A “Cluster Covfefe”: Guantánamo Prisoner Majid Khan’s Damning Verdict on the Shambolic Military Commissions


Guantanamo prisoner Majid-Khan, photographed at Guantanamo in 2009 by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.


I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

To the US political, military and intelligence establishment, Guantánamo prisoner and “high-value detainee” Majid Khan — held and tortured in CIA “black sites” for three years, where he was subjected to water torture and another horrible form of torture, “rectal feeding” — is a dangerous convicted terrorist, but to anyone who takes an interest in the man himself, Khan, a Pakistani citizen who spent six years in the US as a teenager, graduating from a high school in Maryland, is a reformed character, who has cooperated fully with the authorities, and ought to be regarded as having paid his debt to society, and to be able to resume his life. 

To some extent, the authorities have accepted Khan’s transformation. Over six years ago, in February 2012, they arranged a plea deal whereby, as the Miami Herald explained in September 2016, he “pleaded guilty to serving as a courier of $50,000 linked to the Aug. 5, 2003, terrorist truck bombing of a Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, that killed 11 people and wounded dozens of others,” and “also admitted to agreeing to be a suicide bomber in an unrealized plot to murder former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.”

By pleading guilty, and also by agreeing to cooperate with the authorities in forthcoming military commission trials — and, specifically, the 9/11 trial, involving Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks — it was agreed that, on sentencing, he would be required to serve a further 13 years.

However, despite agreeing to his plea deal nearly six and a half years ago, his sentencing has not yet taken place, having been postponed twice because of delays in the military commission trials.

In a hearing at Guantánamo last week, ahead of his proposed sentencing next year, Khan “complained to a war court judge this week of problems between his attorneys and prosecutors,” as Carol Rosenberg described it for the Miami Herald.

According to a transcript released by the Pentagon, Khan said, “Over the last past six years, I’ve … been struggling with this whole process and the whole military commission system is pretty stagnant.” 

In a masterful analogy, showing how in tune he is with US culture and politics, he said in a sharp analysis of the military commission system, “I call it ‘cluster covfefe,’” referring to the famous typo in a tweet by Donald Trump a year ago, which prompted a tsunami of satirical responses.

Rosenberg added, “Without explaining further, he told the judge that his lawyers and prosecutors weren’t getting along,” and said, “I hear a lot of ominous language from prosecutors all the time, so I don’t know where I am standing.” He also said that “he preferred a more ‘amicable milieu.’”

Rosenberg also noted that an issue for Khan “had been the timing of his sentencing, now set for July 1, 2019,” further explaining that, in his 2012 plea deal, he had “agreed to become a government witness, something his military jury might view favorably in deciding his sentence,” but pointing out that “no war crimes case has come to trial that required his testimony,” and so, as mentioned above, “his sentencing hearing has been twice postponed by agreement of both sides.”

His civilian attorney Wells Dixon, of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, stated, “Majid just wants to move forward and maximize his cooperation with as little disruption as possible. He may get frustrated from time to time, but that’s only human. He’s done remarkably well over the last six years. We’re very proud of him.”

Another issue for Khan “appears to be a churn of lawyers” on his case, as Rosenberg described it. She explained that, for the hearing on Tuesday, which lasted just over two hours, “there was a different judge, different prosecution team and different military defense attorney from his last appearance in September 2016.”

As she also explained, his “long-serving military defense attorney, Army Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, has retired from service and was replaced by Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jared Hernandez.” However, Hernandez, in turn, “is due to leave the case in September.” In the courtroom on Tuesday, Hernandez described Khan as “Guantánamo’s only high-value cooperator,” and stated that he “wants the Pentagon to hire Jackson as a civilian defense lawyer for the case.”

Rosenberg also explained that the the new military judge in Khan’s case, Army Col. Douglas Watkins, had been responsible for the sentencing hearing last year of Ahmed al-Darbi, a Saudi who had also agreed to a plea deal, and who was repatriated to continued imprisonment in Saudi Arabia earlier this year — the only prisoner released from Guantánamo under Donald Trump.

At the hearing on Tuesday, as Rosenberg described it, Khan’s legal team “questioned Watkins about possible conflicts, something that typically happens when a new judge appears at the war court.” Asked “whether the CIA influences his decision making or controls his court,” Watkins said, “Not at all.” He added that “he was aware that Khan been held by the CIA and was aware of allegations of torture by lawyers but had never read the Senate intelligence committee’s torture report.” The executive summary of the report, released in December 2014, confirmed Khan’s torture.

During the questioning, Wells Dixon, referring to his client’s torture, asked Watkins, “Has your honor ever been involved in a case, in any fashion, where the accused was beaten or sleep deprived or stripped naked, waterboarded, or sexually assaulted?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” Watkins replied, before declining “to offer an opinion of whether those things individually or in combination constituted torture.”

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

5 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, looking at the gulf between the US authorities’ PR about Guantanamo and the reality, at least in the case of Majid Khan, a US-educated Pakistani, and a clearly reformed character with a wicked sense of humor. Held and tortured in CIA “black sites,” he agreed to a plea deal in his military commission trial in February 2012, on the basis that he would be a witness in future Guantanamo trials, but those are subject to interminable delays, and he is still awaiting sentencing. Discussing the delays at a hearing last week, he called the commissions a “cluster covfefe,” rather brilliantly, I thought, making reference to Donald Trump’s notorious tweet last year, when he appeared to fall asleep while tweeting and posted a meaningless word that sparked a million satirical responses.

  2. Tom says...

    Good work Andy.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom.

  4. arcticredriver says...

    When Majid Khan confessed, and was convicted and sentenced, an editorial in the Washington Post called his conviction “tough, but fair”. But should we put any more stock in his Guantanamo confession than we put in Omar Khadr’s? If it was a false confession due to trial before an unjust court, conviction and tough sentencing was unjust, not fair.

    Majid Khan was originally hyped as part of the dirty bomb plot, together with Binyam Mohammed, Jose Padilla, and Abu Zubaydah. He and Padilla were also supposed to have been part of a plot to sabotage and blow up parts of the USA’s natural gas infrastructure. These plots were trotted out as an example of how endangered the US was, for years. But, if I am not mistaken, not one lick of proof that the plots were anything more than interrogator wet dreams has ever been offered.

    I think it is possible that Khan may never have been a militant, may have never knowingly taken any step to help a terrorist enterprise. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he never even met, never even had any contact, with KSM or the other men he is expected to testify against.

    Why confess, why plead guilty, if you are innocent? Well, maybe, it was only through a guilty plea that he could look forward to a fixed release date.

    Andy, can I ask whether you are aware of whether Binyam Mohammed has either confirmed or refuted whether he even met Padilla and Khan?


  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi arcticredriver,
    Good to hear from you, as always. My recollection of the so-called ‘dirty bomb plot’ was of Paul Wolfowitz explaining, when Padilla was seized, that the so-called plot had gone no further than searching the internet, and yet that inconvenient truth was completely ignored by the mainstream media. It’s hard to know what the truth is about Majid Khan, but obviously it’s unwise to take everything at face value.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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