So KSM Really Did Kill Daniel Pearl

Benjamin Wittes
Thursday, January 20, 2011, 10:49 AM
The Washington Post today reports today on a new investigation by Georgetown faculty and students and the Center for Public Integrity about the murder of Daniel Pearl.

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The Washington Post today reports today on a new investigation by Georgetown faculty and students and the Center for Public Integrity about the murder of Daniel Pearl. The investigation produced a lengthy report concluding, among other things, that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was telling the truth when he boasted at his CSRT hearing of "decapitat[ing] with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl." This is hardly surprising, though many people have doubted it both because KSM seemed to claim credit for just about everything at his CSRT and because he had been waterboarded previously. I personally never saw much reason to doubt KSM's word on the point. I have not read this report, but on a quick glance, it looks thorough and serious; I pass along its "key findings" for readers who might be interested:
KEY FINDINGS The Daniel Pearl case is a window into several serious issues that have relevance today to U.S. foreign policy and America’s war in Afghanistan: the emergence of a “Punjabi Taliban,” made up of militants from the Pakistani province of Punjab; the role of Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, as a safe haven for militants; and the nexus between the Pakistani militancy and Al Qaeda. The case also offers important lessons related to problems with rule of law in Pakistan. Among the project’s more specific findings:
  • The kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl was a multifaceted, at times chaotic conspiracy. The Pearl Project has identified 27 men who played a part in the events surrounding the case. Members of at least three different militant groups took part in the crimes, including a team of kidnappers led by British-Pakistani Omar Sheikh and a team of killers led by Al Qaeda strategist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is known as KSM.
  • KSM told FBI agents in Guantanamo that he personally slit Pearl’s throat and severed his head to make certain he’d get the death penalty and to exploit the murder for propaganda. Some U.S. and Pakistani officials believe KSM may have been assisted by two of his nephews, Musaad Aruchi, whose whereabouts aren’t publicly known, and Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, KSM’s trusted aide, who is incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay.
  • After 9/11, KSM designated his young nephew, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, to be the facilitator for “shoe bomber” Richard Reid. When he was kidnapped, Pearl was chasing a story that a cleric, Sheik Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani, was the facilitator. He wasn’t. Reid was an Al Qaeda operative.
  • Doubts regarding KSM’s confessions during “waterboarding” were eased when FBI agents and CIA officials used a technique called vein-matching to compare the hand of the killer in the murder video with a photo of Mohammed’s hand.
  • Nearly half of those implicated in Pearl’s abduction-murder — at least 14 men with some alleged involvement — are thought to remain free. The list includes guards, drivers, and fixers tied to the conspiracy.
  • In their haste to close the case, Pakistani authorities knowingly used perjured testimony to pin the actual act of murder on Omar Sheikh and his three coconspirators.
  • While the four were involved in the kidnapping plan and certainly were culpable, they were not present when Pearl was murdered. Others, who were present and actually assisted in the brutal beheading, were not charged.
  • The conspirators were inept, plagued by bungling plans, a failure to cover their tracks, and an inability to operate cameras and computer equipment. Even the videotape of Pearl’s murder was staged — replayed because the cameraman failed to capture the original scene.
  • Despite ample leads, U.S. and Pakistani investigators began the case chasing the wrong suspect, giving the killers time to slay Pearl and disappear. Pakistani authorities let a key informant, admitted guard Fazal Karim, go free and failed to follow other potential leads.
  • Omar Sheikh, who orchestrated the kidnapping plot, had contemplated bargaining over ransom demands for Pearl’s freedom, but that possibility quickly faded when it became known that Pearl was Jewish and when Al Qaida operatives took charge of him.
  • False and contradictory evidence presented in Pakistan’s kidnapping trial raises serious doubts the convictions of Sheikh and his three associates will stand up in currently pending appeals. Omar Sheikh’s defense attorney is also using KSM’s confession as grounds for his appeal.
  • KSM told the FBI that he was pulled into the kidnapping by a high-level leader in Al Qaeda circles today, an Egyptian named Saif al-Adel, who told him to make the kidnapping an Al Qaeda operation.
  • Pearl’s actual murderers will likely not stand trial for their crime. Federal officials decided in the summer of 2006 not to add the Pearl murder to charges against KSM in military tribunals because they concluded that would complicate plans to prosecute him and four alleged accomplices in the 9/11 attacks. KSM’s suspected accomplices aren’t expected to be charged, either. One nephew is being tried for the 9/11 attacks, and the whereabouts of the older nephew aren’t publicly known.

Benjamin Wittes is editor in chief of Lawfare and a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of several books.

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