Everybody leads with news that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, confessed that he organized those attacks, and quite a few more, at a military hearing on Saturday at Guantanamo Bay. The Pentagon released a transcript of the closed hearing last night. “I was responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A to Z,” Mohammed told the panel. Mohammed listed 31 terrorist plots he claimed to be “responsible” for as al-Qaida’s “military operational commander for all foreign operations around the world.”
Mohammed’s admission is hardly a surprise. In its final report, the Sept. 11 commission discussed several interrogation reports in which Mohammed allegedly took responsibility for the attacks. But this was the first time Mohammed faced any sort of legal proceeding and the first time he was able to make a long statement without interrogators. During the proceedings in Guantanamo, Mohammed said some of his previous statements were made as a result of torture. At one point Mohammed compared Osama Bin Laden to George Washington. “If now we were living in the Revolutionary War and George Washington, he being arrested through Britain, for sure they would consider him enemy combatant,” he said.
In the hearing, Mohammed expressed regret for some of the civilian deaths. “I’m not happy that 3,000 been killed in America. … I feel sorry even. I don’t like to kill children and the kids.” But he emphasized “the language of war is victims.” Mohammed’s statements were part of a series of closed hearings being held in Guantanamo for 14 “high-value detainees” that were transferred from secret CIA prisons.
The New York Times and Washington Post point out it’s not clear exactly how involved Mohammed could have been in all the plots he detailed. The Sept. 11 commission at one point described Mohammed as someone with extravagant ambitions who had a vision that was “a spectacle of destruction with KSM as the self-cast star, the superterrorist.” But the Los Angeles Timesquotes a terrorism expert, who says most of the plots he described did seem to have some leadership from Mohammed. USA Todaypoints out that the majority of the targets described by Mohammed “were not hit,” such as the Panama Canal, the New York Stock Exchange, and Big Ben. The Wall Street Journal says many of the plots “never got beyond the planning stage.”
The Mohammed confession managed to take away some of the spotlight from the growing controversy surrounding the Justice Department and the fired U.S. attorneys. USAT, for example, led its early edition with news that Sen. John Sununu became the first Republican lawmaker to call for the ouster of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. “If I were the president, I would fire the attorney general,” Sununu said. In its final edition, the paper put the story inside.
The NYT and WSJ front, and everyone mentions, President Bush saying that he still has confidence in Gonzales but he pointed out that “mistakes” had been made and he was “frankly not happy about” the way the Justice Department handled the controversy. Specifically, Bush pointed to the changing explanations that were given to Congress about the firings. In a Page One analysis, the Post says that the discrepancies between the e-mails released this week and the previous statements made by Justice Department officials “is quickly becoming the central issue for lawmakers.”
The WSJ Page One story says the controversy surrounding Gonzales “has exposed a potentially serious vulnerability—he lacks a significant base of support outside the White House.” Conservatives never particularly cared for Gonzales, but he always had Bush’s support. Now that Bush is an unpopular president, “having a power base of one” makes him more vulnerable.
In a separate piece inside, the WSJ points out that despite all the information that has come out about the firings, it is still unclear exactly why the U.S. attorneys were fired or why it even became a priority in the first place.
The LAT fronts a dispatch from Indonesia that looks into Sen. Barack Obama’s childhood and finds that his connections to Islam may be deeper than previously thought. The LAT talks to his former teachers and some friends who say Obama was registered as a Muslim at both schools he attended. Some of his childhood friends say that Obama sometimes attended Friday prayers at the local mosque. “We prayed but not really seriously,” said one of the friends. Obama’s campaign says the senator “has never been a practicing Muslim.” As the LAT points out, “a connection with Islam is untrod territory for presidential politics.”
The NYT fronts administration officials acknowledging that it will take longer for the Iraqi government to reach a series of goals that the Bush administration had said would be met by this month. Officials now say they expect the goals to be met by the end of the year. This delay means that the additional troops sent to Iraq might have to stay longer than initially envisioned.
The Post’s Reliable Source reports that a profile of Patrick Fitzgerald posted on the BBC’s Web site yesterday quoted from what it said was the prosecutor’s blog: “Now that I am in Chicago and D.C. I have found … the rampant graft and corruption to be a travesty—a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.” The line is actually from Woody Allen’s Bananas and the blog is, of course, a fake.