can marry a man or a woman can marry a woman, but by God's laws, these acts are considered social crimes and it will cause unhappiness in their life, it breaks their families and at the end it will break the whole society."
He cites social ills as evidence of Western moral bankruptcy. "Their communities have been destroyed by the high rates of divorce, rape, robbery, killing, suicide, AIDS, and often depression, bankruptcies, abortion, drugs, homosexuals, homelessness, psychological disorders, mental illnesses and most of the U.S. prisons are over capacity and crime is everywhere among all races and states," he says.
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KSM's statement is certainly not the first time the public has heard from a Guantanamo detainee, but so far such communications have come from within Camp 5 and Camp 6, which house lower-value detainees. The high-value detainees at Camp 7 have so far been allowed only extremely limited contact with the outside world, and rules regulating the communication of detainees are notoriously murky and shifting. Military officials initially denied the very existence of Camp 7 and still refuse to speak about it to members of the media who visit Guantanamo. While a view of Camp 7 is available on Google Maps, it has only been visited in person by government representatives. On a recent congressional delegation trip, lawmakers were told that the high-value detainees there loved the erotic series Fifty Shades of Grey -- a contention later disputed by at least one detainee.
Despite his years of confinement, KSM's trial before a military commission has barely gotten off the ground, having been marred by repeated delays and questions about the legitimacy of such a relatively untested forum. Defense arguments that would have almost certainly been laughed out of a civilian court are given ample time, and unexpected issues constantly arise, like the revelation of a mysterious censor who could cut off the courtroom's delayed audio feed unbeknownst even to the military judge running the court.
The Obama administration had planned to transfer KSM and several co-defendants to the continental United States and allow their case to proceed in federal court, but that effort was thwarted by political opposition from members of Congress, especially those in the New York City area, where KSM was to be tried. Attorney General Eric Holder recently suggested that, had the Sept. 11 case proceeded in federal court as he announced it would in 2009, KSM and his co-defendants "would be on death row as we speak."
The bulk of those still held at Guantanamo aren't high-value detainees like KSM. Dozens of them engaged in a hunger strike last year and successfully pushed Guantanamo back into the headlines. More than half of the 158 who remain have been cleared for transfer, and the Obama administration has had some limited success over the past year with moving those detainees. The lingering question is what the administration plans to do about those individuals who land somewhere between KSM and the detainees who aren't deemed a threat -- that is, the detainees whom the U.S. does not plan to put on trial but still wants to imprison indefinitely.
The last declassified significant communication from KSM came in 2009 when he addressed the court as part of his own defense in a document entitled "The Islamic Response to the Government's Nine Accusations." In that six-page document, KSM reaffirmed his commitment to fighting the U.S. and railed against the country that has detained him since his capture in Pakistan in 2003, referring to America as “first class war criminals."
The latest manifesto hints at KSM’s awareness of his own importance in the eyes of the authorities. In an almost comical reference to his struggles with the English language, it reads, “When the CIA said ‘KSM is a big fish,’ I know that I am neither a whale nor a fish.” Elsewhere, he alludes to the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used against him: “Perhaps a poor detainee may be happy while being water-boarded or tortured or even in solitary confinement …”
Guantanamo insiders describe KSM as reveling in his high media profile, with CBS News senior correspondent John Miller once dubbing him a “media junkie." He is said to be a keen Harry Potter fan and famously asked to build a vacuum cleaner from scratch as a means of preserving his sanity following his exposure to torture techniques.
He appears to have spent at least some of his time reading the Bible, dedicating 11 pages of his latest statement to that book and Christianity in his effort to convince readers to abandon the former faith in favor of Islam. KSM is reverential toward Jesus Christ while hostile toward the clergy, whom he says adulterated Christ's message in the third and fourth centuries.
He also mistakenly suggests that Roman Catholics have "already solemnized marriages between homosexuals" and criticizes the authors of the Bible for failing to use "polite language." And he takes the expected swipes at Jews, declaring that the "sexual stories" in the Bible were "written by corrupt Rabbis of certain times to make their holy book a 'best seller' to get more money."
"If I am a Christian, how can I read this chapter in front of my children or recite these verses during a Sunday mass in front of my worshippers?" he writes. "If the young boys and girls are reading these stories, and are also in church drinking their holy wine, what do you think the result will be? I will leave the answer for the honest people to understand the real reason behind the sexual scandals from time to time in the Catholic churches."
As for his trial, KSM has consistently sought to present himself as outside the process: He initially rejected his lawyer, frequently refers to the military commission as a “kangaroo court” and dismisses the authority of man-made laws. In 2012, he won the right to wear a camouflage field jacket and turban in court -- items customarily worn by members of a militia -- arguing that it was his right as a soldier. A short man, he has lost a significant amount of weight since he was photographed by the CIA looking disheveled shortly after his capture and has dyed his graying beard an orange-reddish color for his court appearances using fruit juice and crushed berries. He once objected to a courtroom artist's sketch, saying his nose had been drawn too big.
The tone of his manifesto is such that, at times, it can be easy to forget its author has admitted to his role in murdering thousands of people.
But that's exactly the way KSM wants it. "Before you start reading, forget and neglect the writer or author's name," he asks toward the beginning of the document.