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KSM indictment unsealed, but sheds little new light on case

Attorney General Eric Holder gestures during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, Monday, April 4, 2011
Attorney General Eric Holder gestures during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, Monday, April 4, 2011, where he announced plans to try avowed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged henchmen before a military commission. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

This analysis was written by CBS Evening News Producer Phil Hirschkorn

As part of its decision to try self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM) and his four alleged co-conspirators in a military commission, the Justice Department today unsealed an indictment that charged Mohammad and the others with 10 counts relating to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. A judge dismissed the indictment since the accused will no longer be tried in civilian court, as Attorney General Eric Holder initially planned.

Other than the unsealing of this KSM indictment that was gathering dust and the fact of its dimissal, there is little new information in these court documents themselves.

The main accusations detailed in the indictment are found on p. 13-33, in the "overt actions" section under the banner first count covering the global al Qaeda terror conspiracy. The main stuff against KSM pops up on p.13-14, alleging that he proposed the plot using planes and trained the hijackers on how to use and conceal knives. It also says he showed them how to obtain drivers licenses in the U.S., where he had lived and attended college in the 1980's. None of these allegations are new -- not even the detail that KSM's knife training of the 9/11 hijackers included stabbing sheep and camels.

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PDF: Unsealed indictment

Between the extraordinarily detailed 9/11 Commission Report, commission staff reports and the extensive Guantanamo public record, including charging documents and transcripts (from the earlier "tribunals" and current "commissions"), the dismissed federal indictment reveals little that wasn't already known or previously alleged elsewhere. That doesn't mean the government's case was weak, and an indictment is not evidence. There would have been plenty to convict.

Frankly, the mostly forgotten, written KSM statement introduced at the nation's first and only 9/11 trial -- of Zacarias Moussaoui in 2006 in Virginia federal court -- was perhaps more detailed than any of the above. That statement was offered by the defense as a substitute for KSM's supposedly exculpatory testimony regarding Moussaoui, based on his secret interrogations.

Consistent with previous documents and reports, the dismissed indictment classifies KSM as the plot conceiver, Germany-based Binalshibh as its manager, UAE-based al-Hawsawi and KSM nephew Aziz Ali as money men, and the elusive Kallad (bin Attash) as responsible for airline security surveillance (notably in places like Malaysia and Thailand, not the USA).

The indictment saw fit to include that KSM tried to come to America right before the plot was carried out, applying for a visa in Saudi Arabia in July 2001 using an alias (p.25), but that visa was denied.

The unnamed co-conspirator who tried to enter the U.S. via Orlando on Aug. 4, 2001, (p.26, paragraph 132), was Mohammed al-Qahtani, the real would-be 20th hijacker (not Moussaoui). Mohammed Atta was waiting in the airport parking lot for him.

In a small item of trivia, this is a superceding indictment -- note the S14 at the top and not a new case number. The case number, 93 cr. 180, is the original case number of the first World Trade Center bombing case, "US. v. Salameh et. al." That case number was also used (superceded) when Ramzi Yousef and KSM's first planes plot (Bojinka, targeting airliners over the Pacific) was brought to trial. Yousef and four other men were convicted by a jury in 1996; the indictment was pending against KSM when 9/11 happened.

Watch Attorney General Eric Holder discuss the decision to try KSM in a military commission:

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