BAHÍA DE GUANTÁNAMO, Cuba – In a harsh rebuke of the torture carried out by the CIA after the September 11 attacks, seven senior military officers heard graphic descriptions last week of the brutal treatment of a terrorist while in custody The agency wrote a letter calling it “a stain on America’s moral fiber.”
The officers, all but one member of an eight-member jury, condemned the conduct of the US government in a clemency letter on behalf of Majid Khan, a suburban Baltimore high school graduate turned Qaeda courier.
They had been taken to the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay to convict Mr. Khan, who had previously pleaded guilty to terrorism charges. They gave a sentence of 26 years, roughly the shortest possible term according to court instructions.
At the urging of Mr. Khan’s lawyer, they took the prerogative available in the military courts to write a letter to a senior official who will review the case, asking for clemency.
Before sentencing, Mr. Khan spent two hours describing in gruesome detail the violence that CIA agents and operatives inflicted on him in dungeon conditions in the prisons of Pakistan, Afghanistan and a third country, including sexual abuse and crippling isolation, often in the dark while naked and in chains.
“Mr. Khan was subjected to physical and psychological abuse far beyond approved improved interrogation techniques, rather than closer to torture by the most abusive regimes in modern history,” according to the letter, which was obtained by The New York Times.
The panel also responded to Mr. Khan’s claim that after his capture in Pakistan in March 2003, he told the interrogators everything, but “the more I cooperated, the more I was tortured,” and subsequently fabricated lies to try to appease their captors.
“This abuse had no practical value in terms of intelligence, or any other tangible benefit to the interests of the United States,” the letter said. Instead, it is a stain on America’s moral fiber; the treatment of Mr. Khan at the hands of US personnel should be a source of embarrassment to the US government. “
In his testimony Thursday night, Khan became the first former prisoner of the so-called CIA black sites to publicly describe in detail the violence and cruelty that US agents used to extract information and discipline suspected terrorists in the program of clandestine prisons abroad. which was established after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
In doing so, Mr. Khan also provided a preview of the kind of information that might emerge in the death penalty trial of the five men charged with plotting the 9/11 attacks, a process that has stalled in pre-trial hearings for nearly a decade, in part due to secrecy surrounding their torture by the CIA
The agency declined to comment on the substance of Khan’s descriptions of the black sites, which prosecutors did not attempt to rebut. He only said that his detention and interrogation program, which ran the black sites, ended in 2009.
More than 100 suspected terrorists disappeared into the CIA’s network of clandestine overseas prisons after September 11, 2001. The agency used “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as the submarine, sleep deprivation and violence to try to make the prisoners disclose Al Qaeda’s plans and the whereabouts of the leaders. and sleeping cells, but with no immediate plans to bring their captives to trial.
President George W. Bush revealed the existence of the CIA program in September 2006, with the transfer of Mr. Khan and 13 other suspected high-value prisoners to Guantánamo. President Barack Obama ordered the program’s complete shutdown after taking office in 2009.
Khan, 41, was detained without access to International Red Cross, the authority entrusted by the Geneva Conventions to visit prisoners of war, or a lawyer until after their transfer to Guantanamo Bay. He pleaded guilty in February 2012 to terrorism offenses, including handing over $ 50,000 from Al Qaeda to an extremist group allied in Southeast Asia, Jemaah Islamiyah, which was used to fund a deadly project. bombing of a Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, five months after his capture. Eleven people died and dozens more were injured.
His prison sentence clock began ticking with his guilty plea in 2012, meaning the panel’s 26-year sentence would end in 2038.
But Khan, who has cooperated with the United States government, helping federal and military prosecutors build cases, has a settlement that was kept secret from the jury that could end his sentence in February or 2025 at the latest. .
Under the military commission system that was established after 9/11, even defendants who plead guilty and make a deal with the government must have a jury sentencing hearing. This was the case for Mr. Khan, whose sentence was delayed for nearly a decade to give him time to work with government investigators and win favor in the form of an early release from a jury sentence.
The clemency letter also condemned the legal framework that kept Mr. Khan without charge for nine years and denied him access to a lawyer for the first four and a half as “total disregard for the fundamental concepts on which the Constitution was based.” and “an affront to American values and the concept of justice.”
Although it is rarely done, a military defense attorney may ask a panel for letters supporting mercy, such as a reduced sentence, for a service member who is court-martialed.
But this was the first time the request was made to a sentencing jury at Guantanamo, where the accused terrorists are being tried by a military commission. A clemency recommendation is not binding, but it could send a powerful message to the convening authority of the military commissions, the senior Pentagon official who oversees the court-martial, whose role is to review a completed case and an accompanying clemency petition from defense attorneys to decide whether to shorten a sentence. An Army Colonel, Jeffrey D. Wood of the Arkansas National Guard, currently fulfills that role as a civilian.
In closing arguments, Mr. Khan’s military attorney, Army Major Michael J. Lyness, asked the panel for a minimum sentence and then considered drafting a letter recommending clemency.
The chief prosecutor, Army Col. Walter H. Foster IV, asked the panel to issue a severe sentence. He admitted that Mr. Khan received “extremely harsh treatment” in CIA custody, but said he was “still alive”, which was “a luxury” that the victims of the Qaeda attacks did not have.
The chairman of the jury, a Navy captain, said in court that he accepted the defense’s request and drafted the clemency letter by hand, and that all but one sentencing jury officers signed it, using their numbers. member of the panel because jurors are anonymous in the Guantanamo National Security Court.
Ian C. Moss, a former Marine who is a civil attorney on Mr. Khan’s defense team, called the letter “an extraordinary reprimand.”
“Part of what makes the clemency letter so powerful is that, given the seniority of the jurors, it stands to reason that their military careers have been directly and probably personally affected by the last two decades of war.” , said.
At no point did the jurors suggest that Mr. Khan’s treatment was illegal. His letter noted that Mr. Khan, who never obtained US citizenship, was considered an “unprivileged foreign belligerent enemy,” a status that made him eligible for trial by a military commission and “technically not granted the rights of American citizens. “
But, officials noted, Mr. Khan pleaded guilty, acknowledged his actions and “expressed remorse for the impact on the victims and their families. Clemency is recommended. “
Sentencing was delayed nearly a decade after his guilty plea to give Mr. Khan time and opportunity to cooperate with federal and military prosecutors, so far behind the scenes, on federal and military terrorism cases. In the intervening years, prosecutors and defense attorneys clashed in court filings about that he would be called to testify about the abuse of Mr. Khan in CIA custody, and how.
In exchange for the reduced sentence, Mr. Khan and his legal team agreed to forgo their effort to call witnesses to testify about his torture, many of whom will likely be classified, as long as he could tell his story to the jury. .
Jurors also sympathized with Khan’s account that he was drawn to radical Islam in 2001 at age 21, after the death of his mother, and was recruited into al Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks. “A vulnerable target for the recruitment of extremists, it fell to the influences that fostered radical Islamic philosophies, just as many others have done in recent years,” the letter said. “Now, at the age of 41, with a daughter he has never seen, he is remorseful and is not a threat to future extremism.”
The panel received nine letters of support for Mr. Khan from family members, including his father and several siblings, American citizens living in the United States, as well as his wife, Rabia, and their daughter, Manaal, who were born in Pakistan and live there.