By Mark David Blum, Esq.
Khalid Sheik Mohammed has confessed to more sins than half the ‘941’ inpatients at Bellevue. He stood recently before a United States Military Tribunal set up in a trailer at Camp Xray, Guatanamo Bay, Cuba. According to edited transcripts, Khalid Sheik Mohammed was involved in crimes ranging from the 9/11 attacks to the bombings in Lebanon. He is alleged to have made a full and complete confession ending it with, “We consider we and George Washington doing same thing. As you consider George Washington as hero. Muslims many of them are considering Osama bin Laden. He is doing same thing. He is just fighting. . . . So when we say we are enemy combatant, that right. We are."
About a year ago, we held a national discussion about torture and interrogation of prisoners. Rational minds were over ruled by the fear mongers in the White House. They and their few pockets of support made the case for the ends justify the means and torturing one for the greater good was within normal limits. Alan Dershowitz argued that torture was acceptable provided we had a set of “rules” to do so. Similarly, the Executive Branch has engaged in a full frontal assault on privacy and freedom of movement of American citizens.
So now we have this fantastic confession from what is being sold as being among the greatest enemies of the nation. A full and complete confession from a true bad guy. The White House and right wing spit media has touted the story and hyped the admissions non stop since release of the edited confession.
Let us not forget some basic principles: First, Khalid Sheik Mohammed was captured by the U.S. Military and held in a secret prison for more than three years. He has never met with an attorney or anybody outside of interrogators. No counsel of any sort was presented at his trial. Evidence was heard and considered by the tribunal outside the presence of the accused. After three years of solitary confinement and constant interrogation, anybody would break. The Great John McCain admits in his own book that he sang like a canary from the torture. Doing so is not a sin; but it is the end result of endless torture. The loss of hope, the emotional dependence on the interrogator, and mental and physical exhaustion brings one to a snapping point where not only will they say what is sought, but will actually come to believe it true; even if false. Much of it is body chemistry; the remainder a natural resolution of cognitive dissonance.
What bothers me so much about this confession is frankly I don’t know if I can trust it. Do you? I grew up in a world that presumed certain rights were inherent to all human beings processed through our courts. Among them were the right to silence, the right to counsel, and the absolute right to be free of torture and to be able to maintain some form of human dignity.
As a young undergraduate at U.C. Berkeley, the subject of mind control and thought reform were of great interest to me and ended up incorporated heavily in my Honors Thesis. Learning about how social conditioning, human physiological tolerance and response parameters, and environmental stimuli are weapons which manifest great change in the paradigms of any human being.
Through fifteen years as a trial lawyer I have dealt often with the employment of stress and its’ role in confessions. Civil or criminal settings matter not. Rather, the employment of other factors beyond a person’s observation can pressure and result in unexpected spontaneous results. Not all of them are truthful but every one a human response to situational dissonance.
So, after three years and no attorney and with hidden evidence; is anybody surprised that Khalid Sheik Mohammed confessed? He gave a very inculpatory proclamation along with a declaration of war against the United States. This is the trap that interrogators allow confessors to step into; “its OK, you go right ahead and explain in your own words all the reasons why did you did what you did. The judge and jury will surely take that into consideration.” You bet your ass they will. Normal folks will follow up a confession with an attempt to either mitigate their role, mitigate their act, or justify whatever they did in hopes of making people understand.
The reason I so vehemently despise the actions taken by my President and his Administration is despite having a beautiful confession, I cannot be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the content thereof is true or is just an attempt to end the torture and isolation. No greater shame can befall a government when its own people cannot trust their police and military.
I want very much to believe my government captured the real bad guy and that he is indeed everything he says he is. In my heart, I want to have no doubt that whatever punishment is dolled out; that it was reasonable and consistent with the law and basic fundamental principles upon which this nation was built and for which we are engaged in this great war against fundamentalists within Islam and Christianity.
More importantly, the doubt raised by the questionable integrity of the trial and confession are the greatest shame of all. Once confidence in our justice system goes, once our government surrenders American principles, once the imprisonment or execution of human beings is based on untrustworthy evidence, our system of government is in jeopardy.
“America” is not a geographic location; but it is a state of mind. Our nation is a concept, a common acceptance of a set of basic principles. “America” exists wherever Americans are found; be it in New York, Guatanamo Bay, or Haditha. Our ideologies, our laws, our constitutional priorities must be engrained in our hearts and underlie every action we take as a nation. Should it ever come about that a time, such as now, where the actions being taken in the name of ‘America’ are so very clearly UNAMERICAN, then the problem is greater than Khalid Sheik Mohammed. We are in greater danger from our own than any foreign force.
Without a doubt, the President and his ‘peeps’ had the living crap scared out of them on 9/11. For all of the rest of Americans, the attack was against our nation and culture. For a cadre of government servants, they were the direct target and felt themselves threatened. This explains the extreme hard line from the White House against our own citizens … as though we too are the enemy. Paranoia this severe has not been seen since the last days of the Nixon Administration.
My President set a laudable goal after 9/11. He swore a blood oath he was going to get the bad guys and I was first in line behind him. Things changed, however and my President turned into my Dictator who abused and misused his Executive powers to invade our privacy. He also abused his police powers in how he engaged in arrest and interrogation and prosecution here in the United States. The President is right now threatening to ignore the limitations upon his powers as commander in chief and hinting at a coup d’etat.
Our Supreme Court is no better by its declaration that prisoners in the custody of the executive branch of the United States have no entitlement to Due Process, Constitutional Protections, or even something as simple as Habeas Corpus. At the President’s whim, any one of us can disappear tomorrow and never be allowed to see a lawyer, family, judge, or be charged with a crime or have any basic human rights whatsoever.
The saddest part of the confession from Khalid Sheik Mohammed is that I just don’t trust it. True or not, history will never really know if he spoke the truth. Maybe, that is the true goal of that confession. The question is, “whose” goals are served by the content of that confession.