Friday, March 16, 2007

Observations On A Mass Murderer

Khalid Sheikh Muhammad claims to be the mastermind behind the 9-11 attacks of 2001. He was captured in Pakistan in 2003 and as far as I can tell, the first time he has spoken for the public since capture is in the unclassified portions of the transcript of a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay this week. The transcript was released on March 10, 2007.

As widely reported in the news media, he confesses to being responsible for the planning and/or execution of 31 acts of terror under the supervision of Osama Bin Laden. These range from being the architect of the 9-11 attacks to blowing up the Sears tower in Chicago, Big Ben in London, and even a tiny, obscure bank in my town of Seattle (I think he had bad intelligence on that target. You’d have a hard time finding that bank if even you wanted to make a deposit).

One of the most remarkable things about the transcript is the long list of terrorist plots he takes credit for.

Government analysts reportedly are skeptical of these claims, saying that KSM may have provided only financing, or was simply aware of most of them. Nevertheless, providing terrorist financing, by our own laws, counts as “being responsible,” and you definitely go to jail for that. He was actually behind the 9-11 attacks apparently, which killed nearly 3,000 Americans.

Another interesting aspect of the transcript is the polite and respectful way he is addressed by the interrogators. The transcript is a political document of course, as all documents released by the government are. I am sure there are entire rooms full of transcripts of KSM interrogations administered since he was captured. These few pages are selected for public consumption for a purpose.

The intent is probably supposed to be inoculatory: “See, we treat our captives humanely and respectfully. We don’t torture or beat people.” This implicit message is designed to fend off inevitable suspicion that KSM was tortured. And of course it prepares the American public for his later trial, the message being: “This military court is no kangaroo court, because as you can see, the man is a self-confessed mass murderer.”

The release of the big list of terrorist projects is also designed to remind the American public how ambitious these terrorists are, and scare us, and by implication, urge us to unquestioningly support the government’s efforts to catch them, no matter what laws or principles are trampled upon in the process.

Despite the cynical, self-serving motives of the U.S. government, they were not alone in that. KSM probably prepared the list for terrorist consumption. He was surely aware that he was speaking to the world, and the big list was designed to wow and encourage the soldiers back home in terrorist land.

But I was most fascinated by KSM’s attempts to win respect, or at least understanding, from an American audience. It seems to me that in some of his statement, he was speaking to Americans, trying to explain that he was a reasonable, thoughtful, religious man, not a devil incarnate.

Because war, 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. 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. 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.

(Transcript, p. 23)

I like the way he refers to “children and the kids.” Calling children “kids” is a particularly American idiom, yet like any idiom, it is difficult for a non-native speaker to get just right. We don’t ever say “children and kids” as if they were different things. We wouldn’t say “kids” at all in the context of mass murder. Yet somebody has told KSM that you can cozy up to Americans by referring to their children as “kids.” They love that.

So he is obviously attempting to win, if not sympathy, at least understanding from Americans. He is not a mindless killer he says. No, he is a religious person, just like Christians and Jews. Killing is of course, prohibited. He knows that. See? We’re all so similar! (The term “infidel” does not come up in this calculated passage.)

But there are obviously exceptions to the rules, he notes. You Americans have done a lot of killing in Iraq because you “didn’t like” Saddam”. You killed a lot of Mexicans and stole their land during the westward expansion of the United States in the 1800’s. You ennobled your theft and slaughter by calling it your manifest destiny, but your victims would call you terrorists.

KSM uses the term “oppressors” rather than “terrorists” since he doesn’t want to remind us that he is in fact the third highest ranking terrorist in the world. No, he’s just a guy caught in a historical moment, the way you Americans have been.

What he says is factually true. We invaded Iraq and killed a lot of people for no good reason. We did steal 2/3 of Mexico and kill a lot of people. He could have mentioned the slaughter of the American Indians and institutionalized slavery of blacks, while he was at it. We certainly have done our share of killing in history. His message seems to be, war happens. When it does, people kill and get killed. It’s not personal.

I don’t think KSM is trying to avoid personal responsibility for what he has done. I think he genuinely does not feel any personal responsibility. Three thousand Americans were killed on 9-11? Sorry about that. Nothing personal. Just war – you know how it is.

What an odd message. What was his motivation for giving it? My hunch is that he was trying to bridge two worlds, his, in which practically nothing is personal, and ours, in which practically everything is personal. In his world view, he is just a puppet of Allah. KSM would kill you as easily as look at you but he wouldn’t mean anything by it. He would just be doing the will of God. Nothing personal.

I think he knows that for Americans (and all of Western civilization), all life is personal. But I don’t think he can really understand what that means, just as we cannot grasp what it would be like to be a mass murderer without hesitation or remorse. So he has no idea that his “explanation” that war and killing are not personal for him, makes our blood run cold, the opposite effect he intended.

Yet I give him credit for at least trying to build that bridge. It needs to be built. We can’t go on with this “clash of civilizations” thing forever. KSM no doubt wanted that bridge so we could view him more sympathetically. Why else would he have even made the effort to put it up? Well, forget that; It didn’t work.

But we should try to build such a bridge for the purpose of understanding that other world and people like KSM. We can’t kill them all. We need to know who these people are if we are ever going to get them off our backs.

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