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Certain treatment

Khalid Sheikh Muhammad’s testimony

Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, thought to be the organiser of 9/11, finally appeared before a “Combatant Status Review Tribunal” last week to determine whether he is an “enemy combatant”. The Pentagon has released a partial transcript [pdf] of the proceedings. In a pre-written “statement” that was read out, Muhammad confessed to a very long list of crimes, including 9/11, the murder of Daniel Pearl, the “Shoe Bomber Operation”, the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing, assassination attempts against Pope John Paul II and Bill Clinton, and planning to destroy the Panama Canal, the Empire State Building, and Big Ben.

The US, of course, has been stupid as well as vicious, in that the torture of Muhammad between 2003 and 2006, when he was held in secret CIA facilities and subjected to forced partial drowning, renders his confession now worthless except as propaganda, as Dennis Perrin’s ferocious satire emphasizes. (The strange thing, I suppose, is that it remains good propaganda for all concerned: for Bush-Cheney and al-Qaeda both. So maybe saying that the US was stupid to torture him is a bit hasty.)

The parts of the Tribunal hearing in which Muhammad explained his torture are [REDACTED] in the transcript. The Tribunal President introduces the subject with delicacy, enquiring about “certain treatment” that Muhammad had “received”:

PRESIDENT: D-d, appears to be a written statement regarding certain treatment that you claim to have received at the hands of agents of the United States government as you indicated from the time of your capture in 2003 up until before coming here to Guantanamo in September 2006. Is that correct?


PRESIDENT: Alright. Now, I haven’t seen any statements in the evidence we receive so far that claim to come from you other than acknowledging whether you were or not the head of the Military Committee [of al-Qaeda]. Were any statements that you made as the result of any of the treatment that you received during that time frame from 2003 to 2006? Did you make those statements because of the treatment you receive from these people?

DETAINEE: Statement for whom?

PRESIDENT: To any of these interrogators.

DETAINEE: CIA peoples. Yes. At the beginning when they transferred me [REDACTED].

PRESIDENT: 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?

TRANSLATOR: Sir, for clarification.

PRESIDENT: Can you translate it?

TRANSLATOR: I will translate in Arabic.


TRANSLATOR: [Translating above]

DETAINEE: I ah cannot remember now [REDACTED] I’m senior man. Many people they know me which I don’t them. I ask him even if he knew George Bush. He said, yes I do. He don’t know you that not means its false. [REDACTED]. I said yes or not. This I said.

PRESIDENT: Alright, I understand.

It’s nice that the President understands, even if we, not privy to what is [REDACTED], do not. Note again, however, the subtlety of couching the topic in terms of “treatment” that Muhammad had “received”, which is more usually a way of talking about, say, medical help. Thankfully, this form of words also keeps the perpetrators of the “treatment” out of everyone’s minds.

Muhammad’s final statement was remarkable for its climactic accusation that “the Americans” had started the first and second world wars. But before that he had made some interesting points:

DETAINEE: What I wrote here, is not I’m making myself hero, when I said I was responsible for this or that. But you are military man. You know very well there are language for any war. So, there are, we are when I admitting these things I’m not saying I’m not did it. I did it but this the language of any war.

War and killing are, on this argument, a form of “language”. Well, this is also apparently the view of Tony Blair.

If America they want to invade Iraq they will not send for Saddam roses or kisses they send for a bombardment. This is the best way if I want. If I’m fighting for anybody admit to them I’m American enemies. For sure, I’m American enemies.

He seems quite frank.

I consider myself, for what you are doing, a religious thing as you consider us fundamentalist. So, we derive from religious leading that we consider we and George Washington doing same thing. As consider George Washington as hero. Muslims many of them are considering Usama bin Laden. […]

Why George Washington and not George W. Bush?

So when we say we are enemy combatant, that right. We are. But I’m asking you again to be fair with many Detainees which are not enemy combatant. Because many of them have been unjustly arrested. Many, not one or two or three. […] But when you said I’m terrorist, I think it is deceiving peoples. Terrorists, enemy combatant. All these definitions as CIA you can make whatever you want.

Quite so. See Unspeak, Chapters 6 & 7.

So, finally it’s your war but the problem is no definitions of many words.

Indeed. Even the definition of the word “war” itself is actually rather fluid around the corridors of Justice and the White House.

It would be widely definite that many people be oppressed. Because war, for sure, there will be victims. When I said I’m not happy that three thousand been killed in America. I feel sorry even. I don’t like to kill children and the kids.

Killing children and the kids does seem rather excessive, doesn’t it?

Never Islam are, give me green light to kill peoples. Killing, as in the Christianity, Jews, and Islam, are prohibited. But there are exception of rule when you are killing people in Iraq. You said we have to do it. We don’t like Saddam. But this is the way to deal with Saddam. Same thing you are saying. Same language you use, I use.

“Killing is against our rules, but it’s against your rules too, and you break your rules, so we have a right to break ours, nyah nyah.” I’m not sure why Islam’s God should be expected to forgive someone for breaking his rules just because some other people who worship a different God break that God’s rules. But then, I’m no theologian.

When you are invading two-thirds of Mexican, you call your war manifest destiny. It up to you to call it what you want. But other side are calling you oppressors. If now George Washington. If now we were living in the Revolutionary War and George Washington he being arrested through Britain. For sure he, they would consider him enemy combatant. But American they consider him as hero. […] This is why the language of any war in the world is killing. I mean the language of war is victims.

What is “the language of war” again? Is it phrases like “enemy combatants” or the actual killing of people, or is it now “victims”? I’m confused. Perhaps you would be too, after years of torture.

I don’t like to kill people. I feel very sorry they been killed kids in 9/11. What I will do? This is the language. Sometimes I want to make great awakening between American to stop foreign policy in our land.

That’s a coincidence – George W. Bush has been speaking of a great awakening too. Perhaps they can get together and hash something out.

I know American people are torturing us from seventies. [REDACTED] I know they talking about human rights. And I know it is against American Constitution, against American laws. But they said every law, they have exceptions, this is your bad luck you been part of the exception of our laws. […] So enemy combatant itself, it flexible word.

Flexible it certainly is.

So I think God knows that many who been arrested, they been unjustly arrested.

Yep. God knows. [REDACTED].

  1. 1  ozma  March 16, 2007, 6:16 am 

    “Same thing you are saying. Same language you use, I use.”

    Here, I think he’s talking about collateral damage. Or maybe the doctrine of the double effect. You know, that thing that says it’s OK to kill when it’s not OK to kill.

  2. 2  Steven  March 16, 2007, 12:06 pm 

    Yep, all that stuff in Unspeak Chapter 5. ;) I agree he probably does mean that sort of thing here.

  3. 3  Richard  March 16, 2007, 2:12 pm 

    why George Washington and not George W. Bush?

    I think because he’s trying to speak in terms his interlocutors will understand (even if not very effectively). It’s not easy these days to find anyone, anywhere who would hold GWB up as an exemplary hero. Washington, on the other hand, is a revolutionary underdog, fighting ‘foreign’ oppression, and he’s also successful; that’s what Mohammed wants to compare himself to. He’s actually appealing to a trope that’s been quite popular in the West over the past few years, while he’s been locked up and tortured: the comparison of GWB and “mad king George” (III)

  4. 4  Steven  March 16, 2007, 3:23 pm 

    Good answer!

  5. 5  Jeff Strabone  March 19, 2007, 2:17 am 

    Steve, were you not being ironic in asking why George Washington rather than George Bush? As Richard says above, KSM—if the transcript can be given any credence—was identifying with Washington as an independence figure. Allow me to add to your quotation from the transcript:

    ‘As consider George Washington as hero. Muslims many of them are considering Usama bin Laden. He is doing same thing. He is just fighting. He needs his independence. Even we think that, or not me only. Many Muslims, that al Qaida or Taliban they are doing. They have been oppressed by America. This is the feeling of the prophet.’

    But I think Richard is incorrect in suggesting that KSM was simply trying to find a trope that his interrogators would understand. I think he was probably being sincere. (Obviously, I don’t think Washington and bin Ladin have anything in common.)

    Consider for a moment the opening of Ho Chi Minh’s Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, September 2, 1945:

    ‘”All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    This immortal statement was made in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America m 1776. In a broader sense, this means: All the peoples on the earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live, to be happy and free.

    The Declaration of the French Revolution made in 1791 on the Rights of Man and the Citizen also states: “All men are born free and with equal rights, and must always remain free and have equal rights.” Those are undeniable truths.

    Nevertheless, for more than eighty years, the French imperialists, abusing the standard of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, have violated our Fatherland and oppressed our fellow-citizens. They have acted contrary to the ideals of humanity and justice. In the field of politics, they have deprived our people of every democratic liberty.

    They have enforced inhuman laws; they have set up three distinct political regimes in the North, the Center and the South of Vietnam in order to wreck our national unity and prevent our people from being united.’

    Then the document continues by anaphora with ‘They have…’

    However little or much guerilla fighters around the world know about North American events in the eighteenth century, they commonly claim Washington and his comrades as forebears. Or at least they did when guerilla fighters still fought for nationalist causes. (Ah, the good old days.)

    I’m speculating here, but KSM may have thought he was reminding his interrogators that, from his perspective, they, too, once fought a noble cause, one whose spirit he may imagine he himself partakes of.

    And who encourages these kinds of associations by Third World troublemakers? Wasn’t U.S. President Ronald Reagan fond of making similar associations between Afghan fighers and American revolutionary ideals? From Reagan’s radio address of December 28, 1985:

    ‘But when we support the Afghan people, we become caught up in and ennobled by their struggle for freedom. Isn’t that what America is always—what it has always stood for and what we should stand for in 1986 and beyond?’

    [After over an hour of searching for the statement, I am now convinced that Reagan never used the words ‘the moral equivalent of our founding fathers’ when describing the Afghan fighters.]

    As for the document known as KSM’s confession, a confession produced by the torture of someone without legal representation to vouch for the confession, or at least deny it, is meaningless.

  6. 6  Steven  March 19, 2007, 8:07 pm 

    GWB likes to evoke GW too. And a nicely apt citation of Ho Chi Minh, thank you. (I’m not so sure about your phrase “Third World troublemakers”.)

    After over an hour of searching for the statement, I am now convinced that Reagan never used the words ‘the moral equivalent of our founding fathers’ when describing the Afghan fighters.

    He actually said it about the Nicaraguan Contras. From George Russell, “Central America: The Propaganda War”, Time magazine, March 11, 1985:

    President Reagan extolled the contras to a group of U.S. conservatives meeting in Washington as “the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers and the brave men and women of the French Resistance.”

    It’s interesting how the fog of history and the desire for a perfect propagandistic irony has allowed many people to claim this was said instead about the muhajidin.

  7. 7  Jeff Strabone  March 19, 2007, 9:26 pm 

    My use of the phrase ‘Third World troublemakers’ was meant ironically.

    I knew Reagan had called the Nicaraguan contras ‘the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers’, but I had a vague recollection that he had said it about the Afghan fighters, too. On the web everyone from Eqbal Ahmad to Daily Kos claims Reagan applied it to both groups, but no searchable database of presidential documents confirms the statement, nor does Lexis-Nexis.

    Your point that GWB, like KSM, likes to evoke GW reminds me of the discussion we had at my blog. We can humorously add to the list of similarities yet another thing they have in common. Georgeocrats?

  8. 8  Steven  March 19, 2007, 10:47 pm 

    Apologies for missing your irony. Perhaps we should be careful about calling a Pakistani with a degree in mechanical engineering from an American university, and a former engineer for Qatar’s Ministry of Electricity and Water, a “Third World troublemaker”, even in jest. There are people who like to claim that all such violent ideologues claiming the banner of Islam are uneducated savages, a trope that it is important to show is false.

  9. 9  Jeff Strabone  March 19, 2007, 11:22 pm 

    For what it’s worth, I was not referring to KSM per se, but rather all the various liberation fronts and whatnot, collectively, who invoke the tropes of the U.S. Revolution. The irony is that Americans encourage contras, mujahideen, et al. to regard themselves in such terms, and then many of those same actors become ‘troublemakers’ by subsequently opposing the U.S. government. ‘Freedom fighter’ today, ‘troublemaker’ tomorrow. That was the idea.

  10. 10  mike  March 21, 2007, 7:21 am 

    just wanted to pop in to say that i am impressed with your ability to parse the language used by our elected officials (on both sides of the ocean). i only wish more folks were doing this kind of work.

    that is all i really have to say. most of this stuff is a bit over my head, too much so i think, for me to venture any other comments.

    now if only i could get my Right Wing friends to read this stuff…

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