Fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, the men who plotted and carried them out—at least those who are still alive—have yet to stand trial.
Most people are unaware of this long delay. Americans focused narrowly on one man—Osama bin Ladin—and assumed justice was served with his assassination in 2011.
There are five men, detained at the US military base in Guantanamo Bay, charged with participation in the 9/11 assaults. Earlier this month, yet one more pre-trial hearing took place. All five defendants were required to be in the courtroom on the first day of the week-long proceeding.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) is the 9/11 mastermind. He conceived and organized the attacks. That is what he claims, and US officials concur.
A short, stocky figure, with a long, graying, henna-dyed beard, KSM looks rather different in the courtroom than he did in March 2003, when he was captured in Rawalpindi, a garrison city abutting Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. KSM was clean-shaven in 2003.
It is unclear just how religious KSM truly is. In 1995, he plotted a major attack in the Philippines on US targets with Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the first assault on New York’s World Trade Center. The two men reportedly enjoyed Manila’s raucous nightlife.
US officials say that Yousef—who entered the US on an Iraqi passport as Ramzi Yousef and was known among New York extremists as “Rashid, the Iraqi”—is KSM’s nephew.
That point is worth noting, as is Yousef’s seeming tie to Iraq (even as he is not Iraqi, as it turns out.) Yousef was arrested in Islamabad in February 1995, after the Manila plot went awry. But KSM escaped and soon joined bin Laden in Afghanistan.
Notably, bin Laden was not involved in the two earliest plots. The formal, legal US charges state that bin Laden’s conspiracy against the US began in August 1996, with his “Declaration of Jihad.”
So who or what was behind the 1993 bombing of the Trade Center, which aimed to topple one tower onto the other? Or the 1995 Philippines plot to bomb twelve US airliners? This key question is rarely asked.
The second most prominent defendant at Guantanamo was another KSM nephew. US officials call him KSM’s “right-hand man.” Based in Dubai, he coached the hijackers on how to behave in the US.
His name is unclear, however. Prosecutors call him Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, but he calls himself Ammar al-Baluchi.
Finally, US officials regard two other KSM nephews, brothers of Ramzi Yousef, as terrorist masterminds. One was captured in Pakistan in 2004, as a major plot in the US and Britain was disrupted, while the fate of the other was never publicly revealed.
Essentially, the US government claims that one man and his nephews were behind most major attacks against US targets from the 1993 bombing of the Trade Center through 9/11 and even afterward.
Moreover, these are Baluch, not Arab. Most Americans—even those involved in fighting terrorism—do not know that, and they know little about the Baluch.
Typical is the response of a very senior Bush administration Pentagon official. Presented with this information, he responded, “You mean the Baluch aren’t Arab?”
The Baluch are a Sunni people, with their own language and territory: eastern Iran, western Pakistan, and southwestern Afghanistan. And they had long-standing ties with regimes in Baghdad, which used them against their Shiite rival in Tehran.
Following Ramzi Yousef’s arrest, the New York Times reported that Pakistani officials noted Saddam Hussein had “tried to exploit animosities” against Iran “among Baluch tribal people in southeastern Iran,” which “could explain” how Yousef obtained the Iraqi passport he used to enter the US.
One member of the US intelligence community told Kurdistan24 that the CIA’s failure to pursue the relationship between Baghdad and the Baluch was “myopic,” involving “analytic unprofessionalism, bordering on malfeasance.” He says the problem is management, rather than those in the field.
Why didn’t President George W. Bush explain this? Perhaps, he didn’t know it. In late 2008, this information was presented to a senior White House official. He responded that the most senior figures—i.e. including the President—“might know some of these facts, but not all of them, and they haven’t been put together for them in this way.”
Perhaps, Bush chose not to make the strongest possible defense of Operation Iraqi Freedom. To have done so would have been to vindicate what the people of the Kurdistan Region know well: the end of the 1991 Gulf War—which left Saddam in power and sent them fleeing into the mountains—was horribly botched. It cost not only Kurdish lives, but 3000 American lives as well. And it was a decision taken by the president’s own father.
Perhaps, George W. Bush didn’t really want to explain that.
Editing by Delovan Barwari