SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – The self-professed mastermind and four other men charged in the Sept. 11 attacks declared they are “terrorists to the bone” in a statement that mocked the U.S. failure to prevent the killings and predicted America will fall like “the towers on the blessed 9/11 day.”
In a rambling response to the government’s case, the men also sought to justify the attacks, citing a violent interpretation of Islam and a series of grievances against the U.S., including support for Israel, the Iraq war and abuses at Abu Ghraib prison and in Guantanamo.
“To us, they are not accusations. To us they are badges of honor, which we carry with pride,” the men wrote in the six-page document, which was released Tuesday by a military judge over the objections of the Pentagon-appointed lawyers for two of the men.
“So, you are the first class war criminals,” they added, “and the whole world witnesses this.”
The five, who are among 245 prisoners held at the U.S. military lockup in Cuba, include Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the professed architect of the Sept. 11 attacks, and Ramzi Binalshibh, allegedly one of his key lieutenants in al-Qaida.
Both men previously said they were proud of their role in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon — and all five had said they wanted to plead guilty. But this is their most detailed statement to date.
The men do not go into details of their roles in the plot, but they call the charge of conspiracy “laughable” and mock U.S. authorities for being unable to prevent the attacks. “Blame yourselves and your failed intelligence apparatus.”
They also predict defeat for the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan and the overall collapse of America. “Your end is very near and your fall will be just as the fall of the towers on the blessed 9/11 day.”
The five, who could face the death penalty if convicted on charges that include murder and terrorism, were at a pretrial hearing in Guantanamo when President Barack Obama abruptly suspended all war-crimes proceedings pending a review of the much-criticized system for prosecuting terrorists created by Congress and the Bush administration.
They will still be tried, but under what type of system has not yet been determined. The proceedings, however, will probably not be at Guantanamo since Obama has ordered the detention center closed within a year.
Three of the defendants have been acting as their own lawyers but two of the men, Binalshibh and Mustafa al-Hawsawi, still have Pentagon-appointed military attorneys pending a court ruling on whether they are mentally competent to represent themselves.
Their lawyers, Army Maj. Jon Jackson and Navy Cmdr. Suzanne Lachelier, said they had not met with their clients to discuss the document and cannot say what may have motivated the men to sign it — or even vouch for its authenticity. They said the judge should not have released it.
Pentagon spokesman Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon called the filing “merely another attempt by these detainees to garner publicity.”
Others said the statement provide some insight into the defendants.
“We must never be complacent about this hateful, hateful group of individuals who are out to harm us,” said Maureen Santora, whose New York City firefighter son was killed at the World Trade Center. “They are unrelenting in their mission to destroy America.”
Brian Jenkins, a senior adviser on terrorism at the RAND Corp., said the statement appears to be aimed at attracting support and recruits abroad by portraying the men as Muslim warriors defending a religion under siege.
“You have to continue to campaign even while you are in captivity, and the way to do that is to broadcast your beliefs so you will inspire others,” Jenkins said.
Flagg Miller, a professor of religious studies at the University of California, Davis, said he was struck by the language of the Sept. 11 defendants, who write more harshly than the top Khalid Sheik Mohammedleaders seeking to portray themselves in a more diplomatic light as defenders of world justice.
Miller said he was struck by such phrases as “We are terrorists to the bone,” which suggests a dramatic attempt to shock the public and sow fear.
“It’s saying ‘If this is where the roller coaster is going, then we’re going to ride it to the end,” said Miller, who has been analyzing thousands of hours of tapes of Osama bin Laden. “This is a performance, and they are good at it.”
Associated Press Writer Amy Westfeldt in New York contributed to this report.