Paula Zahn Worries U.S. Interrogators at Gitmo Can’t Be Trusted

There was quite a kangaroo court put together on CNN Tuesday evening largely designed to discredit recent confessions by al Qaeda terrorists Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Waleed Bin Attash while pointing accusatory fingers of blame at American interrogation methods (video available here).

Joining the host on “Paula Zahn Now” was Air America Radio’s Rachel Maddow, Republican strategist Amy Holmes, and CNN contributor Roland Martin.

As the panel was nicely stocked with only one view from the right, the views expressed were clearly sympathetic to our enemy, and suggestive that not only is America using inappropriate interrogation techniques, but also that any information we obtain “almost gets comical.”

After introducing some of the pertinent facts about the recent confessions, Zahn skeptically asked:

But can we believe these confessions? Some people say no, pointing to details they say don't match known facts. Others question whether Mohammed is exaggerating when he claims to have been a key player in so many plots.

Zahn then showed the statement of murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl’s parents, and asked Maddow: “Clearly, they have reason to be skeptical. Shouldn't we?”

Maddow was the perfect guest to ask such a question:

The Pakistani government certainly is skeptical. They have got somebody else on death row for having done that.

The litany of things that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed confessed to almost gets comical, when you start getting to the number of things that he said he was involving in working at. He maybe -- he maybe was Superman, but, I mean, even before we got this confession, his -- the people who had been interrogating him had said, he is prone to self- aggrandizement.

I wish that we had a system for bringing these suspects to justice where we can trust what they're saying. Instead, what we have got is the kangaroo court system that is set up at Guantanamo, allegations of torture that seem quite credible, given what we know about waterboarding and other things in this administration. And we can't believe a word he said. It's a shame. And we will never be able to recover from it.

After a little side chatter, Maddow punctuated her accusations:

And we can't believe a word he said and there's nothing about the system that leads us to any credible information. And the military justice system is an absolute failure for us.

After Martin offered his opinion on the subject, Zahn skeptically asked: “But can you trust the way our government is handling the interrogations at Guantanamo now?"

Yet, maybe the most delicious hypocrisy came from Maddow. After making the case that we can’t trust anything Khalid said, she used statements by the terrorist mastermind to accuse America of shameful behavior:

One of the things he said happened to him was not only torture, he says his 7-year-old son and his 9-year-old sons were abducted and mistreated as a means of the United States government getting to him.

So, Rachel, if we can’t believe anything he says, and nothing but lies emanate from torture and waterboarding, why should we believe this?

Sadly, Zahn didn’t ask such an obviously logical question. What follows is a partial transcript of this segment.

PAULA ZAHN (voice-over): Khalid Sheikh Mohammed says he was responsible, in his words, from A to Z, for the terror attacks 9/11.

He also takes responsibility for the 1993 truck bombing of the World Trade Center, the beheading of kidnapped journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002, that same year's bombings that killed some 200 people in Bali, Indonesia, and shoe bomber Richard Reid's 2001 attempt to blow up a transatlantic airliner.

In all, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed claims to have been part of 31 terror plots, including many that were never even carried out, like assassinating Pope John Paul II, President Bill Clinton, and former President Jimmy Carter, plus plots to bomb Chicago's Sears Tower, New York's Empire State Building, and the Library Tower in Los Angeles, and the Panama Canal.

The source for all of this is the Pentagon's transcript of what it says is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's confession before a secret military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

According to the Pentagon, another accused terrorist, Waleed Bin Attash, also told a Guantanamo Bay tribunal that he was part of successful plots to bomb two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998 and the suicide bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.

But can we believe these confessions? Some people say no, pointing to details they say don't match known facts. Others question whether Mohammed is exaggerating when he claims to have been a key player in so many plots.

But, to some, the bigger concern is Mohammed's accusation that his initial confessions were obtained through torture. The CIA denies using torture. And the Pentagon isn't describing how either man was interrogated.

But, according to the transcript, Mohammed told the tribunal he had been tortured, though there are no authoritative accounts of his treatment.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Back to our "Out in the Open" panel right now, Amy Holmes, Republican Party political strategist, CNN contributor Roland Martin, and Air America radio host Rachel Maddow.

Let's get straight to some of these confessions Mohammed made, particularly about his role in the murder of Daniel Pearl. He said: "I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl."

This is even hard to read out loud.

"There are pictures of me on the Internet holding his head."

But Pearl's own parents have expressed doubts about his so-called confession, saying, "It is impossible to know at this point whether Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's boast about killing our son has any bearing in truth."

Clearly, they have reason to be skeptical. Shouldn't we?

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA RADIO HOST: The Pakistani government certainly is skeptical. They have got somebody else on death row for having done that.

The litany of things that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed confessed to almost gets comical, when you start getting to the number of things that he said he was involving in working at. He maybe -- he maybe was Superman, but, I mean, even before we got this confession, his -- the people who had been interrogating him had said, he is prone to self- aggrandizement.

I wish that we had a system for bringing these suspects to justice where we can trust what they're saying. Instead, what we have got is the kangaroo court system that is set up at Guantanamo, allegations of torture that seem quite credible, given what we know about waterboarding and other things in this administration. And we can't believe a word he said. It's a shame. And we will never be able to recover from it.

ZAHN: Do you have reason to believe torture was involved in getting, extracting any of this information about him -- from him, whether true or not?

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW: What we do know is that CIA did say that he did undergo waterboarding, and that he lasted longer than any of the top 12 al Qaeda suspects that had been waterboarded, two-and-a-half minutes.

ZAHN: We should explain what waterboarding is.

AMY HOLMES, REPUBLICAN PARTY STRATEGIST: Right, which is to give the detainee the sensation of being drowned. And, so, a piece of cellophane is put over their mouth and water is put over the face to give that frightening, you know, sensation. It was very controversial. It is no longer used as an interrogation technique.

But when you ask the question, is he mastermind, master liar, I think we know that he's both, that we do have information from electronic records, other al Qaeda operatives, that he was very much a mastermind of the 9/11 plan.

Is he also a liar? Yes. He has a lot of reason to be a liar, because he started confessing very early, giving our authorities information that led to, as Peter Bergen, your own CNN expert said, led to al Qaeda being on the ropes by 2003.

So his interest in claiming torture and claiming responsibility for all of this is to enlarge himself within the al Qaeda organization.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW: And we can't believe a word he said and there's nothing about the system that leads us to any credible information. And the military justice system is an absolute failure for us.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And, Paula, this fundamental issue when you have torture. If I wanted to bring this back to the states, in Chicago there was Burge incident where Lieutenant Commander Jon Burge was over a particular unit, area 2 (ph) in Chicago where allegations that he tortured up to 200 individuals. These folks were sent to jail. They were prosecuted, some served 18 to 20 years.

The problem is we want to believe our military, we want to believe our justice system, but when you do have someone who has been tortured or there have been allegations, it casts doubt. The facts that we're sitting here having a conversation is part of the problem.

Now he admitted to 31 different plots. Let's say, OK, he was involved with 20 of them, but the fact of the matter is, people are questioning it, and when you begin to question, that is what casts doubt. That's why as Americans we want to be above board, be above torture so we can believe when we're getting information from our own government.

ZAHN: Yes. But can you trust the way our government is handling the interrogations at Guantanamo now?

HOLMES: I trust they're trying to do the best job they can do get good information. Because remember, at the end of the day...

ZAHN: You weren't in favor of waterboarding though, right?

HOLMES: No. But at the end of the day, what they're trying to do is get to the bottom of the al Qaeda terrorist plots. He confessed methods, ways to do this that are ongoing, 12 different -- a dozen terrorist plots at one time. What we do know is that it was successful, that we were able to apprehend other al Qaeda operatives. And that we were able to get this organization...

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW: We don't know who we got. We don't know if it was successful. We don't know about the success. And the question of the ends and means is important. Lindsey Graham and Carl Levin went to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's hearing, after they went to it, they said, we want an investigation of what he said happened to him.

One of the things he said happened to him was not only torture, he says his 7-year-old son and his 9-year-old sons were abducted and mistreated as a means of the United States government getting to him.

HOLMES: And I agree we should get...

MADDOW: Wait, wait. If we're picking up...

HOLMES: ... to the bottom of this. But the very point that our own military...

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW: ... is it OK, because we're going al Qaeda?

HOLMES: Our own military is saying that we can't believe everything he has to say, which means, that they are not trying to trump up confession charges.

MADDOW: You can't say that it doesn't matter what we're doing because we're trying to get al Qaeda. It matters what we do. We're America, that's more important than al Qaeda.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.