There are a lot of questions still be answered about the planning of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and western Pennsylvania that left 3,000 dead, but given the failure to capture Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of world terrorism, or his chief lieutenants, such inside information has been unattainable. Until now, that is.
Last week's arrest of Ramzi Binalshibh in Pakistan is the break the United States has long desired. Binalshibh isn't just some bin Laden disciple who blindly followed the dictates of Al-Qaida. He has claimed responsibility for the Sept. 11 attacks and has been identified by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, one of bin Laden's chief associates, as the "coordinator" of Al-Qaida's "Holy Tuesday operation." Sept. 11, 2001, was a Tuesday.
That puts Binalshibh in a class by himself. And he should be treated as such by the Bush administration. By virtue of his own admission, made during an interview in June with a reporter from al-Jazeera, the pan-Arab satellite television channel that has become the main source of news for millions of people, this man has the blood of 3,000 innocents on his hands. He is truly an "enemy combatant," and fits the profile of an accused who deserves to be tried before a military tribunal.
Given the fact that planning for 9/11 began more than two years before that fateful day, and given the existence of Al-Qaida terrorist cells in at least 60 countries, including the United States, Binalshibh's arrest is timely and fortuitous. The challenge now is to make him talk.
While we remain committed to the Geneva Convention, the international agreement that established a code for the care in wartime of the sick, wounded and dead and of prisoners of war, we do believe that Binalshibh has given up any right to kid-glove treatment. What he orchestrated was vile and evil and cannot be viewed in the context of war.
Indeed, he and Mohammed, who identified himself as head of the Al-Qaida military committee, revealed in the al-Jazeera interview that the terrorist organization had considered hitting U.S. nuclear facilities last year. They also would not rule out a nuclear attack in the future, according to a news report.
Binalshibh is a mass murderer and must be treated as such. U.S. officials will have to be unrelenting in their questioning of him and will have to use all the interrogation tools at their disposal to extract truthful answers from him.
Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, says officials are eager to question Binalshibh "to find out what he knows."
It's safe to conclude that he knows a lot. The question that looms is this: How far are we willing to go to get information from him? Quite far, we would think.