Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Wire and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

Mrs. F and I just finished watching the second season of HBO's cop drama, The Wire, and the show has become a big fave around Cracks Centraal. Each of the two seasons that we've seen covers one specific case, giving the particulars of the plot added nuance. It also gives fairly equal footing to telling the stories of both sides -- the hunt for bad guys on the cop side as well as the motivation and business intrigue on the perp side. Excellent stuff, and highly recommended (especially the second season, which balances a new case involving working class dock workers with the leftovers of the previous season's drug case).

Which brings me to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (of course, you say). When I started seeing the story of his long list of confessions, something in the back of my head starting thinking about a character on The Wire that did the same thing. But it flew out of my head and I didn't think about it again until I saw this post over at Foreign Policy's Passport:
Being a Wire freak, the first thing that popped into my head when I read Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's confession was: This guy is full of it.

Why? In Season One of The Wire, Roland "Wee-Bay" Brice, a top hitman for the Barksdale drug organization, gets fingered for shooting a police officer. He then cops to multiple murders, including several that he didn't commit, in order to protect the gang.

Might Mohammed be doing the same thing? I don't doubt that he was deeply involved in numerous al Qaeda operations, including 9/11, of course. The man is a mass murderer. But it's deeply suspicious that he's confessing to so many plots—at least 31.
Wired's Danger Room blog also had the same notion, but has updated with numerous folks rebutting this theory. Yes, Mohammed was an evil bastard who deserves the justice that he gets. But thanks to the always lowering limbo bar of credibility that the BushCo Administration offers, I just can't take this at face value. And The Economist is having the same problem:
The headline story is that Mr Mohammed, who did not have a lawyer present, has confessed to being an al-Qaeda leader, a friend of Osama bin Laden, and to planning the September 11th attacks on New York and Washington, DC—things that were already widely held to be true. But it is hard to know what to make of the appearance, now, of these or his other statements. He claims credit for a bafflingly large number of incidents and murders, including the 1993 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, the nightclub bombing in Bali in 2002, terrorist attacks on Israelis and Kenyans in Kenya in 2002, and the failed “shoe bomber” attack of 2001.

He also describes a tremendous number of other acts of aggression that were apparently planned—though it is unclear whether this means merely thought about, or actually prepared for—but never carried out: assassinations of “several” former American presidents, including Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton; the destruction of skyscrapers in New York, Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles; bombings of London, of the Panama Canal, of Israeli embassies and much more. In all he confesses to at least 30 assorted attacks or planned attacks.

It is probably true that Mr Mohammed has been ill-treated, possibly even tortured, by his American captors. Parts of his testimony were redacted, including details of the CIA prison where it is assumed he was kept. But some of his claims on torture are not censored: “I know American people are torturing us from seventies. [REDACTED] I know they talking about human rights. And I know it is against American constitution, against American laws.”

But he also appears to make clear, in the transcript, that he is not speaking under duress. The picture that emerges is not unlike the portrait painted by America’s official report on September 11th: that of a grandiloquent, boastful, egotist, “the self-cast star, the superterrorist”. There may be much in that: Mr Mohammed is reckoned by American intelligence agencies to have been extraordinarily active in terrorism, in many parts of the world. Although, by laying claim to any terrorist attack he could remember or dream up, he may perhaps cast doubt on the reliability of the admissions he offered.

Anyhoo, back to The Wire. Damn good show. Crackerjack acting and writing throughout. Check out this scene with Detectives McNulty (one of the central characters, played by Dominic West) and the cigar-chompin' Bunk Moreland (played by Wendell Pierce), who visit the scene of an old murder case and compare notes with just the simplest of dialogue (which is not safe for the workplace):


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