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Man who bragged about planning 9/11 is allowed to send a letter to Obama

Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba -- With the clock ticking toward Inauguration Day, an Army judge has ordered the prison to send a letter from the alleged 9/11 mastermind to Barack Obama by Friday, a week before this commander in chief leaves office.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, 51, wrote to Obama in 2014 about "Muslim oppression at the hands of the West in general and the United States in particular," his lawyer David Nevin said then. He also shares his views on what happened in Iraq during the period of U.S. sanctions and "events in Palestine and Gaza over the years."

The prison declined to deliver it. Prosecutors called the 18-page letter "inflammatory propaganda" and urged the judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, to defer to a detention center staff decision not to send it.

But Pohl's eight-page decision, according to those who have read it, notes prosecution "inconsistency" in its own practice that has sometimes sought to use to its own advantage the incendiary language of the man who, after the CIA waterboarded him 183 times, bragged that he ran the Sept. 11 terror attacks "from A to Z."

Pohl noted that in 2014, while litigating the rights of female guards to touch the captives, prosecutors attached -- unsealed -- a jailhouse document signed by Mohammed and the other alleged 9/11 plotters called "The Islamic Response."

Nearly 3,000 people died in the simultaneous hijackings on Sept. 11, 2001. Pohl is presiding at pretrial hearings on war-crimes charges that seek to execute Mohammed and four alleged accomplices.

Pohl's decision, dated Jan. 6, was still under seal Wednesday on the war court website whose motto is "Fairness-Transparency-Justice." Security officials get up to 15 business days to scrub all filings, including judicial rulings, of information they consider too risky for the public to see. The letter itself has likewise been under seal.

Pohl found no "legal basis for continued sealing of the letter's contents," according to attorneys who read the ruling. He gave the prison 30 days to screen it -- citing an unspecified security concern raised by prosecutors in a unilateral filing to the judge -- and then release it to the public.

If the Pentagon sticks to that timetable neither the decision nor the letter itself will be released to the public until after Donald Trump takes office. Pohl, in his ruling, took "judicial notice on the pending change of administrations."

Nevin, Mohammed's Pentagon paid death-penalty defender, noted at the outset of the controversy that Obama has the highest of security clearances and should be entitled to receive even the most sensitive of classified material. However, he said, the letter had been screened by security officials and found to contain no classified material.

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