Now here's a weird one to ponder as the arraignments
at Guantánamo commence for 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
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.
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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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
U.S. and coalition forces, and by participating in a rocket attack venture on
at least one occasion against U.S. 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 pickup
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.