By Larry Neumeister
and Tom Hays
NEW YORK: In public statements a week apart, al-Qaida’s self-professed Sept. 11 mastermind and a Kuwaiti imam who met with Osama bin Laden in a cave after the attacks once again demonstrated that time hasn’t softened their anti-American views.
If anything, Khalid Sheik Mohammed — in new writings from his Guantanamo Bay cell — and Sulaiman Abu Ghaith — on trial in Manhattan federal court — are using courtroom theater, intentionally or not, to press their case that the United States is such a bully in the Middle East that killing civilians was justified.
“The entire trial is frozen in time if you think about it,” said Karen J. Greenberg, the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law who was one of the few people in the Manhattan courtroom Thursday when the surprise announcement was made that Abu Ghaith would testify. “Because the trial is focused on the moment of 9/11, it makes everybody seem like they’re frozen in the time of 9/11.”
Mohammed’s words emerged a week ago in a written statement responding to more than 400 questions from defense lawyers in their failed bid to win the court’s permission to have him testify on behalf of Abu Ghaith, who is on trial on charges that he conspired to kill Americans and aid al-Qaida after the attacks.
Mohammed, who was captured in Pakistan in 2003, boasted that Afghanistan under Taliban leadership “was the first Islamic state that treated all Muslim men equally, whether they be Chinese, Indian, Chechnyan, Arabs, or Westerners.”
There was no mention of women.
He claimed the U.S. closed some embassies and canceled some joint military maneuvers in Jordan because of publicity he orchestrated while in charge of al-Qaida’s media wing, including the release of some clips from bin Laden speeches, the publication of a video called “Destroying the Destroyer” and the appearance of pictures of al-Qaida military training camps.
“All this was not in vain because, while the enemy has capabilities that we do not possess, we have the same mental capacity Allah gave to all; and while they use their muscles, we use our minds,” Mohammed wrote.
Mohammed remains devoted to bin Laden, killed in a 2011 U.S. attack, saying the al-Qaida founder was “very wise in every order he gave us.”
He said “every state of emergency declared and change of alert level” on the military and civilian sectors cost the country millions of dollars and the wars waged by the U.S. after Sept. 11 have cost it about a trillion dollars, “the bleeding of which continues to this day.”
A judge ruled jurors at Abu Ghaith’s ongoing trial won’t see Mohammed’s statement. But they received a lesson in jihad from the defendant, who took the unusual step of taking the witness stand and — rather than try to distance himself from al-Qaida — described in detail how bin Laden summoned him to his mountain hideout in the hours after the Sept. 11 attacks and enlisted him as the terror group’s mouthpiece.
Abu Ghaith, who was captured in Jordan last year, didn’t back down from his support of bin Laden immediately after the attacks or his motivation, saying he sought “to deliver a message, a message I believed in.”