Dressed all in white with large glasses and a long gray beard, the man who imagined the unimaginable appeared at his arraignment today for his role as the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, making his first public appearance since he was captured in 2003, was asked by the military judge if he understood that the charges against him could bring the death penalty. Mohammed responded, "That is what I wish. I wish to be martyred" and, he added, "I understand very well."
Mohammed has admitted he developed the murderous plot to fly airplanes into buildings. He allegedly insisted the planes hit buildings, even when Osama bin Laden purportedly said hijacking them and crashing them in the ground would be enough.
At one point in today's proceedings, Mohammed told military judge Col. Ralph H. Kohlmann, "I know I can't talk about torture."
Today's hearing, held in a new $4 million courtroom built exclusively for the trials of terror suspects, comes nearly seven years after the worst terror attack in the nation's history. Mohammed appeared with four other top al Qaeda terror suspects on this military installation to hear the government charge them with the deaths of 3,000 people.
Mohammed's appearance stood in stark contrast to the government-released photograph of him at the time of his capture in a 2003 nightime raid in Pakistan. In the picture, he looks overweight, disheveled and slovenly.
Today he and the other defendants sat at separate tables with their lawyers, facing Kohlmann. When asked by Kohlmann if he agreed to be represented by the lawyers, Mohammed said he would represent himself because he would not accept any lawyer not using Sharia law, and added, "God is the real judge."
Chains lie on the floor by the defendants' chairs.
The public has not heard from Mohammed since the Pentagon released the transcript of his March 10, 2007, appearance at a procedural hearing held to determine his status as a so-called enemy combatant.
At that hearing, which was not open to the press, Mohammed admitted that he was in charge of the "organizing, planning, follow-up and execution of the 9/11 operation. "In broken English, and using a translator at times, Mohammed said he took responsibility for the 9/11 operation "from A to Z," as well as the planning for dozens of other attacks, including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
He also admitted to plotting assassination attempts against former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, as well as Pope John Paul II.
Mohammed claimed he was tortured by his interrogators, whom he referred to as "CIA peoples."
The CIA has admitted subjecting Mohammed to the interrogation technique called waterboarding, which simulates drowning.
At the end of the 2007 hearing, Mohammed made a rambling statement in which he regretted the deaths of children in connection with the 9/11 attacks. "I feel very sorry they been killed," he said.
Gathered at Guantanamo for Thursday's hearing are about 60 media representatives from around the world, including correspondents for broadcasts seen widely in the Arab world, al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya.