Читать онлайн "The Black Banners" автора Soufan Ali H. - RuLit - Страница 114

 
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“You need to understand that while you are in al-Qaeda’s midst, it’s difficult to think clearly or objectively. Bin Laden was always encouraging us, so we felt there was no one who could stand up to us. It was difficult to isolate yourself from the surroundings. There was no media, no newspapers, only what bin Laden and al-Qaeda spread around. When one is part of that home, from the inside it is very difficult to think of what is happening on the outside. If you think Pelé is the best football player of all time, it is difficult for anyone to convince you there are any better players. Even though, for sure, there are players better than him, for you, he is the best. You see only his best plays. If he has a bad one, you ignore it. That was the way bin Laden was for me. All these things are going on around you, and you just go with it.”

I’ve seen this with many operatives from different terrorist organizations: it’s difficult to get through to them while they’re operational. They’re too busy planning attacks and hiding from the authorities. The time when terrorists can be turned is either during the recruitment stage or when they’ve been caught and are in jail.

“So what’s changed now? Why do you not feel the same toward bin Laden?” I asked.

“My time in detention has opened my eyes to many things. I saw the technology of the Americans and was shocked to even see the military vehicles they moved in. I did not even think such vehicles and cars existed. Now I look back at my life and have regrets. At the time, it was difficult to see clearly.”

I started working with David Kelley, from the Southern District of New York, with whom I had worked during the Cole investigation and in other cases, to come up with a plea agreement for Hamdan in exchange for pleading guilty and being a prosecution witness against other al-Qaeda members, especially all those involved with the Cole plot. One morning, I was watching CNN while getting dressed to go to the office and heard that Hamdan had been declared an “enemy combatant” by President Bush. I called Kelley immediately and asked if he’d seen the news.

“Yes,” he replied gloomily.

“What does it mean?”

“I don’t know. We’ll soon find out. But I don’t think it’s good.”

What it meant was that we could no longer have access to Hamdan to ask questions about other detainees, and could no longer use him as a witness in other trials. Instead he was given lawyers who helped him mount a lengthy (and successful) legal challenge against the military legal system that the Bush administration had set up at Gitmo, eventually forcing the administration to set up a new system.

What was most surprising to people in the FBI and Southern District about the “enemy combatant” label was that the Bush administration applied it without even consulting the primary agencies that had been putting together the Hamdan case, or the prosecutors preparing to try him. It was a move that undermined our efforts against al-Qaeda, especially at Gitmo.

When I testified against Hamdan in the trial as a prosecution witness, it was the first time I had seen him since he had been declared an enemy combatant. When he had me in his line of vision across the courtroom, he placed his hand on his heart and nodded to me—a sign of respect. Hamdan was ultimately sentenced to five and a half years in prison, a term that was largely wiped out based on time he had already served in Gitmo. After a few months he was released, and on January 8, 2009, he was back in Yemen.

During the trial, the defense criticized the government for throwing out a plea agreement whereby Hamdan would have served as a cooperating witness (and would have been sentenced to a longer prison term, as it turned out). “We hope one day the American people find out about this squandered opportunity.” It was a rare instance where the prosecution’s witness agreed with what the defense said.

In July 2002 a routine FBI fingerprint check on a group of detainees in Gitmo found that detainee No. 63, who until then had insisted that he knew nothing about al-Qaeda and that he had been in Afghanistan pursuing his interest in falconry, had given a false name. In fact, he was Mohammed al-Qahtani, who had vowed, “I will be back” after being refused entry to the United States on August 4, 2001, in Orlando. He had landed in Florida with almost nonexistent English, a one-way ticket, and $2,800 in cash. Asked who he was meeting, he said that there was someone “upstairs”; asked for the name, Qahtani changed his story and said that no one was waiting for him.

Now he was back, although not in the manner he probably expected. His file showed that he had been captured near the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan by Pakistani forces around December 15, 2001, and transferred to Guantánamo Bay on February 13, 2002. He was picked up with the other twenty-nine members of the group that included Abu Assim and Qosi, promptly nicknamed “the dirty thirty” by investigators for their false stories and close links to al-Qaeda leadership.

Given this background information and the proximity to 9/11 of Qahtani’s entry attempt, we started looking for links between him and the hijackers. We found that on his landing card, he had listed a number belonging to Mustafa al-Hawsawi, KSM’s administrative assistant for the 9/11 attack. Some of the hijackers also had Hawsawi’s number on their landing forms. Next we discovered that on the day Qahtani had tried to enter the United States, between 4:30 and 8:30 PM a series of five calls were made from a pay phone in the airport to Hawsawi’s number. The calls were made using a calling card bought with lead hijacker Mohammed Atta’s credit card. Surveillance footage from the airport also revealed that at 4:18 PM a rental car used by Atta had entered the airport’s garage, leaving at 9:04.

It seemed too big a coincidence that Atta, or someone using his card, would have been independently at the same airport making a call a few hours before Qahtani had arrived. I told a colleague to check whether the Virgin Atlantic flight that Qahtani was on had been delayed, and it turned out that it had been; it had been scheduled to land at 4:40 PM but hadn’t gotten in till a few hours later. Atta (or one of his fellow plotters) had probably called to find out where Qahtani was and what had happened to the flight.

The evidence indicated that Qahtani was the missing fifth hijacker on United Airlines Flight 93. The other three planes each had five hijackers, while Flight 93 had four. He, and not Zacarias Moussaoui, as then attorney general John Ashcroft had been claiming, was the missing twentieth hijacker.

We took this information to General Dunlavey and explained Qahtani’s connection to 9/11. Our team, assisted by behavioral experts, recommended that we remove him from the general Gitmo population and put him in the brig, as we had done with Abu Assim. The purpose of doing so would be to send him the message that his cover was blown and to isolate him from his support base. We also worried that if other detainees found out that we knew he was the twentieth hijacker, they might try to kill him to prevent him from giving us information about the plot. He was transferred and I was given clearance to see him.

“Why have I been moved?” Qahtani asked, clearly nervous as to why he had been put in the brig.

“We know who you are,” I told him. “Your cover has been blown. We know how you tried to enter the United States in August. It’s time for you to start telling us the truth.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he replied angrily.

I studied him for a few moments while letting my words sink in. He was short and skinny, and his eyes were glassy, as if there was not much there. He also was shaking and seemed afraid. It was just the two of us in the interrogation room, although other agents were watching through a video camera in another room.

“Okay,” I said, “let’s go through your story, then. Why were you in Afghanistan?”

     

 

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