According to the Washington Post, Khalid Sheik Mohammed saw his chances of “being martyred” slipping away, perhaps doubting that a President Obama would actually allow him to be executed at all. But it turns out that by pleading guilty, it might ironically keep him alive in jail for life.
Wa-Po: In offering to plead guilty to mass murder, Mohammed and his co-defendants emphasized their wish to die as martyrs rather than put themselves through a drawn-out legal battle before a U.S. military tribunal. But analysts say both Mohammed and the Bush administration know that time is running short for scoring propaganda points before a new president takes over — and possibly changes the rules.
Mohammed withdrew the plea offer after learning that it might complicate the chances for the death penalty and that two of his co-defendants would not be able to make the plea with him. But by essentially asking for death, Mohammed publicly thumbed his nose at the U.S. legal process and showed once again his talent for grabbing media attention, analysts said. At the same time, the White House and U.S. intelligence agencies seized on the prospect of his confession to claim vindication for their policies in the fight against terrorism, including the controversial tactics they used in capturing and detaining Mohammed and other al-Qaeda leaders.
But Mohammed may also have perceived his chances for glorious martyrdom slipping away. Bush, who boasted of tracking down al-Qaeda’s leaders “dead or alive,” has consistently sought the death penalty for high-value captives, while President-elect Barack Obama has, as of yet, no such record. An execution would be a propaganda boon for al-Qaeda and would be “infinitely preferable to spending a life in prison,” Hoffman said.
Even prison itself — which, under Bush, carried at least the prospect of being seen as a “living martyr” for al-Qaeda — would lose some of its status under an Obama administration, which would probably transfer inmates from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to ordinary prisons in the United States, Hoffman said.
For the Bush administration, there is little hope that Mohammed’s future will be settled in the six weeks before the president leaves office. Yet, both the White House and U.S. intelligence agencies saw vindication in the readiness of Mohammed and his four co-defendants to confess to the Sept. 11 attacks.