The First Detainees at Gitmo Charged with War Crimes Go on Trial
by Steven Emerson
July 20, 2008
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ERIC SHAWN: Well it's been nearly seven year since the September 11 attacks that so stunned and changed our nation. Now the main five suspects accused of planning and supporting those hijackings and the terrorist attack will go on trial tomorrow morning. The suspects now all detained at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and they will go before a military commission. The players in thing range from a man accused of masterminding and planning the whole thing to a former driver for Osama bin Laden. Joining us is terrorism analyst Steve Emerson to break down the charges. He's one of the foremost experts in the country. Steve wrote the book Jihad in America years ago that laid out what we face. Steve, good to see you. Let's start with number one, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. What is he charged with and what does he say?
STEVEN EMERSON: Well Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is actually charged with conspiracy going back to 1996 when bin Laden issued a fatwah calling for the killing of Americans and Jews through 2001, including obviously the most important thing, plotting, orchestration and arrangement of 9/11. He is the key defendant in soon-to-be trial with four other defendants. His defense of course is one, that's he's being held and captured illegally, but that was settled in a series of rulings over the last five years, which Congress finally set up the military commission.
SHAWN: Now, what? He's said that he's proud of the attacks and he admitted it?
EMERSON: Oh, he's admitted it for sure. In the interrogations, he opened up pretty quickly, actually, before there was a need to do anything drastic. Although, he was allegedly subject to water boarding. But his other confessions are being held admissible and the other evidence against him including taped statements and everything else are pretty phenomenal.
SHAWN: You know, let's go to the second suspect to go on trial tomorrow. Alot of these guys had specific roles. This is Ramzi Binalshibi and one of his jobs was to test the airport security and he administered the training camp where two hijackers attended.
EMERSON: Well, first of all, I think first the trial for these guys is not going to start tomorrow. The trial for Salim Hamdan, who was bin Laden's driver and bodyguard will start tomorrow certainly. The guys may start at the end of the week or who knows, in the next few weeks. The person you referenced, the guy who did security and advanced surveillance at Malaysia, Thailand and other airports was critical to the issue of how to smuggle weapons or at least cutting knives on board the flights.
SHAWN: And also the third, Ramzi al-Shibh he, as you say may go on trial later in the week. I mean, all of them have very specific roles.
EMERSON: All of them have very specific roles and they're laid out interestingly enough in a nine-count charge that lasts about 25 pages. The first count -- the first charge has 169 counts and Attash obviously, did the administration, Ramzi bin al-Shibh was the person who got them in the flight schools in the United States and kept contact with them.
SHAWN: Stop you for a second. Look at the picture of this guy. It's amazing to me, that first plane went over my head that morning. You covered this all the years. Do you think in the last seven years in some way we have forgotten and lessened the threat and the planning that you've written about for 20 years now.
EMERSON: Eric, no doubt. Unfortunately, seven years means people's memories are long forgotten and terrorism is no longer an issue. I'm not asked to be on television or comment as much as I used to be. I spoke to someone last night in the counterterrorism organization and the U.S. Government who told me exactly that the jihad activity is increasing in the United States. As evidenced by the fact that Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said Islamic terrorists using European passports are trying to increasingly get in the United States and doing so easily with the visa waiver program.
SHAWN: So, we obviously still have a threat?
EMERSON: There's no doubt there is a threat. It's increased because of the time elapsed since 9/11 in which they've had time to get people inside the U.S., train again, and also [operate under] lower amount of security by [sections of the] government.
SHAWN: There is the threat and warning from Steve Emerson that they're still there, still targeting and still trying to come even on the eve of the first trial. Steve, thank you very much. Good to see you.
EMERSON: You're welcome.