How Did Alleged 9/11 Mastermind KSM Dye His Beard Red?


—By Adam Serwer

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, in a Red Cross photo taken at Guantanamo Bay (left) and a photo (right) taken by US forces shortly after they captured him in 2003. Red Cross photo (left)/US Government photo (right).

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s beard is top secret.

You’re not supposed to be able to tell when someone has been using Just For Men, but the average graying man’s bathroom isn’t as well surveilled as a high-security cell at Guantanamo Bay. So when the alleged chief plotter behind the 9/11 attacks appeared at Guantanamo Bay’s military commission last Saturday with his beard dyed red, it raised a question:

How did KSM get (probably henna-based) beard dye while locked up in one of the world’s most secure facilities?

Reporters covering the 9/11 trials wondered about KSM’s ability to obtain hair care products. But, it turns out, this is a classified matter. The Defense Department says that Guantanamo Bay officials are “aware” of how KSM obtained the dye, but they’re not spilling the beans. And Mohammed’s defense attorney, David Nevin, says he isn’t allowed to talk about it.

“I have an idea about that, but unfortunately I can’t talk about it because it bears on conditions of confinement, and that’s one of the areas that’s treated as top secret,” Nevin says. “It’s frustrating, there’s so many of these things that do not implicate national security in the slightest.”

Security at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility is extremely tight, and high-value detainees like KSM are held in even more restrictive “SuperMax” conditions at the facility’s secretive Camp 7. Reporters aren’t allowed to tour that part of the facility, and the camp itself was a secret until 2007.

One US official told Mother Jones about three possible ways KSM might have gotten his hands on the henna. The detainee could have gotten the dye from a lawyer, but because Nevin can’t talk about his client’s grooming, that’s hard to confirm. Family or friends could have sent KSM the dye and had it delivered by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which occasionally visits the camp. It’s also possible, although less likely, that KSM could have made the dye from materials already available at the camp.

As for why KSM dyed his beard? Former State Department counterterrorism adviser Will McCants says that KSM is probably trying to emphasize his commitment to Islam. KSM grew his long, flowing beard only after he was imprisoned at Guantanamo—previous photographs show him with a trim beard or a thick mustache.

“KSM is following the practice of the Prophet Muhammad, who recommended dyeing a grey beard red,” McCants says, calling it “a sign of devotion, particularly after looking like Ron Jeremy all those years.”

But how did KSM go from the porn-star look to more of a Gimli? Apparently, it would damage national security if we knew.

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