COMMENTS: I Confess

The confession of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the Story of the Day. The Pentagon released its censored and redacted version of his secret testimony at a closed military tribunal at the naval prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. In it Mohammed, who has been in CIA and then Pentagon custody for four years, bragged of his triumphs. ABC led with the confession. CBS and NBC both chose continuing coverage of the ouster of those eight federal prosecutors.

According to the Pentagon, Mohammed took responsibility for several outrageous successes: the jetliner attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the earlier truckbomb in the basement of the World Trade Center, the decapitation of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, the nightclub massacre on the Indonesian island of Bali.

The 26-page confession also detailed a number of failures: jetliner attacks on Chicago's Sears Tower and New York's Empire State Building, assassination plots against Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and Pope John Paul II, the demolition of the Brooklyn Bridge, an attack on Heathrow Airport. CBS' computer graphics department produced an animation of the waterboarding torture that David Martin's sources told him the CIA used to make Mohammed "talk freely." CBS' legal analyst Andrew Cohen judged the information sufficient to warrant the death penalty.

Evoking insider credentials, CBS' Martin and NBC's Jim Miklaszewski both used Mohammed's spook-style nickname "KSM." Since they were banned from first hand reporting on Mohammed, the networks had to deploy a posse of in-house terrorism experts to read between the lines in the confession to decipher its credibility and its completeness. By boasting that he was in charge of every plot, he may be covering up the role of accomplices still at large, ABC's Jack Cloonan suggested: he may still be in "battle mode keeping some of this close to the vest." CBS' Paul Kurtz called the so-called enemy combatant "a warrior-- this is the language of war" while NBC's Roger Cressey issued a caution about "bravado. KSM fancies himself as a terrorist mastermind."

ABC's Brian Ross characterized "KSM" as being on a "jihad against America" yet his own in-house expert Richard Clarke called him "not a religious fanatic, in fact he is not a religious man at all." Clarke claimed Mohammed is a known drinker and procurer of women.

VOCABULARY UPDATE: Sources for ABC's Ross used this euphemism: "the most extreme CIA interrogation techniques"…Sources for CBS' Martin called it "harsh interrogation in secret CIA prisons including something called waterboarding"…Sources for NBC's Miklaszewski were most plainspoken: "In an effort to quickly get information about any pending attacks, he was subjected to some torture."


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