Mohammed Sheikh Khalid has now, voluntarily and of his own free will, admitted he masterminded every significant event from the Norman Invasion through the bubonic plague, fall of Constantinople, and Great Fire of London, to the Battle of Little Big Horn, assassination of JFK and the Oklahoma bombing.
Or he might as well have. The extraordinarily comprehensive list of terrorist outrages for which he claims responsibility would be beyond the capacity of any but the most brilliant and inspired mortal; Khalid, I fear, is a more run of the mill thug.
But in truth, we have absolutely no idea what, if anything, he has confessed at all. The BBC brazenly reported all of yesterday that while Khalid did allege he had been tortured during his four years of secret detention by the CIA in various locations around the globe, he is now freely confessing under no duress and does not retract any of his confession.
Who says? The proceedings being held in Guantanamo Bay, and which the BBC report so uncritically, are held behind barbed wire, machine guns, gun emplacements, reinforced steel and concrete and combination locks, before an exclusively military panel. Khalid does not even have a lawyer present. For all we know, his confession could be an entire fabrication. The blandness of the BBC reporting in these circumstances is one of the worst examples of the appalling desertion of the principles of that once worthwhile institution.
The readiness of the rest of the media to push the “instil fear” button on behalf of the Orwellian government is predictable. They report as fact that Khalid also planned to blow up Heathrow, Canary Wharf, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and any other British building the Pentagon had heard of.
If Khalid really is freely and openly confessing all of this stuff, then what possible reason can there be to deny him a lawyer, and not allow public and media access to his trial? The atrocities he allegedly confesses – the Twin Towers, Madrid, Bali – left thousands of bereaved families. They have a right to see justice done, rather than this elaborate propaganda set-up, with its total lack of proper legal process or intellectual credibility.
Did Khalid really do all of this? Two facts must be considered. He has been through years of vicious torture and of solitary confinement. If the experience of others who survived extraordinary rendition is typical, he has been kept in total isolation, in darkness, beaten, cut, suffocated and drowned, suffered white noise and sensory deprivation. He will have been moved around, often not even knowing which country he is in. One good contact has told me that the CIA gave the Uzbek torturers their turn with him. I do not know that for certain, but who can contradict me?
After years of this, a person can be so psychologically damaged that they believe the narrative of their torturers to be the truth. It is perfectly possible that he now in fact believes he did all that stuff on the list, when he did not.
Alternatively, he may have decided to exaggerate his own role and achievements for the personal glory it brings. We can get the appalling situation where both the sides which benefit from and wish to promote the War on Terror – Al Qaida and the CIA – indulge in what becomes a grim mutual cooperation in exaggeration as each seeks to glorify their role. Thus do those on both sides who actually desire a “Clash of Civilisations”, promote one.
What is happening now in Guanatanamo Bay is a disgrace. We cannot in present circumstances accept anything that comes out of it as other than a completely unsubstantiated claim by the Pentagon. Some of it is quite possibly true. But this is no way to make the case.