Let’s hope last week’s compromise between President Bush and Republican senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and John Warner will free U.S. interrogators to resume questioning Islamic terrorists. Each minute spent not grilling these bad guys brings potential doom one minute closer. With any luck, President Bush was correct when he said last Thursday: “The agreement clears the way to do what the American people expect us to do — to capture terrorists, to detain terrorists, to question terrorists, and then to try them.”
Bush critics too often groan about alleged “torture” at Guantanamo and other American facilities where enemy combatants are locked away. It might help them to learn who these terror suspects are, how they look, what they have done, and how persuading one terrorist to talk often helps U.S. personnel catch other bomb-mongers before they blow innocent civilians into body parts.
According to the Associated Press, squeezing terrorists for information has allowed intelligence officials to stymie eight attacks since September 11, two of them aimed directly at the United States homeland. Some 100 detainees provided information that helped intelligence officers identify 86 individuals chosen by al Qaeda for terrorist strikes against Westerners. Of these, roughly half have been “removed from the battlefield,” in administration parlance.
The administration has not identified many of these killers, both to confuse the enemy and to protect intelligence contacts and techniques. However, some of their names and faces are available and worth considering.
Ibn al-Shayk al-Libi
After he surrendered in Pakistan in January 2002, Libyan al Qaeda bigwig Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi warned the CIA about a conspiracy to blast America’s embassy in Sanaa, Yemen. Al-Libi gave interrogators the name of Abu Zubaydah.
Based on al-Libi’s tip, al Qaeda’s one-time operations chief, Abu Zubaydah, was captured in March 2002 in Pakistan. According to the U.S. National Director of Intelligence’s (NDI) biographies of 14 key terrorists at Guantanamo, Zubaydah supervised Afghanistan’s “Khaldan group” of guesthouses and terror-training camps between 1995 and 2000. He assisted Ahmad Ressam, the al Qaeda militant whom vigilant Customs Inspector Diana Dean apprehended on December 14, 1999 at Port Angeles, Washington, as he tried to enter America from British Columbia, Canada. Ressam’s spare-tire compartment contained 135 pounds of explosives he planned to detonate at Los Angeles International Airport as the new millennium arrived. Some of the $50,000 that Zubaydah collected from Saudi donors to assault Israel may have helped finance the September 11 attacks, which killed 2,977 people.
While Zubaydah reportedly kept his mouth shut at first, he became much more loquacious once interrogators stuck him in a cold room and cranked up the music of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Evidently not a fan, Zubaydah sang anyway, although a different song altogether. Zubaydah identified Omar al-Faruq, Rahim al-Nashiri, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, as well as other terrorists.
Omar al-Faruq was a top operator with Jemaah Islamiyah, al Qaeda’s Indonesian branch. He was arrested there in summer 2002. Based on his “specific and credible” information, U.S. officials told CNN that September, the federal government raised America’s terrorist threat level from Yellow or Elevated to Orange, signifying a High risk of an imminent attack. That was Washington’s first such action. At the time, al-Faruq “only recently started to talk,” after nearly two months of interrogation, one federal official indicated.
Rahim al-Nashiri — also known as Uncle Ahmad, among five other aliases — was al Qaeda’s Arabian Peninsula operations chief. Al-Nashiri was born on January 5, 1965, in Mecca. According to the NDI, he trained terrorists in Afghanistan and led al Qaeda’s October 12, 2000, bombing of the USS Cole in the port of Aden, Yemen. That attack killed 17 American sailors and injured 40 others. When arrested, al-Nashiri was financing “a plot to crash a small plane into the bridge of a western navy vessel in Port Rashid, UAE,” the NDI reports. On October 6, 2002, his agents slammed a small, explosives-laden boat into the French tanker MV Limburg off of Yemen’s coast. The resulting blast killed a Bulgarian crewman and dumped 90,000 barrels of petroleum into the Gulf of Aden.
Ramzi bin al-Shibh
Al Qaeda’s Ramzi bin al-Shibh was a key 9/11 organizer. Born in Yemen in 1972, bin al-Shibh met 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, and Ziad Jarrah while studying in Hamburg, Germany. These four traveled to Afghanistan in 1999, where they met Osama bin Laden and launched the September 11 conspiracy. Though he tried four times, bin al-Shibh could not secure a U.S. entry visa. Had he done so, officials believe he might have become the 20th 9/11 hijacker. Nevertheless, he carried messages between al Qaeda leaders and Atta, and provided funds and travel arrangements for several of the hijackers.
When he was arrested in Karachi, Pakistan in September 2002, bin al-Shibh already had recruited four terrorists for an al Qaeda plot to hijack jets and slam them into London’s Heathrow Airport. Under questioning, Ramzi bin al-Shibh offered interrogators the name of Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Zubaydah also casually had mentioned KSM — as counterterrorists call him. In addition, Zubaydah offered “some information that he probably viewed as nominal,” the NDI explained, namely the fact that KSM’s alias is “Mukhtar.” That Zubaydah-furnished datum helped intelligence officers catch KSM.
Khalid Sheik Mohammed
The NDI calls KSM “one of history’s most infamous terrorists.” KSM conceived and masterminded “The Planes Operation,” commonly known as September 11. That attack was a modest version of Operation Bojinka, a disrupted plot he conceived with his nephew Ramzi Yousef (choreographer of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing). Had Bojinka proceeded in 1994, Islamic fanatics would have blown up a dozen U.S. passenger jets over the Pacific en route from Asia to America. Bojinka appears to have inspired the recently quashed al Qaeda conspiracy to blow up a dozen U.S. passenger jets over the Atlantic en route from Britain to America. KSM also approved plots to detonate U.S. gas stations and derail trains.
KSM reportedly stayed mum until interrogators introduced him to waterboarding, a procedure in which he was submerged until he feared drowning, then pulled back to safety. KSM broke after just a few minutes of this. He then unlocked a virtual Swiss vault of priceless information on terrorists and their designs.
According to President Bush’s September 6 remarks in the White House’s East Room, KSM told interrogators about a plan to detonate bombs in tall American buildings. KSM instructed his associates, Bush said, “to ensure that the explosives went off high enough to prevent the people trapped above from escaping out the windows.” Like so many on 9/11, this plot’s victims would have had to choose between death from fire and demise from falling onto the pavement below.
Terrorists who KSM ratted out include: Majid Khan, Hambali, Rusman “Gun Gun” Gunawan, Yazid Suffat, Jose Padilla, and Iyman Faris.
Majid Khan (No photo available)
Majid Khan (of whom no photo is readily available) was a Jemaah Islamiyah bagman. Knowing that Khan already was in CIA custody, KSM told Americans that Khan delivered money to an agent named Zubair. KSM may have thought the CIA knew this. But they found this information brand new. Khan confirmed this to his own interrogators and furnished them Zubair’s physical description and his contact number. He, in turn, was captured in June 2003.
As with other Jemaah Islamiyah members, Riduan bin Isomuddin uses just one name. Better known as Hambali, this terrorist was the lead liaison between JI and al Qaeda from 2000 until his 2003 arrest. Along the way, Hambali arranged the first Bali nightclub bombing on October 12, 2002. It injured 209 and slaughtered 202, including 89 Australians and seven Americans. Hambali led the bombings of 30 churches across Indonesia in 2000 during Christmas Eve services (17 dead) and helped finance the August 5, 2003, Jakarta Marriott Hotel attack that killed 11 and wounded 150.
Rusman “Gun Gun” Gunawan
KSM identified Rusman “Gun Gun” Gunawan, Hambali’s brother. As President Bush explained, “Hambali’s brother was soon captured in Pakistan, and, in turn, led us to a cell of 17 Southeast Asian ‘J-I’ [Jemaah Islamiyah] operatives.” A Jakarta court in October 2004 found “Gun Gun” guilty of sending JI $30,000, some of which funded the Marriott attack. This crime cost “Gun Gun” four years behind bars.
KSM told interrogators about a Malaysian JI militant named Yazid Suffat. He knew Suffat was in U.S. custody and assumed American officials knew about his efforts to help al Qaeda develop biological weapons. “In fact,” President Bush explained September 6, “we did not know about Yazid’s role in al Qaeda’s anthrax program.”
KSM’s revelations under questioning, coupled with the interrogation of Suffat, helped Americans capture two of Suffat’s chief assistants and disrupt this potentially lethal WMD project.
KSM pointed interrogators to Jose Padilla, the so-called “dirty bomber” who converted to Islam and also assumed the name Abdullah al-Muhajir. KSM supervised Padilla and allegedly assigned him, among other things, to find materials for a radiological device and to locate apartment buildings that could be blown up by filling rental units with natural gas, then igniting them with timers.
Padilla, 35, formerly of Chicago’s Latin Disciples gang, is expected to go on trial in Miami federal court in January. His indictment does not include the earlier “dirty bomb” charges.
KSM told American officials about Iyman Faris. The 37-year-old Kashmir native became an American citizen in December 1999, CNN reports. He worked as a truck driver and moonlighted for al Qaeda. He procured some 2,000 sleeping bags for use in al Qaeda’s training camps while visiting Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2000-2001. He delivered cash, cell phones, and plane tickets to al Qaeda contacts. On the home front, Faris conspired to sabotage a train in Washington, D.C., inspected the Brooklyn Bridge for vulnerabilities, and began seeking acetylene torches to sever the span’s suspension cables and plunge it 119 feet into New York’s East River.
On May 1, 2003, Faris pleaded guilty to providing material support to al Qaeda and conspiring to do so. He currently is serving a 20-year jail sentence for these crimes.
“By providing everything from initial leads to photo identifications to precise locations of where terrorists were hiding,” President Bush observed September 6, “this program has helped us to take potential mass murderers off the streets before they were able to kill.”
U.S. Special Forces may get lucky some day and catch Mullah Omar, Ayman al-Zawahiri, or even Osama bin Laden himself. Whether it is one of those big fish, or their smaller but still highly toxic underlings, American intelligence personnel need broad authority to pressure enemy combatants to talk. What they know could get you killed, and what Americans learn could keep you alive. Making detainees’ tongues wag — through quiet persuasion, sleepless nights, waterboarding, or non-stop Britney Spears tunes — is literally a matter of life and death.
Before they adjourn for the campaign trail, Congress must perform this most urgent duty: Unleash the executive branch to encourage captured Islamo-fascists to sing like the Vienna Boys Choir.