Quick Fact: On Fox News, return of dubious claim that KSM's interrogation thwarted L.A. plot


On Fox News' Live Desk, co-host Trace Gallagher allowed Fordham University professor and former Republican candidate Annemarie McAvoy to assert that the Bush administration's interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) "thwart[ed] the bombings, or the attack in L.A." But the Bush administration itself said that the attack was thwarted in February 2002 -- more than a year before Mohammed was captured.

From the January 6 edition of Fox News' Live Desk:

McAVOY: Then when you look at that in comparison to how they handled KSM when he then was interrogated and gave up information which then was able to be used to thwart the bombings, or the attack in L.A., otherwise we would have had another attack. So they used the military to interrogate KSM, they got information that stopped an attack. Here, they only interrogated the guy at most for a couple of days, if even that. And I mean, once he has a lawyer, that's it, they're not going to get any information out of him.

GALLAGHER: It's interesting, because we talked about, you know, the process, you could have taken him to a military court, and then taken him to a civilian court. Now that he's lawyered up, you can't really go the opposite way, can you?

FACT: Bush admin. said L.A. attack was thwarted in February 2002 -- more than year before KSM was captured

As Slate.com's Timothy Noah has noted, the claim that the interrogation of Mohammed thwarted an attack on the Library Tower in Los Angeles conflicts with the chronology of events put forth on multiple occasions by the Bush administration. Indeed, the Bush administration said that the Library Tower attack was thwarted in February 2002 -- more than a year before Mohammed was captured in March 2003.

Noah explained:

What clinches the falsity of Thiessen's claim, however (and that of the memo he cites, and that of an unnamed Central Intelligence Agency spokesman who today seconded Thessen's argument), is chronology. In a White House press briefing, Bush's counterterrorism chief, Frances Fragos Townsend, told reporters that the cell leader was arrested in February 2002, and "at that point, the other members of the cell" (later arrested) "believed that the West Coast plot has been canceled, was not going forward" [italics mine]. A subsequent fact sheet released by the Bush White House states, "In 2002, we broke up [italics mine] a plot by KSM to hijack an airplane and fly it into the tallest building on the West Coast." These two statements make clear that however far the plot to attack the Library Tower ever got -- an unnamed senior FBI official would later tell the Los Angeles Times that Bush's characterization of it as a "disrupted plot" was "ludicrous" -- that plot was foiled in 2002. But Sheikh Mohammed wasn't captured until March 2003.

How could Sheikh Mohammed's water-boarded confession have prevented the Library Tower attack if the Bush administration "broke up" that attack during the previous year? It couldn't, of course. Conceivably the Bush administration, or at least parts of the Bush administration, didn't realize until Sheikh Mohammed confessed under torture that it had already broken up a plot to blow up the Library Tower about which it knew nothing. Stranger things have happened. But the plot was already a dead letter. If foiling the Library Tower plot was the reason to water-board Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, then that water-boarding was more than cruel and unjust. It was a waste of water.

Indeed, in the White House press briefing Noah cited, Townsend specifically noted that Mohammed was not captured until well after the individuals planning the Library Tower attacks concluded they had been "canceled":

TOWNSEND: Khalid Shaykh Muhammad was the individual who led this effort. He initiated the planning for the West Coast plot after September 11th, in October of 2001. KSM, working with Hambali in Asia, recruited the members of the cell. There was a total of four members of the cell. When they -- KSM, himself, trained the leader of the cell in late 2001 or early 2002 in the shoe bomb technique. You all will recall that there was the arrest of the shoe bomber, Richard Reid, in December of 2001, and he was instructing the cell leader on the use of the same technique.

After the cell -- the additional members of the cell, in addition to the leader, were recruited, they all went -- the cell leader and the three other operatives went to Afghanistan where they met with bin Laden and swore biat -- that is an oath of loyalty to him -- before returning to Asia, where they continued to work under Hambali.

The cell leader was arrested in February of 2002, and as we begin -- at that point, the other members of the cell believed that the West Coast plot has been canceled, was not going forward. You'll recall that KSM was then arrested in April of 2003 -- or was it March -- I'm sorry, March of 2003.

In addition to the senior FBI official that Noah mentioned, several other American counterterrorism officials also reportedly expressed doubts that the Library Tower plot ever advanced beyond the initial planning stages and ever posed a serious threat, as Media Matters for America documented in February 2006.

Fox News previously pushed the claim that waterboarding KSM led to the foiling of the Los Angeles plot in defending the use of harsh interrogation techniques.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Terrorism
Fox News Channel
Trace Gallagher
The Live Desk
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