WASHINGTON—Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, told a hearing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, last weekend that he'd been abused by interrogators during his three-year captivity in a secret CIA prison network, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Thursday.
But Graham, one of two senators who witnessed the closed hearing, said Mohammed told the three-person tribunal that the abuse hadn't affected his testimony.
"These allegations by Shaikh Mohammed have to be taken seriously and looked at because he was so candid in what he admitted to," Graham said.
Graham, who wrote the law that allowed military trials for suspected terrorists, was flown secretly to Guantanamo aboard a military plane to witness the hearing. Also attending was Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee. The two watched the proceedings via closed-circuit television.
The Pentagon has released redacted transcripts of the hearing, which hinted at abuse allegations, but Graham provided the first eyewitness account during an interview with McClatchy Newspapers.
"It was an experience I will long remember," Graham said. "You're hearing how 9/11 occurred from the mastermind."
Tara Andringa, a spokeswoman for Levin, confirmed that the Michigan Democrat attended the hearing, but she declined to elaborate.
Graham said he and Levin were stunned by Mohammed's lengthy description of his alleged role in numerous terrorist plots, among them Sept. 11, the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.
"Both of us were overwhelmed by the candor, the detail—that it was his right hand that was used to behead Daniel Pearl," Graham said. "It was sort of a bone-chilling moment."
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England originally had asked Levin and Sen. John McCain, the senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee, to attend the hearing. McCain asked Graham to go in his stead, Graham said.
Mohammed had no visible marks on his body, appeared healthy and was alert, Graham said. He had a long beard and was smaller than the senator had imagined. He impressed the senator as "obviously intelligent" and appeared to be "very candid and forthright."
Mohammed was extremely polite during the hearing, Graham said, even apologizing at one point for interrupting one of his questioners.
"He impressed me as a person who wished to prove he wasn't a barbarian—he was a warrior," Graham said.
Mohammed said Islam justifies violent opposition to the U.S. presence in the Middle East, quoting a Quran verse at one point. He also referred to Jews, Christians and Muslims as "people of the book."
"It was clear to me that Shaikh Mohammed was using this hearing to solidify his place in history as a warrior in the global jihad," Graham said. "He relished being a leader."
At the same time, Mohammed expressed no remorse for his actions, though he said that killing children was distasteful.
"In his personal demeanor, he could be the guy down the street," Graham said. "He didn't look like evil incarnate."
Graham said Mohammed entered the hearing room in a prison uniform with shackles around his ankles and wrists. His hands were later freed, and he gestured with them as he spoke.
Mohammed sat with an Arabic interpreter to his left and a U.S. military officer who was his official representative to his right.
Three military officers made up the Combatant Status Review Tribunal, which was headed by a civilian judge who's also a U.S. military reservist judge.
Whether Mohammed and other prisoners held by the CIA were abused has been the subject of speculation since the Bush administration publicly acknowledged last September that the suspects had been held clandestinely. The administration ordered them turned over to the U.S. military and transferred to Guantanamo.
Vice President Dick Cheney implied in an interview with a North Dakota radio station last year that Mohammed had been subjected to water-boarding, a procedure that simulates drowning.
"And I think the terrorist threat, for example, with respect to our ability to interrogate high-value detainees like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, that's been a very important tool that we've had to be able to secure the nation," Cheney said in reference to a comment about "dunking a terrorist in water."
Graham didn't say what Mohammed specified about his treatment.
According to a transcript of the hearing, Mohammed presented the panel with a document, referred to as D-d, in which he detailed how he was treated.
"Were any of the statements that you made . . . the result of any of the treatment that you received during the time frame from 2003 to 2006?" the officer presiding over the hearing asked.
"Statement for whom?" Mohammed replied.
"To any of the interrogators."
"CIA peoples," Mohammed said. "Yes. At the beginning they transferred . . ." The remainder of his comments were deleted.
The answer apparently didn't satisfy the presiding officer. "What I'm trying to get at is, any statement that you made, was it because of this treatment, to use your word, you claim torture. Do you make any statements because of that?"
After an interpreter repeated the question in Arabic, Mohammed began by saying, "I cannot remember now . . . " But the rest of the sentence and perhaps several following sentences were deleted, and it isn't clear from the transcript how he responded.
Human rights groups demanded that the document be made public.
"It is a glaring misuse of the classification power for the government to classify information simply because it might be embarrassing or unlawful," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "Mohammed's claims of torture should be investigated rather than concealed."
(Carol Rosenberg of The Miami Herald contributed to this report.)
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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