A research essay by - Heather Spoonheim


Yesterday I started doing some research on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on America.  It has always bothered me that reliable information about a man at the center of those attacks has remained so elusive: like the exact location and date of his birth, who his parents were, and what grade schools he attended - so I decided to start digging around for available source material on my own.  Now I am not an historian and neither am I trained in the accompanying methodology so I must acknowledge, here and now, that my efforts are haphazard at best, and I've barely scratched the surface.


That being said, I've run across a connection in the data that I find rather interesting and for which I would like a second (third, forth, and fifth) opinion.  I started preparing a timeline for the biography of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed(KSM) from this U.S. Department of Defense(DoD) document that I found archived by the New York Times.  In it, the capture of KSM by the ISI of Pakistan is stated to be March 1, 2003 and clearly indicates that he was immediately transfered into U.S. custody [top of page 5].  The document then lays out arguments as to why KSM should remain in DoD detention, and in one of those arguments they assert [on page 10] that he was party to the Marriott Hotel Bombing in Jakarta as well as the Australian Embassy Bombing in Jakarta.  Where this gets interesting is that those two bombings took place after KSM had been taken into custody; in that way, they are the perfect example of the 'ticking time bomb' scenario so often conjectured in an attempt to illustrate a justified application of torture.


The entries describing the bombing plot [page 10] indicate that three bombings were planned, with the first one being a Nightclub Bombing in Bali, five months before KSM was captured.  KSM is said to have paid out a sum of money in congratulations for that first bombing to a man named Hambali.  I went digging a little further and found that the New York Times also archived some Justice Department memos that reveal KSM actually gave up Hambali after being tortured [page 94, DoJ memo], but that still didn't result in actionable intelligence capable of preventing the last two bombings.  Hambali was captured in October 2003 , a couple of months after the Marriott Hotel Bombing - too late - and even then they couldn't develop actionable intelligence to stop the final bombing.  So here we have a real life example of torture failing to diffuse two very real ticking time bombs.


The information doesn't end there, however.  In the first document, from the DoD, KSM is said to have claimed there was another attack planned on the U.S. in which a commercial airplane would be hijacked and flown into the tallest building in California.  This attack obviously didn't occur, but President George W. Bush actually cited the information extracted from KSM as having allowed his administration to foil the plot; he didn't, however, provide any mug shots or court documents to suggest anyone had ever been arrested or convicted in that plot.  In this case the scenario became inverted as President Bush tried to justify torture that he had already committed by fabricating a bomb that he knew didn't exist.  What's worse, although his bomb was imaginary, the torture most decidedly, was NOT.




(Below are the tables I was working on as I researched Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, for your perusal.)

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Biographical Timeline

1965 04/14 Born in Baluchistan, Pakistan.

Raised in Kuwait during formative years.
1976 Wanted to be involved in jihad since the age of 11 or 12.
1982 Heard a speech by Abdul Rasool Sayyaf, leader of the Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan.

Joined the Muslim Brotherhood at the age of 16.  (presumably before 04/14)
1983 Graduated from an unidentified high school operated by the Kuwaiti Government.

Attended Chowan College in Murfreesboro, North Carolina, U.S.A.

Transfered to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, North Carolina, U.S.A.
1986 Received a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in Mechanical Engineering from aforementioned university.

Traveled to Peshawar, Pakistan due to an expired visa.

Terminated membership in the Muslim Brotherhood because it did not support violent jihad.

Traveled to Afghanistan to join in the war against the Soviets.  His brothers were already involved.

Attended a training camp run by Abdullah Yusuf Azzam
1987 Worked for the periodical al-Bunyan al-Marsous, a jihadist newsletter. 
1988 Worked as a hydraulic engineer in Japan for a company named Maruzen.

Dug caves and trenches in the mountains of Afghanistan.

Repaired hydraulic drills on the front lines in Afghanistan.

Became a school teacher in Pakistan.
1991 Traveled to Afghanistan to solicit funds for his school from Abdul Rasool Sayyaf.
1992 Received Masters degree in Islamic Cultures & History after completing correspondence classes from Punjab University of Pakistan.
1993 Relocated his family to Qatar, taking a position as project engineer with the Qatari Ministry of Energy and Water.

Engaged in extensive international travel during above tenure.
1996 Fled to Pakistan to evade U.S. capture for allegations regarding the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Traveled to Afghanistan and established a working relationship with Osama bin Laden.

Presented his plans to Osama bin Laden for what would come to be the 9/11 attacks.
1999 Moved to Kandahar, Afghanistan and began working for al-Qaeda, working his way up through the ranks.
2001 09/01 Celebrated 9/11 attacks at home in Karachi.
2003 03/01 Captured by Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) and transfered into U.S. custody.


Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Terrorist Activities

Year Details Role
1993 World Trade Center Bombing Indicted Conspirator
1994 Bojinka Plot Confessed Conspirator
1994 Pope John Paul II Assassination Plot Confessed Conspirator
1994 Bill Clinton Assassination Plot Confessed Conspirator
1994 U.S. Bound Cargo Ship Plot Confessed Conspirator
1996 Heathrow Airport Hijacking Plot Confessed Conspirator
1998 1998 U.S. Embassy Bombings in East Africa Alleged Direct Involvement
1999 U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia Bombing Plot Confessed Financier & Mastermind
2001 Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, and Maldives Bomb Plots Confessed Mastermind
2001 Panama Canal Bomb Plot Confessed Mastermind
2001 U.S. & Israeli Embassies in Manila Bomb Plots Confessed Conspirator
2001 California "9/11-style" Plot Confessed Mastermind
2001 Al-Qaeda Biological & Chemical Weapons Development Confessed Material Witness
2001 September 11 Attacks on U.S.A. Confessed Mastermind
2001 Richard Reid Failed Shoe Bombing Confessed Mastermind
2002 Sega Game Cartridge Weaponization Confessed Conspirator
2002 Ghriba Synagogue Bombing in Tunisia Alleged Conspirator
2002 Daniel Pearl Execution Alleged Direct Involvement
2002 Nightclub Bombing in Bali Confessed Conspirator
2003 Marriott Hotel Bombing in Jakarta  Confessed Conspirator
2004 Australian Embassy Bombing in Jakarta Confessed Conspirator
???? Nuclear Hellstorm in America Plot Confessed Conspirator




Views: 133

Comment by Arcus on May 5, 2011 at 2:34pm

Firstly, wouldn't that be a disproof of effectiveness and not a fallacy..?

Anyway, I came to think about one angle we haven't explored: Why do people torture?

An Essay by Arcus

Seems like a quite silly question, but it led my down the path of thinking of torture on in terms of right or wrong, but more in the terms of other crimes and psychology of the individual. 

I think I would torture in most of the even most outlandish scenarios mentioned, I might even kill someone who's hurt someone I care about. It doesn't really matter to my point, the point is that I can't say for sure that I wouldn't. And I know that in war or attacked, I would assert my right to murder by self defense. It is a bit odd to think of oneself as a potential killer, but it's actually easier than thinking of oneself as a potential torturer. I don't think anyone would honestly say that if on the front lines of a war, they would not shoot back at the enemy. If it's you or him, it's him - every time. Not even the diehard pacifist would say otherwise, unless they are suicidal.

Anyway, it made me think of the famous Stanford Prison Experiment. I'm not going to go through it, you've most likely read the article, about the article, or even watched the movie based on it.  Well, it makes me wonder if torture is not but one of those psychological quirks of the human mind on a power trip. And where else can you experience the power trip it is to be the guard of a prisoner? And when even some of the brainiest of us, usually the ones which are least violent and has been on the losing side of pretty much any physical battle they have been dragged into can descent into such an abyss when the situations are tweeked just right, I just don't know if imposing rules is the best idea.

Because I follow the rules. It's where there are no rules, like in war, I would do horryfying physical things to others. I'm not a killer or rapist or theif or bad criminal. I speed, park illegaly, buy illegal drugs, smuggle some cigarettes, those kind of minor things you justify based on some rules being a bit too strict. Not in real life. I think any ex-soldier of forced draft would recognize that military life was not real life. 

So make some rules about it. Most people in the military obsess about rules. But when the unfortunate mix of being on the battlefield and feeling veeery far from home combines with absolute power of the others, better people than I have cracked under a much less perfect set of circumstances. If a general or president could it permiss it only under the most perfect set of circumstances, a de juro method of allowing but, while still de facto banning it, guys like me wouldn't do it, we'd stick by the rule. It wouldn't solve it, but it would get us quite a bit on the way. I don't bring a rifle to an airsoft game because I'd rather play by the rules whan win for sure.

War is a vile, horrible act because of all the murder and suffering involved. Any human unjustified suffering is the only axiomatic bad. Justified suffering is the corrective feeling you get after you've hurt someone you didn't want to hurt, and you deserve to suffer a bit for it. You've broken the rules. When murder becomes as far fetched for us as eating other people, there will be no torture.

But until such an idealized Star Trekkie state of humanity is reached, I'm a pragmatist - and torture needs to be legalized, I need some rules.

Comment by Arcus on May 5, 2011 at 2:37pm

(I just don't know if imposing rules is the best idea.)

should be

I just think imposing rules is the best idea.

I corrected half of one of my dreaded double negatives, but forgot the other one. :)

Comment by CJoe on May 5, 2011 at 2:37pm
Wow, you've really done your homework. This is really interesting... and disturbing. From what you're saying, the govt just came up with a fake averted disaster, pinned it on this guy, and said they got the information from him through torture?
Comment by Heather Spoonheim on May 5, 2011 at 8:46pm

@Care - We'll likely never know for certain, although it is very reasonable to assume that Bush would have paraded the conspirators in a failed 9/11 style plot gleefully through the media.  Because of the secret warrants, arrests, and trials, we are left with those who can argue plausibly that the government just made those people disappear, like Maher Arar.  That of course, is an even scarier mechanism that needs to be stopped because we are left with the very real possibility of people being 'disappeared' in exactly the way narrated by old iron curtain rumours.  What we do know, however, is that Bush claimed to have used the information gained through torture to save the day but never provided a shred of proof that such salvation had been delivered.  Those who want to believe are then left with the defense that 'the government moves in mysterious ways', and when torture failed to stop the Marriott and Australian embassy bombings, I guess they can also say it was just part of Bush's plan.


@Arcus - I called it the ticking timebomb fallacy because hypothetical ticking time bombs are so often put forth as a logical justification of torture, when in point of fact the hypothetical ticking time bomb did not in any way justify the torture and the real life time bombs proved conclusively that the torture wasn't justified at all.  The evidence in the public record should serve quite conclusively to indicate that hypothetical ticking time bombs undermine the justification of torture rather than support it.


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