Is Shaikh Mohammed Telling the Truth?

In the four years since U.S. and Pakistani forces captured alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, intelligence agencies have disclosed little about his confinement and only selective details about what he told his interrogators. Held for more than three years in secret CIA prisons overseas, KSM, as the government refers to him, was subjected to aggressive interrogation methods. Last year KSM was moved to the prison at Guantánamo Bay with 13 other "high value" terrorists.

Now comes the next phase of KSM's long, slow trip through post-9/11 justice. On March 10, he was brought into a small, barren courtroom, where he faced a panel of anonymous U.S. military officers who must determine if he is an "enemy combatant" subject to trial by a military tribunal.

For the first time since his capture, Mohammed was given the opportunity to speak publicly on his own behalf. In a rambling diatribe in fractured English, he did not hold back his feelings. "For sure, I'm American enemies ... So when we say we are enemy combatant, that right. We are," he told the tribunal, according to a censored account of his testimony made public by the Pentagon. KSM expressed regret about those who died in the attacks: "When I said 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."

He went on to compare himself and other Qaeda leaders to America's Founding Fathers: "As consider George Washington as hero, Muslims, many of them, are considering Osama bin Laden. He is doing the same thing. He is just fighting." In a written statement read out to the tribunal, KSM claimed credit for more than 30 terror plots, though his list of crimes included a considerable measure of exaggeration. "I would discount 25 percent of what he said in terms of his personal responsibility," says Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA unit that tracked Osama bin Laden. Another former CIA official—who, like other intelligence sources, asked for anonymity due to the sensitive subject matter—said interrogators quickly recognized KSM's egomania: "He was known to have a large ego and would regularly take credit for anything he was in the vicinity of." That has left government officials to figure out which of KSM's stories are true, and which are exaggerations or outright lies.

There is considerable evidence substantiating KSM's role in many deadly terror plots, including 9/11, a planned second wave of post-9/11 attacks on other U.S. targets, the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (whose head KSM claims to have personally severed "with my blessed right hand"), a planned attack on New York City bridges and plots to kill Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

But his involvement in other plots is murkier. KSM told the tribunal he was "responsible" for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and for plots to assassinate President Bill Clinton and Pope John Paul II. But it is unclear if this is true. Bernard Kleinman, a lawyer for KSM's nephew, terrorist Ramzi Yousef—who was convicted for carrying out the 1993 WTC attack—doesn't believe it. He told NEWSWEEK that Yousef "would dispute" KSM's claim to have had a leading role in any of these plans.

Some of the other plots KSM claimed to have hatched may have been made up, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials. They included an attack on the Panama Canal, a plan to destroy an oil company in Sumatra supposedly owned by former secretary of State Henry Kissinger and a plot to assassinate former president Jimmy Carter. (Kissinger and Carter said through spokespeople that they hadn't heard of these plots. Kissinger said he never owned an oil company in Sumatra.) With a résumé as bloody as his, it's a wonder KSM felt the need to exaggerate at all.