Forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner, M.D., a special consultant to ABC News, has worked with prosecutors and defense attorneys on numerous cases where confessions are alleged to have been coerced or even false. He has written and lectured widely on the psychology behind terrorists and their leaders. We asked him to look closely at the Mohammed confession, as revealed in released documents.
How controlled is Mohammed in his statement? Is he being led into his confession?
Mohammed demonstrates an agile mind, spontaneous expression and very active initiative. From offering alibis to witnesses and co-combatants who would create confusion on his behalf as to whether he owned a particular computer possessing incriminating evidence, to downplaying his role, to offering criticism of the process and its detainees, to clasping to his identity and his mission. Whatever Mohammed has been exposed to, it has neither dimmed his allegiance, nor the zealotry of his ideas, nor his willingness to speak up and contest or protest. Likewise, he refers indirectly to his capacity to ramble unedited and how others might expect that of him.
In my professional experience, coerced confessions offer far less substance and initiated material, and require far more direction than is provided Mr. Mohammed here. There is no reason for him to have been coerced to take responsibility for many of the less sensational escapades listed in the unclassified portions of his admissions, given his admissions to other crimes. In my professional experience, qualities of a coerced confession reflect in law enforcement forcing admission of the most serious and meaningful charges, even to the end that lesser events and offenses are overlooked in their questioning because their priority of incriminating a suspect has been achieved. This was not the case here.
It is essential to note Mr. Mohammed as a dedicated, disciplined, highly trained military operative. He has lived and thrived in adverse environments and circumstances, and has been trained to anticipate the harshest of torture. He also belongs to an ideology that considers death to be martyrdom and therefore need not be fearful from threats to him, as might Westerners who value life.
Whatever the physical methods used with Mohammed, the experienced interrogators of American intelligence know that over time, building relationships and personal rapport are necessary to yield the level and sheer quantity of information that Mr. Mohammed has revealed. The benefit of torture is debated hotly, with some endorsing its use. But all high-value prisoners are needed for the quantity of their information, and such interrogations require time and rapport and negotiation. Torture changes the dynamic and creates obstacles to long-term quantity for those interrogators seeking immediate-term details.
Given statements Mr. Mohammed offered in his defense, and a lack of the military panel's leader referring to statements he has made in custody otherwise, my professional experience teaches me that were Mohammed to have made a false statement under duress, he would have recanted it in the proceedings. He disavowed in these proceedings, for example, a statement he once reportedly made to al Jazeera. Nowhere in this proceeding, at least, is he disavowing earlier statements to interrogators.
Some individuals might take credit in order to represent themselves to be more significant than they really are. Do you see this with Mohammed?