By PAULINE JELINEKAssociated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Pentagon has censored an audio tape of the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks speaking at a military hearing – cutting out Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s explanation for why Islamic militants waged jihad against the United States.
After months of debate by several federal agencies, the Defense Department released the tape Thursday. Cut from it were 10 minutes of the more than 40-minute closed court session at Guantanamo Bay to determine whether Mohammed should be declared an “enemy combatant.”
Since the March hearing, he has been assigned “enemy combatant” status, a classification the Bush administration says allows it to hold him indefinitely and prosecute him at a military tribunal.
Officials from the CIA, FBI, State Department and others listened to the tape and feared it could be copied and edited by other militants for use as propaganda, officials said.
“It was determined that the release of this portion of the spoken words of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would enable enemies of the United States to use it in a way to recruit or encourage future terrorists or terrorist activities,” said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman. “This could ultimately endanger the lives and physical safety of American citizens and those of our allies.”
Calling Mohammed a “notorious figure,” Whitman added, “I think we all recognize that there is an obvious difference between the potential impacts of the written versus the spoken word.”
Some of the statements deleted from the tape have already been widely reported because the Pentagon released a 26-page written transcript of the hearing several days after it was held. Others statements were cut both from the audio and the transcript because of security and privacy concerns, officials said.
Mohammed was the first of 14 so-called “high-value” detainees who were held in secret CIA prisons before being transferred to the Pentagon facility at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
At the hearing, he portrayed himself as al-Qaida’s most active operational planner, confessing to the beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl and to playing a central role in 30 other attacks and plots in the U.S. and worldwide that killed thousands.
The attacks range from the suicide hijackings of Sept. 11, 2001 – which killed nearly 3,000 – to a 2002 shooting on an island off Kuwait that killed a U.S. Marine.
Among statements that appeared in the transcript, but were cut from the audio, was Mohammed saying he felt some sorrow over Sept. 11.
“I’m not happy that 3,000 been killed in America,” the transcript quoted him as saying in broken English. “I feel sorry even. I don’t like to kill children and the kids.”
But he says there are exceptions in war.
“The language of the war is victims,” Mohammed said in a part of the transcript that was cut from the audio. He compared al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden to George Washington, saying Americans view Washington as a hero for his role in the Revolutionary War and many Muslims view bin Laden in the same light.
“He is doing same thing. He is just fighting. He needs his independence,” Mohammed said.
During much of Mohammed’s hearing, he spoke in English. The audio released by the Pentagon includes Mohammed responding to questions.
Audio tapes of other high-value detainees have been released by the Pentagon. Whitman said he did not know if any of those have been used as propaganda by extremist groups on the Internet.
The audio tape also includes a number of other redactions that reflect portions of the written transcript that were deleted, because of security and privacy concerns, when it was first released.
One of the sections initially held back by the Pentagon, but later released, was Mohammed’s confession to the beheading of Pearl. “I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl, in the city of Karachi, Pakistan,” Mohammed said in a written statement read by his U.S.-appointed representative for the hearing.
Officials at first held back the section to allow time for his family to be notified, Whitman said at the time.
AP Washington reporter Lolita Baldor contributed to this report.