This is Daniel Pearl’s Final Story/ By Asra Nomani for the Washingtonian
January 23, 2014
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is walking toward me in a black prayer cap, a cream-colored tunic, and matching shalwar, or baggy pants. He’s hunched over, his beard dyed red, a symbol of piety to conservative Muslims, and I can’t take my eyes off him.
It’s May 5, 2012, the first time in three and a half years that KSM—as he’s known to American officials—has appeared in court, outside his prison cell. We are at Guantánamo, where a US military commission is about to arraign him and four other men for the September 11 attacks, in a courtroom that feels like a movie set. Erected atop an abandoned airfield on the base, it’s as big as a warehouse and has small trailers outside set up as holding areas, one for each defendant. When the courtroom door opened for the men, the Caribbean sun pushed its way into the room first.
I’m in seat number two in the first row of journalists and spectators, separated from the defendants by a wall outfitted with soundproof glass. A video system feeds sound and pictures to screens above us. I’m about 30 feet behind KSM, and there are 40 of us in the gallery. Yet as KSM takes his seat, it feels for a moment as if we’re the only two people in the room.
“Allahu, Allahu, Allahu,” I whisper.
For the families of those who died on 9/11, the day marks the start of what’s likely to be a years-long trial for justice against KSM, the self-described architect of the World Trade Center attacks. For me, it’s something else. KSM is the man who bragged about taking a knife to the throat of my Wall Street Journal colleague and close friend Daniel Pearl.
Danny Pearl and Asra Nomani goofing off during a reporting trip of Pearl’s to Karachi in November 2001.
Twelve years ago, on January 23, 2002, Danny left my home in Karachi, Pakistan, for an interview and never came back. Like so many of our peers, we had each put down roots in Pakistan to report on America’s so-called war on terror. I was on book leave from the Journal, finishing a memoir. Danny, the newspaper’s South Asia bureau chief, and his wife, Mariane, were living in Islamabad. They’d come to see me for a few days so Danny could do an interview for a story about Richard Reid, the Englishman who had packed his shoes with explosives and tried to blow up an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami three days before Christmas 2001. The plan was for Danny and Mariane to vacation in Dubai after Danny’s meeting. Mariane was five months pregnant. He had just texted me: “It’s a boy!!!!!”