Is This Justice? After 18 Years of Torture, Isolation and Unprecedented Co-Operation, CIA and Guantánamo Prisoner Majid Khan Should Be Released in Feb. 2022


Majid Khan, photographed as a student in 1999, and in recent years at Guantánamo.

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On Thursday evening, in a military courtroom at Guantánamo Bay, Majid Khan, a Pakistani national who was held and tortured in CIA “black sites” for three years and four months after his initial capture in Pakistan in March 2003, and has been held at Guantánamo since September 2006, was finally allowed to tell the world the gruesome details about his treatment in the “black site” program, and at Guantánamo, in a statement that he read out at a sentencing hearing.

Some of the details of the torture to which Khan was subjected were made public nearly seven years ago, when the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report about the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program was made public — in particular, the shocking revelation that he was one of several prisoners subjected to “rectal feeding,” whereby, as the report described it, his “‘lunch tray,’ consisting of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins was ‘pureed’ and rectally infused.”

In his sentencing statement, however, which, as his lawyers at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights explain, made him “the first so-called ‘high-value detainee’ at Guantánamo who has been able to speak publicly about the CIA torture program,” he revealed much more than was ever previously known publicly. As Vince Warren, CCR’s Executive Director, said, “We knew about some of the horrors he was subjected to, like the so-called ‘rectal feeding,’ from the Senate torture report, but the new details in his own words were chilling. From the ice-bath waterboardings to the ‘Torture Doctor’ who put hot sauce on the tip of his IV, the acts committed by our government shock the conscience — yet no one has ever been held accountable.”

Khan’s entire statement is available here, and it does indeed shed new light on the horrors of the torture program, but it is also a compelling account of how a young man, distraught at the death of his mother, was opportunistically targeted for recruitment by Al-Qaeda members in Pakistan, and ended up involved in plotting terrorist attacks (albeit ones that never materialized) and couriering money from Pakistan to Thailand, before his capture at his home in Karachi in March 2003.

Also compelling is Khan’s remorse for his actions. From the very beginning of his imprisonment, he told his captors the truth, but as he explained, “the more I cooperated and told them, the more I was tortured” — a shocking but unsurprising failure on the part of his interrogators to be able to ascertain when they were being told the truth, but one that has, sadly, been endemic in the “war on terror.”

It took until October 2007, when he was finally allowed to meet his lawyers, for the first steps to be taken towards the plea deal that he agreed to in his military commission trial in February 2012, which I wrote about here. In his statement, he described how, on meeting his lawyers for the first time, “I communicated to them that I would be willing to tell the truth and cooperate … to make things right. I made a decision early on that I was going to take responsibility for what I had done. I wasn’t going to let Guantánamo be the last chapter written in my life.”

As he proceeded to explain, “It took almost two years, before negotiations commenced regarding a plea deal in exchange for my cooperation”, but, finally, “On February 29, 2012, I pled guilty to all of the crimes that I was guilty of. Pleading guilty and deciding to cooperate with the U.S. Government was a very good decision. I have never doubted this decision and I remain steadfast in my commitment to assist the U.S. Government in any way that I can.”

In return for his assistance, which has involved him “cooperat[ing] with the U.S. authorities to include Prosecutors and Investigators, both for Commissions Cases and for federal, civil and criminal cases,” Khan has, unfortunately, had to endure long years of solitary confinement in Guantánamo, to add to his long years of solitary confinement in the CIA “black sites.” As he explained, “I have been essentially alone for almost a decade. I have no one to talk to with the exception of the occasional friendly guards, the FBI, and the occasional bird, iguanas, and cats that show up to visit me,” as well one particular senior military officer who “spent a lot of time talking with me, [and] mentoring me,” and who “was instrumental in my decision to cooperate.”

The pay off, however, is the promise of his imminent release. As I explained at the time of his plea deal, his “sentence will reportedly be capped at 19 years” from the time of his capture. In the intervening years, he unfortunately has had to wait for his sentencing as “prosecutors and defense lawyers clashed in court filings over who would be called to testify about Mr. Khan’s abuse in CIA custody, as the New York Times described it, adding that, “In exchange for the reduced sentence, Mr. Khan and his legal team agreed to drop their effort to call witnesses to testify about his torture, much of it most likely classified, as long as he could tell his story to the jury.”

Publicizing his statement, CCR explained that now, finally, “As a result of his cooperation, his legal team expects that the military commission will set events in motion for Mr. Khan to be transferred from Guantánamo as soon as February 2022,” when “the Biden administration must transfer him to a third country,” having ruled out repatriating him to Pakistan.

Is this justice? 

Interestingly, seven of the eight military jurors who, after his statement, as the Times described it, “issued a sentence of 26 years, about the lowest term possible according to the instructions of the court,” don’t seem to think so. In a hand-written letter to the Convening Authority for the military commissions, Army Col. Jeffrey D. Wood of the Arkansas National Guard, they urged clemency, stating:

Mr. Khan committed serious crimes against the U.S. and partner nations. He has plead guilty to these crimes and taken responsibility for his actions. Further, he has expressed remorse for the impact of the victims and their families.

Clemency is recommended with the following justification:

Mr. Khan has been held without the basic due process under the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, he was held without charge or legal representation for nine years until 2012, and held without final sentencing until October 2021. Although designated an “alien unprivileged enemy belligerent,” and not technically afforded the rights of U.S. citizens, the complete disregard for the foundational concepts upon which the Constitution was founded is an affront to American values and concept of justice.

Mr. Khan was subjected to physical and psychological abuse well beyond approved enhanced interrogation techniques, instead being closer to torture performed by the most abusive regimes in modern history. This abuse was of no practical value in terms of intelligence, or any other tangible benefit to U.S. interests. Instead, it is a stain on the moral fiber of America; the treatment of Mr. Khan in the hands of U.S. personnel should be a source of shame for the U.S. government.

Mr. Khan committed his crimes as young man reeling from the loss of his mother. A vulnerable target for extremist recruiting, he fell to influences furthering Islamic radical philosophies, just as many others have in recent years. Now at the age of 41 with a daughter he has never seen, he is remorseful and not a threat for future extremism.

Why everyone not charged at Guantánamo must also be released

I expect that Majid Khan will be released next February, and I hope that, as soon as possible after his release, and his resettlement in an as yet unidentified third country, he will end up reunited with his family, including the daughter he has never met. However, what also needs remembering, as plans for his release get underway, is that the belated and compromised justice in his case is more than has been afforded to the men still held who have never even been charged with a crime — currently, 27 of the other 38 men still held at Guantánamo (with the rest currently charged in the military commissions, or, in one case, having been through the process and having been convicted).

13 of these 27 men have been approved for release by high-level government review processes, and yet are still held, and the 14 others have neither been charged not approved for release, and have accurately been described as Guantánamo’s “forever prisoners.” These 27 men also need releasing by February 2022, unless, yet again, as the military commission system delivers some form of justice, and as has happened only sporadically throughout Guantánamo’s long history as the commissions have secured convictions or plea deals, its workings only cast into sharp relief how prisoners clearly regarded as far less significant — or those against whom the US cannot build any kind of case — continue to be held in a fundamentally lawless manner.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer (of an ongoing photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London’), 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 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, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.55).

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the 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 2017 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. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the struggle for housing justice — and against environmental destruction — continues.

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

24 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article: my report about the sentencing of former CIA “black site” torture victim and Guantanamo prisoner Majid Khan, who has finally been given a sentence after his plea deal in February 2012, which should see him released next February.

    I look at the powerful statement he delivered at his hearing, recounting his long years of torture, and his profound sorrow for his actions when, as a young man floundering after the death of his mother, he was preyed upon by Al-Qaeda members who persuaded him to work for them. I also discuss the unprecedented request for clemency that was submitted to the commissions’ Convening Authority by seven of his eight military jurors.

    I also point out that, although justice has finally arrived for Majid Khan in a belated and compromised manner, it is, at least, some form of justice, unlike the ongoing injustice experienced by the 27 men at Guantanamo who have never been charged with a crime, and are held either as “forever prisoners” or have been approved for release but are still held. As I explain, when Majid Khan is released, all of these men must also be released if the US government is to maintain even the vaguest notion that it believes in justice for the rest of the men still held at Guantanamo.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Deborah Emin wrote:

    We are not innocent. We are all guilty of a vast betrayal. My heart hurts for him and the others so betrayed of their humanity.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you for your compassion, Deborah.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Deborah Emin wrote:

    You know, Andy, there’s a vast conspiracy to keep us all numbed to these men and their pain. It reverberates everywhere. In Palestine and Afghanistan. It is a large vacuuming up of care that has made us accept so much collectively that individually we might rebel against. We have lost our way. We have you who tries to herd us back. And others whose lives had been remade by these crimes. What would you be doing all these years, Andy, had you not been compelled to this advocacy? Sending you much love.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you for your supportive words, Deborah. I suppose what sometimes disappoints me is how the mainstream media, who have such a bigger platform than I do, generally mute the sense of outrage that ought to exist. I hope that on the most pressing issue of our lives – the already unfolding climate catastrophe – people will be concerned in sufficient numbers to break through the numbness induced by our supposedly ‘objective’ mainstream media.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia Rivera Scott wrote:

    Is Biden stalling this? Is he making an Obama?

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    No, I think he’ll release Majid Khan, Natalia. Even Trump released Ahmed al-Darbi, because the illusory integrity of the commissions depends on honoring plea deals, and it’s of concern to the military. What a shame it is, however, that those in power don’t care about those languishing at Guantanamo without being charged.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia Rivera Scott wrote:

    Andy, I really hope, with all my heart, the 20th year will be the last.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    We need to see movement on releasing the men already approved for release, Natalia, then I might believe it. I have no idea what is going to happen to the men who have been charged, but we all need to keep on insisting that it’s intolerable to keep holding – apparently forever – men who have never been charged, and never will be, and at present that’s 27 of the 39 men still held (38 if Majid Khan is released in February).

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Nancy Talanian wrote:

    Exactly. It seems a detainee must be charged and tried before being allowed to leave. No clemency for those who did nothing, so no charges in up to 20 years, and no way out.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    This situation has been a disgrace since 2008, Nancy, when Salim Hamdan, who worked as a driver for Osama bin Laden, was sent home to Yemen just months after his military commission trial. The judge very deliberately included time served in his sentencing, and evidently felt that it was inappropriate to punish him further, as he was just doing a job, and had no part whatsoever in al-Qaeda’s command structure. Those who are less significant, however, have never had anyone to arbitrate for them. With habeas shut down in 2010, they had to wait until 2014 for the PRBs, which involve officials loftily deciding whether or not they still pose a threat – decisions that aren’t open to review, and that also aren’t legally binding. It’s an absolute disgrace.

    Here’s what I wrote about Salim Hamdan’s release – and what it should have meant – nearly 13 years ago:

  12. Anna says...

    Hi Andy, keep being amazed at these promising developments but also at the incredible shoddiness, such as this : “a previous plea deal, of which the military jury was not made aware” ?!!!
    I just had a MRI of my head, which is so deafening that you’d swear you’re surrounded by pneumatic hammers & drills. But there are quiter spells and it lasted only 20 minutes. I kept thinking of all those who naked, in pitch dark, freezing cold, were subjected to similar noise levels around the clock …

    I did not check this for accuracy, but it is handy for all those of us, who do not have GITMO at the top of our fingers:

    And AJE is paying very much attention to Glasgow CoP, so worth while following it, provided you turn off the sound when Johnson or Biden blabla.
    Johnson, who knowingly dropped short-distance trading with the European continent for trade deals with Australia & India, which require so much more polluting transport, Biden who continues to put armament & oil first …

    Much info from around the world, such as this :
    For several years Kraków has drastically weeded out individual coal stoves in homes and has subsidised the purchase of gas-/electric heating. Having a coal or wood stove now is illegal and our abominable air quality apparently did improve. But what I foresaw is now unfolding : so what if the new stove is subsidised, who will pay for the more expensive gas/electricity – whose price is now sky-rocketing ? Coal is after all an excellent and relatively cheap source of heat and often the only one the poorest among us can afford. Even in Europe and other rich countries, let alone poor ones.
    Stopping coal in poor countries inevitably will mean cutting down more trees. As usual, they are paying the price for our better air and our massive pollution.
    This apart from the plight of people employed in coal.
    Has enough been done to improve the efficiency and therefore cleaner output of coal stoves and electric plants, rather than totally discarding them? An awful lot of people will go very cold this winter …

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    I suppose what that means, Anna, is that they weren’t aware of the terms of the plea deal, which apparently included the 2022 release date, rather than not being aware of the plea deal at all. That clemency letter really is an extraordinary intervention by serving military officers, though!

    I recently had an MRI scan on my leg, and yes, it’s an extraordinarily loud process, isn’t it, especially, if, as in your case, it’s your head being scanned. Hope all is OK.

    Thanks also for the rest of the links. Thinking about what we need to do, worldwide, to tackle climate change is making me reflect on how we need to return to kinds of levels of consumption that, in the UK, existed in the ’70s – but obviously with green energy rather than the heavy polluting fuels of the time. In the west, people have, in the intervening years, become encouraged to become like medieval monarchs in terms of consumption and self-gratification, and it’s clearly not sustainable, although it will take a lot of work to get rid of that sense of self-entitlement that capitalism has sold us!

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Martin A Gugino wrote:

    We are monsters.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, and I think the jurors’ response showed how details of the torture can shock the conscience even of serving military officers, Martin, but in some essential sense, it’s not “we.” Obviously, many, many more people could have taken an interest in Guantanamo and torture over the last 20 years, but fundamentally everything that happened was based on decisions taken by the most senior officials in the US (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld etc.) and, crucially, their lawyers, and yet there seems still to be no notion that they should be held accountable.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Richard Sroczynski wrote:

    One tiny step towards justice at long last. May there be many more.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    The jurors’ intervention is by far the most significant part of this story, Richard, as they have basically stepped outside of the limited scope of what they were required to do to deliver a withering put-down of the monstrousness of the entire torture program, comparing the Bush-era US to the worst human rights-abusing regimes on earth. That has to have repercussions …

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote, in response to 5, above:

    Andy – they mute the entire issue unless it is something bigger than the general news sensations. GTMO gets coverage on slow news weeks and only to reassure us that “they are still being held, y’all are safe.”

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    As I’m sure you know, Jan, I’ve long railed against claims by the mainstream media that its fabled “objectivity” is either honest or helpful. Many in the mainstream media wouldn’t consider me a journalist because I’m also an activist, but the latter followed the conclusions of the former. Having researched Guantanamo in depth in 2006-07, the position I reached was that this is an injustice so deep and so chronic that it needs exposing, permanently, as an egregious abuse of prisoners’ rights. As such, it needs highlighting on a permanent basis, and doesn’t require the sort of “balance” that allows the war criminals and their apologists to be given as much air time or column inches as those exposing the crimes in the first place.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    Andy, you are absolutely correct in your assessment. Unfortunately, the people of the US have been trained to believe we are “exceptional”. Pounded into our heads through education and media for generations (mostly since the Civil War but even before that). In order to continue that paradigm, there has to be “other” and guess who is “other” and has been since many were captured, enslaved and forced on ships to come to the “new colonies”. GTMO is an extension of that colonialist’s oppression.

    The perfect patsies for today’s imperialism and oppression. Is it any wonder the US funds Israel in its pogroms against Palestinians and saber rattling against all of MENA? Or the continued war on the planet because “OH NO, Terrorism!!!”
    GTMO is our albatross and will remain until the nation learns we are NOT exceptional. To paraphrase Wade Davis, we have to learn that all other cultures are not failed attempts at being us.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Well said, Jan. I like that comment by Wade Davis. Of course, when it comes to exceptionalism, the British people are also susceptible. Our whole Brexit isolationist nonsense is a result of it, and we also have a huge problem dealing with the legacy of our centuries of imperialism, colonization and slavery.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone taking an interest in the article. I’ve just had this site upgraded to the latest version of WordPress, and also replaced http with https, which was long overdue. For some time now, they’ve both coexisted, but I understand that https is much more secure.

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    For a Spanish version, via the World Can’t Wait’s Spanish website, see ‘¿Es esto justicia? Después de 18 años de tortura, aislamiento y una cooperación sin precedentes, el prisionero de la CIA y de Guantánamo Majid Khan debe ser liberado en febrero del 2022’:

  24. The Forever Prisoner”: Alex Gibney’s New Documentary About CIA Torture Victim Abu Zubaydah – Stop the Wars at Home and Abroad! says...

    […] Khan, cooperation did not lead to better treatment, as it logically should have done. As Majid Khan described it in the statement he was allowed to make at his sentencing in October, “the more I cooperated […]

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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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