The tale told by former
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was born in 1965, in Kuwait, to an immigrant family on the wrong side of the caste system. At school he excelled at science and got the chance to study engineering at a small college in
This is where tragic irony and huge historical dimension take over what is an otherwise familiar template, that of the smart and angry young man given fanatical purpose by Islamic extremism.
The search led to teeming Karachi,
"If you were on the ground and asked, you could collect an address for KSM from almost every person you talked to," the authors write. "He was here in Defence, in a mansion. It was an apartment in Sharifabad, a mud hut in the swamp flats of Korangi, in the Baluch colony of Lyari, in a third-floor walk-up in that Arab neighborhood full of money changers and bucket shops. A man who was arrested had a phone number for Mohammed that was traced to the other end of town, a middle-class preserve and single-family homes with clean modern lines, behind pale stucco walls."
It didn't help that the
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed evaded capture by lying low, not using electronics, and trusting instead in personal couriers. "He stayed on the ground, in the very human muck that was Pakistan," write McDermott and Meyer. "So in the end it was almost inevitable that it was a human who would betray him." The CIA grabbed KSM unawares and in his pajamas.
"KSM was held in Pakistani custody for three days. He was then transferred to U.S. control and taken on a three-year tour of the secret prisons the CIA had established in Asia, Africa, and eastern Europe, most of it blindfolded," the authors write. Dark arts, indeed: "He was hog-tied, stripped naked, photographed, hooded, beaten, kicked, suffocated, exposed to extreme cold and noise, denied food and sleep, sedated with anal suppositories, placed in diapers, and hung by his wrists until they bled." When inquisitors threatened to track down his female relatives and have them raped, KSM merely shrugged, "saying, in effect, Really? Is that the best you can do."
KSM talked, and talked, and talked, and it became apparent to his interrogators that he was talking too much. Some Al Qaeda networks were rolled up, but many leads were false. "He had us chasing the geese in
Frank Pellegrino, the dogged and quirky FBI guy who had pursued KSM across the globe since the early 1990s and who knew more about him than anybody, was not allowed to go near him until early 2007. The moment seems to come straight out of John le Carre. The antagonists face each other across a government-issue table at Guantanamo and trade stories of near misses. "Pellegrino thought KSM might be the kind of guy you could sit down and have a beer with, if he hadn't been one of the worst mass murderers in American history," note McDermott and Meyer.
On Saturday, KSM remained silent at a 13-hour hearing before a military commission in Guantanamo for himself and four other defendants on charges stemming from the Sept. 11 attacks. The charges could carry the death penalty for the five defendants. The hearing came just more than a year after the Obama administration abandoned efforts to try KSM and his co-conspirators before a civilian court.
Investigators believe parts of KSM's networks remain in place, waiting for another day. As McDermott and Meyer point out, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed's hovering presence and the long uncertainty about what to do with him have become metaphors for our general anxiety concerning the war with Islamic terrorism. We wish it was over; we know it isn't.