Last month, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, walked into a military courtroom at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and tried to wreak havoc. He cracked jokes with his four co-defendants, ignored the judge when he addressed him and spent part of the proceedings reading a magazine. After a 13-hour arraignment, he refused to enter a plea.
KSM, as he is known, is equal parts clowning buffoon and evil genius. He cracks jokes one minute and holds courtrooms spellbound with his admissions the next. His ego is legendary. His original Sept. 11 plan included a media event. He wanted to hijack an additional plane, land it at a major U.S. airport and then, from the tarmac, explain to America why it was under attack. Osama bin Laden is said to have diplomatically called that part of the plot a little “too complicated.”
After nearly a decade in U.S. custody — including four years at CIA black sites, where the United States admits he was waterboarded — KSM doesn’t appear to have changed much. Although he has been out of the violent jihadi scene for years, he still considers himself the sun around which that world revolves. So much so that when the Red Cross visited him for the first time after his 2003 capture, KSM didn’t want to talk about waterboarding or the conditions of his confinement. Instead, his top priority was a photo shoot. He wanted the Red Cross to release a portrait of him with a proper long beard. Evidently, the picture released shortly after his capture (more about that later) — all threadbare T-shirt and wild hair — was driving him crazy.