KSM Takes the Credit
According to a written and oral testimony provided to a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed takes responsibility for far more al Qaeda activity than he was previously credited with, including more than 30 major acts of terrorism only a few of which he was known to be associated with in advance of the confession. These include the 1993 World Trade Center bombing which first brought him to international attention, the attack on the USS Cole and a number of failed plans, such as the attempt to assassinate Pope John Paul II, and a plot to attack Wall Street.
The confession paints a picture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's role as the hands-on supervisor of widespread terror cells and as the director of As-Sahab, the media and propaganda wing of al Qaeda. Some of his claims may be exaggerated or even disinformation, but enough of what he admitted to fits with what is known about his activities from other sources to make it fairly convincing. Not everything he admitted to is entirely flattering, as far more of his plans failed than succeeded, usually because of his overly complex and flashy style. His ambition and desire for publicity led him to go for the dramatic over the practical, leading to the failure of many plans because they were unrealistically ambitious.
KSM's most interesting claim is that he was "responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A-Z." The attack certainly fits his flamboyant style and is similar to another plan he is known to have proposed after the original World Trade Center bombing. He also took credit for oversight of biological and chemical weapons development and deployment, including having contact with Jose Padilla, the 'dirty bomb' terrorist, as well as claiming to have personally beheaded kidnapped journalist Daniel Pearl.
Some skepticism has been voiced about the confessions because it is known that KSM was subjected to 'waterboarding' during the course of his interrogation. Al Qaeda are also encouraged to lie and fabricate information during interrogation. Concerns are to some degree offset by the fact that much of what he confessed to can be confirmed by outside sources. Experts believe that the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed may have resulted in a significant decrease in al Qaeda activity and effectiveness.
Major Powers Approve Iran Sanctions
This week the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany agreed to impose sanctions against Iran. The sanctions include freezing the assets of 28 companies and individuals associated with Iran's nuclear program and an embargo on arms exports to Iran. The sanctions are expected to be voted on next week.
This marks a significant change of course for the major European nations who have been reluctant to be directly involved in the problems in the region. Reluctant participants like Russia and Germany were brought on board by the relatively moderate nature of the sanctions. A review of the need for stronger sanctions is planned for 60 days after these sanctions are imposed.
Iranian President Ahmadinejad responded by declaring the UNSC to have 'no legitimacy' and then requesting an opportunity to speak before the UN prior to any final vote on the sanctions by the full security council next week. Iran's response to previous sanctions passed in December was to react aggessively with hostile rhetoric and an expansion of their nuclear research and missile development programs.
At a rally in Tehran on Thursday Ahmadinejad said "These threats won't have one iota of effect on the strong will of the Iranian nation…You cannot force the Iranian nation to retreat."
Senate Rejects Iraq Pullout Plan
With the situation in Iraq improving dramatically in response to recent changes in strategy and deployment of additional troops in Baghdad, the Senate voted to reject a Democrat sponsored bill to set a timetable for a pullout from Iraq by the Spring of 2008.
This proposal had passed the House, but was defeated by a narrow margin in the Senate as a small number of Democrats voted with Republicans against the bill. At the same time the House Appropriations Committee passed a new emergency war funding bill which also sets a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq which is full of specific goalposts and would lead to a pullout by the end of next year. This bill is expected to run into more problems and a threatened presidential veto. It basically attempts to trade off funding the President has requested for agreement to a scheduled withdrawal. It also includes almost $30 billion of earmark spending above the President's requests, largely directed at home district projects of powerful Democrats.
These bills have also been accompanied by a variety of non-binding resolutions from both political parties in the House and Senate declaring support for the troops and promising not to leave them without financial support, and expressing the intent of the Congress to encourage a timely resolution of US involvement in Iraq.