Real News podcast: Trial begins for 9/11 mastermind

With the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attack just days away, the man accused of being the mastermind behind the plot, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), appeared with four other defendants for the first time in over 18 months before at Guantanamo Bay military tribunal. These proceedings have been dragging on for years.

ABC News Senior Investigative Reporter Aaron Katersky has been covering the trial and came on NewsTalk 1370 WCOA this morning. Why has it taken so long to bring KSM to trial?

“Because the whole procedure is a mess I think, Rick, and resembles nothing else in our criminal justice system,” said Katersky. “It was almost designed to fail. And these pre-trial hearings underway at Camp Justice in Guantanamo Bay – which seems like a terrible name – the speed of this has really been something of a farce, which is not something want to say because they’re trying, but there’s really not much happening.”

He continued, “I think these hearings were scheduled with the anniversary of the attacks in mind as if to say that the country is still trying to enact justice for these 9/11 plotters. But this is outside of anything we recognize as law in any other context in our country.”

“What’s really happening is an attempt to put law or the guise of law around something that was fundamentally lawless, right? There was torture, there was secret evidence,” shared Katersky. “This novel process that was really gerrymandered to handle these cases and it’s alien to anything else in our criminal justice system. And at some point, it feels like it’ll all fall apart under the weight of those pressures and the families of victims are left with nothing.”

The reporter has talked with several families who lose loved ones in the terrorist attacks and gotten a variety of viewpoints about the upcoming 20th anniversary of 9/11.

“There’s some who are prepared to carry their loved ones’ pictures and their flags down to the 9/11 memorial and be part of the public tribute. And there are others that stay away. But generally, they say the anxiety starts to build in late August and the kind of the understanding that the date is looming and in this year in particular because there is such a public push with the big round number like 20 years.”

Katersky spoke with Patricia Smith, whose mom, Moira Smith, was the only NYPD female officer to die that day and was the first one to radio in the attack. Her mother died trying to save people out of the towers when they collapsed. Patricia Smith is now 22 years old.

“So she was two when her mom died and really has no active memory of her mom, other than what people have told her, which has been extraordinary,” said Katersky. “But she’s been one of these advocates pushing for this military tribunal to just get on with it. And she says that every year that passes where the people that you can hold responsible, who are still living, every year that that doesn’t happen, it just makes it all the worse.”


2 thoughts on “Real News podcast: Trial begins for 9/11 mastermind

  1. I was sitting at my desk in the Pentagon’s Terrorism Warning Center in late December 2001 when I got a call from a Major that I knew at Camp Lejeune. He asked if I knew anything about plans to send some Marines to Guantanamo Bay. I did not but asked and called back to tell him what little I knew. He called me many weeks later frustrated that some detainees were arriving with little useful information about them. He had access to a secret-level (SIPRNET) communications system. He wanted to know if I knew how to get in touch with the unit that was putting the detainees on the aircraft and sending them to GTMO. I asked around and found out the unit’s name and contact info, both the secure telephone and TS/SCI communications system (JWICS). I called them on the phone. The commander came on the line. We knew each other. He had worked for me in Sarajevo during the Kosovo War. He explained that the really bad actors were being taken away to who knows where by what he called the “OGA” (Other Government Agency). My friend in Afghanistan told me that he used JWICS and did not have SIPRNET connectivity with GTMO. He added that being sent to GTMO was a punishment for bad behavior for some detainees. He said that they used the threat of sending them to GTMO to reduce problems with their detainees misbehaving to include spitting on his soldiers. For a few weeks, I acted as a relay between the two guys I knew passing information transferring it from one system to the other. Eventually one or the other got more comms gear and they were able to directly exchange e-mails. About the only time I thought about GTMO for the next few months was when NCIS got hints there might be an attack launched against Camp X-Ray. I took it seriously though few others did. Nothing happened. We couldn’t get much information out of GTMO so I suggested we send down a Navy Reservist who was a NYC police detective. His partner had been killed in the 9/11 attack. I told him to check in with the FBI wearing jeans and a polo shirt and flash his badge. Bingo. They let him in and we got lots of access to “stuff.” The reports were troubling. Because there seemed to have been no comprehensive vetting of the detainees in Afghanistan, before being sent to GTMO, again according to my friend at GTMO, they had to start from scratch. As I read the reports, I suspected was that many of the detainees might have been caught up in local vendettas or screw-ups. I recall one report where someone told the U.S. that a person was speaking Arabic. He became a detainee at Bagram. Only later did someone figure out that the guy doing the finger pointing did not speak Arabic or Farsi the language being spoken by the guy he fingered. In one report, the interrogators wrote that they believed a “really” old guy was almost certainly just a dirt farmer. He had a really bad heart and they were afraid that he might die on them. They said so in the report we all saw. Not long after that, U.S. SOUTHCOM greatly restricted access to the reports. A friend who was with SOUTHCOM J-2 and later the JTF-GTMO J-2 said that it was a real mess because no one in SOUTHCOM knew anything about South Asia to include him. At one point, I called down and asked if the Intel folks with JTF-170 ever spoke with the Military Police in JTF-160. I had done several assignments with federal, state and county law enforcement. I suggested they debrief the MPs when they came off watch. I suggested that the interrogators give the MPs a better understanding of what they were doing and why their help was so important. I suspected that some of the detainees who said they were nobody were in fact more important based on how some detainees talked about other detainees in private and were deferential to them in public, etc. I was later told that I was right.

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