Now here's a weird one to ponder on the eve of the arraignments at Guantánamo of five prisoners -- including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- who are charged with facilitating the 9/11 attacks.
I've always thought that there was something particularly perverse about charging minor Afghan insurgents in specially conceived "terror courts" at Guantánamo, as though there was any case whatsoever to be made that a national of a country at war with the United States could, by resisting foreign occupation, be regarded as a terrorist rather than as a soldier in a war.
I have my doubts about the entire Military Commission process, of course (which was conceived both in haste and as a blatant attempt to rewrite international law), as well as having doubts about some of the other cases put forward for trial by Military Commission, such as those of the Canadian child Omar Khadr and the British resident Binyam Mohamed (charged last week), who was flown around the world to have "confessions" extracted from him through torture, but the charges against the Afghans -- Mohamed Jawad, Mohammed Kamin and Abdul Zahir (charged in the first aborted incarnation of the Commissions, and not yet charged for a second time) -- have always struck me as even more ridiculously unjust and stupid. Mohamed Jawad, who was also a teenager at the time of capture, is accused of throwing a grenade that wounded two US soldiers and an Afghan interpreter in a US military vehicle, Abdul Zahir was accused of throwing a grenade at a vehicle containing foreign journalists, and, most feebly of all, Mohammed Kamin is accused of firing rockets at the city of Khost while it was occupied by US forces.
However, even with these precedents, the case of the latest Afghan to face a trial by Military Commission -- which was announced with so little fanfare that it was almost overlooked -- appears to plumb new depths of misapplied zeal. In its charge sheet, the Pentagon announced that it was charging 32-year old Mohammed Hashim with "providing material support for terrorism" and "spying," based on allegations that, from December 2001 to October 2002, having been "schooled at terrorist training camps," he "provide[d] material support and resources to al-Qaeda," by "conducting reconnaissance missions against US and coalition forces, and by participating in a rocket attack venture on at least one occasion against US forces for al-Qaeda." It is also claimed that he "wrongfully collect[ed] or attempt[ed] to collect information by clandestine means or while acting under false pretenses, for the purpose of conveying such information to an enemy of the United States, or to one of the co-belligerents of the enemy."
While the charges against Hashim appear, on the surface, to line up with those against the other alleged Afghan insurgents, a glance at the transcript of his Combatant Status Review Tribunal (held in 2004 to establish that he had been correctly detained as an "enemy combatant" without rights) reveals that he is either one of the most fantastically well-connected terrorists in the very small pool of well-connected terrorists at Guantánamo, or, conversely, that he is a deranged fantasist. From the resounding silence that greeted his comments at his tribunal, I can only conclude that the tribunal members, like me, concluded that the latter interpretation was the more probable.
Hashim began by explaining that he had been with the Taliban for five years before his capture, but added that he only did it "for the money," and then declared, "What evidence was brought against me, I admit to. I've been telling the same story and I'm not lying about it. I helped out [Osama] bin Laden." After this attention-grabbing start, he claimed that he knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance, because a man that he knew, Mohammad Khan, "used to tell me all these stories and all the details about how they were going to fly airplanes into buildings. He didn't tell me the details, that it was New York, but he said they had 20 pilots and they were going to orchestrate the act." What rather detracted from the shock value of this comment was Hashim's absolutely inexplicable claim that his friend Khan, who had told him about the 9/11 plan, was with the Northern Alliance, the Taliban's opponents, who were also implacably opposed to al-Qaeda.
In what was clearly another flight of fancy, Hashim explained that he and another man, Abdul Razaq, had been responsible for facilitating Osama bin Laden's escape from Afghanistan. Disregarding the large number of accounts which placed bin Laden in the Tora Bora mountains in late November 2001 before his escape to Pakistan, Hashim said that bin Laden "took off" before Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul were captured (i.e. in early November 2001, several weeks before the Tora Bora campaign), and claimed that he and Abdul Razaq had taken bin Laden directly from Jalalabad to the Pakistani border. "It's a way that nobody knows," he said, "it's a secret, the official way we took him to the border. Haji Zaher was our guide. After that, we got into the car. We left them [Osama bin Laden and his wife] at the Pakistani border and we came back. They [Osama bin Laden and his wife] disappeared. They took a Russian jeep and a pick-up truck. This is the story about al-Qaeda, that I took part in."
Undermining his story further, Hashim then said that and that he and Abdul Razaq made their way to Kandahar, where they met up with various warlords. "I was told a few days later I should work with these people as a spy," he explained. "This is the story. I received stories and messages from different places. Weapons were coming from Syria to Iraq, when Saddam was President. Syria was sending them [weapons] to Iraq, via Iran to Afghanistan. This is how it worked. Ayman al-Zawahiri [al-Qaeda's deputy leader] was organizing this."
Although he added, "Even if I'm here 20 years, I am going to give the same story; I'm not lying and these things exist," it's impossible not to conclude that Hashim's story was, if not the testimony of a fantasist, then a shrewd attempt to avoid brutal interrogations by providing his interrogators with whatever he thought they wanted to hear. This latter explanation is perhaps suggested by Hashim's closing comments -- when asked what he thought of Americans, he said, "now I see Americans, they are nice people. I haven't been beaten up or slapped or anything " -- but then again this might have been irony.
Whatever the case, though, nothing about Mohammed Hashim's story suggests that he should be standing trial in a court flagged up by the administration as an innovation required to prosecute "the worst of the worst," who were directly responsible for the 9/11 attacks. As the world's press gathers, and the spotlights are prepared for the 9/11 arraignments, it's another example of how tawdry and incoherent the administration's much-vaunted "terror trials" really are.