Majid Khan Describes Years of Torture and Abuse in CIA “Black Sites” and at Guantánamo in His Sentencing Statement (Part One)

9.11.21

Guantánamo prisoner and former CIA “black site” torture victim Majid Khan, photographed as a student before his capture, and shortly after his arrival at Guantánamo in September 2006, evidently suffering after over three years of torture.

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It’s nearly two weeks since Majid Khan, held and tortured in CIA “black sites” for over three years before his transfer to Guantánamo, where he has been held since September 2006, was allowed to read out a detailed statement at his sentencing hearing, held nearly ten years after he agreed to a plea deal in his military commission, in which, in exchange for assisting in a number of ongoing cases, both at Guantánamo and elsewhere, he was promised his eventual freedom. I wrote about his sentencing and his statement last week, in an article entitled, 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’s statement combined an account of his early life, including his life in the U.S. as a teenager and a young man, with a graphic account of his torture and abuse, and with effusive apologies on his part for having been recruited by Al-Qaeda when he was at a particularly low point in his life, distraught at the death of his mother, and it was noticeable that, at his sentencing, seven of the eight military jurors signed a hand-written letter to the commissions’ Convening Authority calling for clemency, decrying the torture to which he was subjected, which they compared to “torture performed by the most abusive regimes in modern history,” and clearly expressing disgust at how he was treated when, throughout his long imprisonment, he has made a point of being as cooperative as possible.

In the interests of keeping Majid’s testimony in the public eye — to expose the depravities of the torture program, and the way so much of its focus seemed to be on torture for its own sake, rather than for any practical outcome, and to contrast this with Majid’s own compliance, for which he doesn’t seem to have been adequately rewarded — I’m posting his entire statement in two articles; this and one to follow.

The statement is available as a PDF via the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents him, and also via the New York Times, but I thought it might be useful for it also to be available as a text document on a website, rather than just as a PDF. It took me many hours to do this, as the CCR document wasn’t copyable, and the Times’ version copied and pasted incompletely, and comprehensively deformatted Majid’s words, but I hope the effort was worth it, and will help Majid’s words to live on, and to stress the importance of what he described as “a story that I have waited almost two decades to tell.”

The first part is below, and I’ll be posting the second and final part tomorrow. 

Majid Khan’s Unsworn Statement (Part One)

I begin in the name of God.

My name is Majid Khan, and for the last 15 years I have been incarcerated at Naval Station Guantánamo Bay (GTMO). I was born in Saudi Arabia, but lived the majority of my childhood in Pakistan before immigrating to the United States (U.S.) when I was 16 years old. I graduated from Owings Mills High School, just outside of Baltimore, Maryland. In 2002, I returned to Pakistan and 15 months later I was captured in Karachi, Pakistan. I spent the next three years of my life in secret overseas detention facilities where I was brutally tortured and held in uninhabitable living conditions before being transferred here to GTMO in 2006. After I was brought here, I was denied access to my attorney for over a year. In 2012, I pled guilty to the various charges and for the last 9 years I have been cooperating and assisting the U.S. Government in both criminal and civil cases. I have been truthful and never looked back on my agreement to cooperate. I have a story that I have waited almost two decades to tell, so I want to start by thanking you for taking the time to listen to my statement.

I have spent so many years thinking about my life and the choices I have made that have led to this moment. Today, I stand here before you, meek and humbled, asking for you to listen to my story with a sensitive and compassionate ear. I will tell you upfront: I did all of the things described in the stipulation of fact. I want to explain my wrongdoings, the poor judgment that I have shown at too many important crossroads in my life, and the price I have paid and the impact my decisions have had on others, particularly my family, to pay in mind, body and soul. I want to thank Allah the omnipotent and omniscient for giving me this opportunity to speak with you today. I want to be clear that my intention today is simple. I have one purpose: To tell my story with the hope that you better understand who I was and who have become. I want you to know what I did, what happened to me, and what I hope for the future.

I think it was Nelson Mandela who said that “resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies. For me, true peace will come when I forgive myself and forgive others for their transgressions against me. To those who tortured me, I forgive you — all of you. I hope in the day of judgment that Allah will do the same for you and for me. I ask for forgiveness from those whom I have wronged and have hurt. Not a day goes by that I don’t reflect on what I have done and seek forgiveness. I am sorry for my actions and I am sorry to my family for making them endure so much pain. Every day I try to atone, which is why I have never looked back and have cooperated at every opportunity with the U.S. Government.

My story begins in Saudi Arabia where I was born. When I was a toddler, I moved to Pakistan with my family. I have three brothers and four sisters and I am the youngest son to my parents. My brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews, many whom I have never met, have become American citizens. In a big family, you have to compete with your siblings for attention. I wasn’t as smart as some of my siblings — just an average kid with average grades. In Pakistan, I enjoyed playing cricket in the street and flying kites with the neighbors and my friends. I never attended Madrasa for religious study, but I learned to read the Quran in Arabic from my oldest sister. That is probably my earliest memory of religion. The first time I read the Quran with any true meaning was after I was captured and was incarcerated.

Though my immediate family wasn’t particularly religious, we still considered ourselves followers of Islam. When I was younger, I remember spending time with my extended family in Pakistan — my step-grandmother’s side in particular — and learning more about their lives as devout Muslims. Members of my extended family had been part of the Mujahedeen before I was born and told the stories of their struggles, fighting the Russians in Afghanistan, and frequently used the vernacular of Islam. Terms like “jihad” were used often in these stories. At the time, I didn’t have a good understanding of history or these concepts. It wasn’t until much later in my life that I came to encounter these concepts in the real world. I feel my early religious education was very fragmented and incomplete.

In 1996, my family fled Pakistan and we were granted asylum in the U.S. in 1998. My family arrived in the U.S. incrementally. My father was the first person in my family to arrive in the U.S. and shortly thereafter, he purchased a gas station near Baltimore, MD. I was 16 years old when I arrived and I remember spending the first six months or so working there. I learned to speak English from working in that gas station. As a teenager, I really wanted to integrate into American culture. My brothers and I even adopted American names. I was “Bobby” and my brothers were “Ricky” and ”Sunny.” During this time, I attended Owings Mills High School,  outside of Baltimore, and graduated in 1999. My time in high school introduced me to so many things; I enjoyed practicing break dance moves and spent countless hours tinkering with music production equipment in my basement with aspirations of becoming a disc jockey. I was gregarious and an extrovert, and an overall normal American teenager; I smoked weed occasionally and I had my share of girlfriends, which I had to hide from my mother. But for the record, I maintained my virginity until the time I was married. I remember how proud my family was when I graduated high school. It wasn’t easy being an immigrant and living in a foreign place, but with the support of my family, I believed that I could accomplish anything. After graduating, I wanted to accomplish something bigger than myself, and for a time, I even considered enlisting in the U.S. Navy.

The most important person in my life was my mother. She was a powerful figure and a presence in my family. She was very protective of all of us children; she was like a mother hen guarding her chicks, keeping all of us safe under her wings. She made sure all of us were cared for, and until her death, when I was 21 years old, we all lived in the same house in Maryland. My sisters didn’t drive cars and as a result it was my obligation, as the son in a traditional Pakistani family to drive them wherever they wanted to go. None of the brothers went to college, but all of my sisters did. My brothers and I worked and made money and paid our bills while my sisters took care of the home issues and attended college. We never raised our eyes or our voices to our parents or older siblings.

After graduating from high school, I remember wanting to do something meaningful with my life; however, you could say that I struggled with an identity crisis. I doubted whether I was a good person, Muslim, Pakistani  or American and whether I could be all of those things at the same time. I really didn’t know where I belonged. I felt guilty about my choices in life, like smoking weed on occasion and having girlfriends, and later I started going to the mosque, specifically the Islamic Society of Baltimore (ISB). Nearly all of my high school friends went to college and university, but I decided to take a shortcut. Through the ISB, I was connected to a local program that provided training to work with computer databases and I earned an online certification from Oracle. This training program led me to be hired for a job with the Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) in 2000.

Around this time, my father came upon some debt. I wasn’t making much money working at the MDP, but, as is expected of a good Pakistani son, it was my responsibility to help him pay it back. I left my job with the MDP and was hired by Electronic Data Systems (EDS ) to support a contract to manage the database for WorldCom and the Pentagon’s phone system. When I got the job at EDS, which was in Northern Virginia, I vividly remember my mom not wanting me to move away, so I decided to commute from Baltimore to Virginia every day. But this job paid almost $80,000 dollars a year; I remember working hard for many months, teaching computer courses and helping the family manage the gas station as a side job, to help pay back nearly $40,000 of my father’s debt. Honestly, I don’t remember much time off to myself during this time. I worked hard at every opportunity to pay back the debt. I also owned and maintained my own house and paid a lot of taxes every month. I am still proud to this day that I was able to help my family and be a good son during a very challenging time.

I was on a very good path: I was able to be a good son, support my family, and progress as a professional. I was finally finding my place, but shortly after I started working at EDS, my mother got sick. She was diagnosed with hepatitis B and passed away very quickly in April 2001. I was with her at her bedside at the hospital and I was the last person to see her alive. As long as I lived in Baltimore, I always visited her gravesite every Friday. I grieved for many months and I know my family was never the same after she died. This is very difficult to describe, but anyone who has lost a parent, a mother, or a loved one, knows what I have felt. I can’t explain or emphasize enough how traumatic my mother’s death was for me. I was very close to her, and her death threw me into chaos and a crisis.

Later that year, I was working at EDS in Tysons Corner, VA. I remember the day when 9/11 happened. Honestly, in the weeks after the attacks, I remember thinking that the reports couldn’t have been true. I didn’t think Muslims could do something terrible like that. I was still hurting from the death of my mother, but I remember thinking that this was just another way the universe was kicking me while I was down, making me question my faith in Islam. I was depressed and searched for an explanation when there weren’t any answers.

After my mom died I spent a lot of time thinking about my life and its purpose. I was lost, and I was depressed I was miserable and I turned to religion for answers and guidance. I thought about Islam and the sins I had committed in my life. As I mentioned, until my mother died my family wasn’t very religious. But after she died, through the Islamic Society of Baltimore, I had been introduced to the Tablighi Jamaat, an evangelistic sect of Islam. They emphasized the fundamentals of Islam; the importance of regular prayer five-times a-day, to avoid all sorts of temptations, to find a wife, and to live in an Islamic country. Their teachings convinced me of what I felt in my heart to be true; that it was impossible to practice Islam in a Western country because of all the temptations of Western lifestyle. Let me just say, I don’t think that now. I don’t think being a good Muslim and living in the West are incompatible. Muslims are an integral part of all societies, including in the U.S.

One of my mother’s greatest hopes was for her children to marry and start a family of their own. My parents were not just traditional Pakistanis who wanted me to marry another Pakistan, but they were also tribal Pakistanis. This meant that I had to marry within the tribe that my family comes from. My older sisters’ marriages were already arranged by the time of my mother’s death, but my own marriage had not been determined.

“A turning point in my life”

And this is what led me back to Pakistan in 2002 and was a turning point in my life. It was the place and time in which so much was going on in the world and within me. I was trying to understand my religious identity, while also finding a wife that my mom would have been proud of. I have reflected for many years on the many crossroads and choices I have made, and I feel the issues I was struggling with at that point in my life really had a lasting effect on me. I often think about the life I could have lived if I didn’t make the serious and regrettable mistakes that unfolded shortly thereafter.

In January of 2002, I travelled to Pakistan with my family to attend my sister’s wedding. I also intended to seek out my own wife and marriage.

As part of the search for a wife, my father discussed different arrangements and suitable matches with my family members, and extended network of acquaintances. I didn’t know what to expect because I was a stranger in a strange land. Although Pakistan was where I had lived the majority of my childhood, the United States was where I grew up and matured. Coming back to Pakistan as an adult was a new experience and I was quickly in over my head.

As I explained earlier, I have a large extended family in Pakistan and at that time, when I went to Pakistan to attend my sister’s wedding and get married in early 2002 I became very close to my cousin. I didn’t really know my cousin when I got back to Pakistan, but we spent a lot of time together, because we were close in age, and I soon realized that he was a “big shot” in Pakistan. He was involved in al-Qaeda. So was my uncle, other members of my extended family, and a lot of the older Mujahedeen. They were connected to al-Qaeda. And they spotted the fact that I was lost and vulnerable, and they went after me. They recruited me by showing me GTMO propaganda videos, and it’s ironic that eventually I ended up in the same place. I don’t remember thinking of it so much as recruitment at the time, but they led me down a path and I went willingly to al-Qaeda. If you want to know how a kid from Baltimore got involved with al-Qaeda, especially after 9/11, this is it.

They told me to forget Tablighi Jamaat. They said if you want to follow a truly Islamic way, that way is al-Qaeda. I was stupid, so incredibly stupid, but they promised to relieve my pain and purify my sins. They promised to redeem me, and I believed them. They exploited my vulnerabilities and twisted my thinking. It is embarrassing and shameful for me to say these things now, but it’s the truth. This is how I got involved with al-Qaeda, and why I did all of the bad things in the stipulation of fact. I did it all. And I’m very sorry to everyone that I have hurt. I’ve also had a lot of time since then to think about what I did and what I believe now. I don’t have the same mindset now and haven’t for a long time. I reject al-Qaeda. I reject terrorism. I reject violence and hatred. I’ve also tried to make up for the bad things that I have done. That’s why I pled guilty and have been cooperating with the U.S. Government. You know, I tried to make amends from the moment I got to GTMO and got to meet with my lawyers. And I’ve never looked back on that decision. Never. Even despite what happened to me. But I think it’s important for you to understand what happened to me.

Not long after got married in early 2002 and was initially involved with al-Qaeda, I went back to my life in Baltimore, I missed my wife who remained in Pakistan and I told my family that I was going back. My family tried to stop me. They begged me not to go back because they could see that I was becoming mixed up with the wrong people. They warned me. My father even hid my travel documents to try and stop me from going back . But I lied to him. I lied to my father, who tried to save me, and it breaks my heart to admit it now. He’s here in court today, I can see him, and I want to tell him Baba, I’m so sorry. I’m so very sorry. I’ve tried to make up for what I did, and part of that is to make up for what I did to you. For lying to you and for not listening to you when you tried to save me, love me, and protect me. I want to apologize for the pain I’ve caused you and to our family, my wife, and my daughter, who I’ve never even met because she was born after my capture in 2003.

In the early hours of March 5, 2003, I was sleeping at my brother’s apartment in Karachi, Pakistan. I was awoken by my brother who had heard a noise and woke me. We heard someone at the door. At first, I thought they were intruders and I didn’t know what to do next. But when I heard the loud noises and shouting, I had no choice but to open the door. Immediately, I noticed these men pointing their guns at my forehead. I did not resist when they pushed me to the ground and entered the apartment. They kept shouting and asking me, “Are you Bob Desi?” This was my email address and my stage name when I was practicing to become a disc jockey in the United States. They took all of my possessions — money, clothes, computer, and my watch. I was handcuffed with metal cuffs and my hair was violently pulled back. My most intense memory from those moments is the shouting: “Who are you?! Are you Bob Desi?!” I said that, “yes,” I was Bob Desi. Mohammed and I were hooded as the security team took us down the stairwell to the street. My sister-in-law and her infant baby were taken away with my brother and I.

“A foreign government prison”

After we were in custody, they drove all of us around for a while until they reached a foreign government prison. They took my brother and I into an interrogation room. I was initially interviewed by foreign government authorities and then U.S. Officials. For the next several days I was interviewed by foreign government authorities while members of the CIA and FBI observed. For most of the interviews and interrogations, I was hooded and couldn’t see the faces of the American personnel.

I was then moved to another off-site facility where I would be interrogated by Americans and other foreign government agents. Again I was cooperative and told them what they wanted to know.

After being detained, I told my captors about the people I had met, the things I had been asked to do, including the things in the stipulation of fact. I told them everything I knew about everything they asked. I did everything I could to cooperate and hoped to be released. But I wasn’t released. Instead, the more I cooperated and told them, the more I was tortured.

About a week after I was captured, I was beaten by the foreign government agents. They forced me to stand, hooded, and shackled. They talked about bringing baseball or cricket bats and using belts to beat me. Instead they punched me until I begged them to stop. The worst part was not knowing when or where the blows were going to land. After the beatings, I was taken to an interrogation room with two U.S.persons. Despite the beatings, they acted calm, nonchalant and cool, while the foreign guards who beat me were posted by [the] door.

During these interrogations, I repeatedly asked for lawyer and tried to exercise my legal rights. My requests were always ignored or denied. I was frequently hooded and strapped into metal boots. These boots were like “ski boots” and were bolted to the floor, making it impossible to move my feet. I remember fearing that if I fell over, I would break my legs. I was so afraid of what would happen next.

I remember an older American man — a U.S. interrogator — who would tell me they were not “buying my story … you’re peeing on my shoes and telling me it’s raining.” This man would frequently threaten me, saying things like, “Son, we are going to take care of you. We are going to send you to a place that you cannot imagine. We’ll take you somewhere and make you talk. He threatened my family and threatened to rape my sister. He stated that “your family in the [United] States is talking. They are in trouble. We are talking to you sisters, your father, your brothers.”

After I was captured, I moved around a lot and was frequently abused. Eventually, I learned from the guards that my sister-in-law and niece had been released.

I was continuously interrogated and tortured. They deprived me of sleep for three days nonstop. The time may have been longer, but I was so disoriented. The guards showed me a hammer and other tools and threatened me with physical harm. I was restrained in one uncomfortable folding chair with no arms,and a hard seat. My arms were shackled in the front sometimes and other times in the back. I was subjected to many shifts of interrogators. I was not provided food or water, but was afforded the time to pray, only because of my shared faith with the guards. At one point, the American interrogators got upset with the guards and said, “Why did you let him pray!”

I repeatedly told my story in these interrogations, the same story that I had told originally to the foreign government, but the US interrogators would always say “No, there is more.” I was subjected to near constant abuse, and I tried to answer honestly, but I was abused more.

For example, I was made to sit with my hands and legs shackled for 8 hours, but was not questioned by U.S. interrogators. Instead, foreign government guards removed my shirt, made me sit in embarrassing positions, showed me sticks, belts , and other implements they threatened to beat me with. This was done to instill fear in me, while the CIA made decisions what to do with me. Late that night or early the next morning, they told me I was going home, but I wasn’t and I was placed in a car and taken to the airport. When I realized that I wasn’t being released I asked the guards to pray for me. I was in shock at what was about to happen.

Transferred to CIA custody

In May 2003 I was transferred from foreign government detention to CIA custody. I was flown to a black site prison. I refer to this place as Prison A , where I was held in custody of another foreign government. The rendition flight was horrible. Before I was loaded onto the plane, I was placed into a cargo van type vehicle by at least four American men, one of whom was a medic, based on the questions he asked and the directions he gave, and one woman. Everyone spoke English.  My clothes were cut off and I was stripped nude and held down. If I tried to resist, they squeezed tighter and held me down more forcefully. Even now, I remember everything that happened to me so clearly.

Next, the Americans forcibly gave me an enema. I don’t know why they did this to me, and the pain was terrible. They searched my body with their hands and took pictures of me naked. I was blindfolded and shackled at both my hands and feet with metal cuffs. Someone put a diaper on me and secured it with duct tape. Throughout this ordeal, my glasses were broken and not returned to me. It would take almost 3 years before I was given a new pair. I was carried by these Americans into the airplane. As they moved me, I was dragged on the ground causing abrasions and they would intentionally bang my head into the wall.

The plane flew directly to the foreign country where Prison A was located. I arrived late at night. Upon arrival at the airport, similarly strong American men wearing black removed me from the aircraft. I  was lifted entirely off the ground and carried parallel to the ground. Again, when I was moved, my head hit walls and they dragged me on the ground. I was slammed into a waiting vehicle and taken to Prison A. The U.S. personnel threw me into a cell, held me down, unshackled [me] and removed my hood. Once they left I was able to remove my diaper, but removing the duct tape over my eyes was especially painful because it ripped off my eyebrows and eyelashes. I was left barefoot, without glasses and was not given any food or water. I had no access to a bathroom, nor a bucket, so I was forced to defecate in the corner of the room. There was no light or electricity so I was forced to feel my way around the room.

The next day, I was waiting anxiously when four U.S. personnel wearing all-black clothing and ski masks burst in the cell. They cut off my clothes and conducted a full body search and forcefully administered another enema. My legs and hands were shackled and I was again placed into a diaper, hooded, and goggles were duct taped to my head around my ears. I was carried through the air again and slammed into the back of a large vehicle. Once I was in the vehicle, another American person held me down with the sole of his shoe, which pressed hard on the back of my head and neck. The only thing he asked me was “Can you breathe?” I was driven to another facility I call the “American Torture Place.”

The U.S. guards dragged me so that my face would hit each step of a short staircase. My arms were shackled and I couldn’t stop my face and body from bouncing along the ground. I had abrasions on my knees, forehead, nose, and arms. I was brought to a room, still hooded. An American guard put his foot on my neck and I started to choke for air. A doctor was present and said “Listen, I am a doctor. Can you breathe?” I choked out the word “no” and he had the guard remove his foot.

The American Torture Place was similar to a portable manufactured home. It had running water and everything seemed to be in working order. There was loud, techno-type music playing outside of the room. The windows were covered with cloth so no one could see outside and no one outside could see what was happening in the room. A black-masked male interrogator brought in a chair and I was chained to it. Through my hood, I could only make out the shapes of people, but there were a total of 5 or 6 dark figures. As the lead interrogator questioned me, I remember the others wrapping the chains around my body, hands and feet to the chair, tighter and tighter. The interrogator began asking me about my connections to al-Qaeda. I remember telling him I was al-Qaeda, because I knew that worse things would happen if I didn’t answer or told him that I wasn’t. I was subjected to more than an hour of questions about who I knew in the United States and what I knew about different al-Qaeda plots and planned terrorist attacks. The interrogator wanted to know when I went to Heathrow Airport in London, but I had not been there Finally, the interrogator said, “I am going to ask you for the last time” and began to count down with his ten fingers to zero.

A large square beam of wood ran overhead across the center of the room. When the interrogator reached zero, one of the guards grabbed me from behind and pulled the wrapped chains from my body and put them up over the wooden beam. With sudden movements the guards had hoisted the chains attached to my hands and pulled the chains tight. After a few more pulls, I was hanging by my hands with my shackled feet barely touching the ground. The interrogators left the room as I screamed in pain and tried to support my weight.

After a while, the interrogators returned. They asked me the same questions as before, about Heathrow Airport and any planned terrorist attacks. Again I didn’t know anything and pleaded with them. The interrogator counted down from 10 again. Unsatisfied with my answers, the interrogator instructed the others to cut off my clothes, leaving me naked, but still hooded. Through glimpses in the cloth, I could see the room, its layout, and the individuals in the room.

Water torture

I was taken down from hanging off the beam after some amount of time and dragged into the AmericanTorture Place’s tiled bathroom. There was a bathtub full of ice water. The U.S. interrogators placed me feet first into the ice water and then pushed my body flat to the bottom of the tub. I was still wearing the thin-cloth hood. While some U.S. interrogators held my body under the water, the lead interrogator pushed my head underwater and held me down as I struggled against drowning. I started to swallow water and the interrogators would let me surface, but never released their hold on me. As I gasped for air, the interrogators would demand answers to questions: “Tell us about London! Tell us about al-Qaeda members in the United States!” When my head was above water, other interrogators would pour ice water on my head and face. I was terrified and could not breathe. They repeatedly submerged me. When I could get air, I would beg them to stop and swear that I didn’t know anything. If I had intelligence to give, I would have given it, but I didn’t have anything to give.

This water torture lasted nearly a half an hour. Throughout, the thin cloth hood became translucent enough that I could see some of the individuals in the room. Besides the black masked interrogators, there was a woman in the room in a colorful headscarf that observed the torturous interrogation. Afterwards, I was dragged back to the same room with the beam and hung again. My arms were slightly bent and feet able to touch the ground. I could not rest my legs or sit down because of the short length of chains. The most difficult and painful part was that American guards would enter the room and throw ice water on my naked body every hour or two and placed a fan to blow directly on me. This was how they kept me awake and shivering. I was left alone, shackled, hooded, and naked.

This was the first day of a nonstop three-day interrogation at the AmericanTorture Place. After two days of being hung, sleep deprived, and subjected to the freezing temperature, I lost my grip on reality. I remember hallucinating, seeing a cow and giant lizard. I would try to kick at the hallucinations, but slip on the wet floor. All of my weight would suddenly be transferred to my shackled wrists, chained to the beam above. This would send shooting pain through my body. Part of my hand went completely numb for approximately six weeks after this incident.

I was not given a break to pray during these three days. I was not provided food, but received a scant amount of water from the guards. My ankle cuffs were very tight and the guards ignored my pleas. I was just left alone, hanging, naked, and shivering at the American Torture Place. I was forced to urinate in a bowl. The cuffs on my ankles cut into my skin. My feet and ankles were swelling terribl[y] as I hung, which in turn caused the shackles to rub my skin off even more. I have the scars today on my ankles to show you. I thought that I was going to die. The hanging experience was one of the more painful and torturous things done to me. I felt a lot of personal humiliation and shame from my torture and treatment. I couldn’t believe what was being done to me and the presence of at least one woman while all this was happening heightened all of these feelings.

While I was hanging for these three days, I recall one instance where I saw a guard or interrogator’s face. This man sexually assaulted me while I was hanging naked. He touched my private parts while we were alone. I told this man to stop and that I wanted to see a lawyer. He responded, “are you kidding, a lawyer? You are in no man’s land. No one even knows where you are.” I was terrified and constantly afraid. I was out of my mind.

I just want to stop here and say that the Executive Summary of the SSCI Report accurately describes my treatment during this time period. The SSCI Reports states, “After being rendered to CIA custody, Majid Khan was subject by the CIA to sleep deprivation, nudity, and dietary manipulation, and may have been subjected to an ice bath.” I can say for certain that I was subjected to water torture that induced the feeling of drowning several times. It is hard to describe, or put into words, of how it felt to be waterboarded. With a hood wrapped around my face and water pouring down my throat, I coughed, gagged, screamed and couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was going to die.

Later, I was moved back to Prison A. After the three days of hanging and interrogation, I remember lying motionless on the floor for a very long time. The foreign guards realized I couldn’t move and placed my food within reach. It took me 24 to 36 hours before I could regain the ability to move around.

In late June 2003, about 3 weeks after I was tortured for 3 days,I met with a CIA debriefing team. Some of these CIA officers told me that they were part of the interrogation team that had hung me for 3 days. I was certain by the sound of his voice, one of them was the interrogator who counted down from ten and held my head under the water. The CIA officers pressured me to “come clean” and cooperate. I was living in fear, and every day at the same time of day, could see the other detainees getting beaten and I worried when my time would come.

The “dark prison” / Salt Pit / COBALT

In July 2003, I was transferred to a different location which I refer to as “Prison B.” The foreign guards of Prison A took me after dinner to an interrogation room. Once I arrived, there were five U.S. individuals waiting for me. I was subjected to the same harsh and degrading transfer protocols as before. The guards removed my clothes, searched my naked body, installed hand and leg shackles, hooded [me], and goggles were affixed to my head with duct tape. The Americans dragged me across the ground and staircase to a waiting car. I was driven to what I call Prison B — a dark underground prison. Instead, the American interrogators wore headlamps in total darkness.

Prison B was at DETENTION SITE COBALT. This location is described in the Executive Summary of the SSCI Report as: “The windows at DETENTION SITE COBALT were blacked out and detainees were kept in total darkness. The guards monitored detainees using headlamps and loud music was played constantly in the facility. While in their cells, detainees were shackled to the wall and given buckets for human waste. Four of the twenty cells in this facility included a bar across the top of the cell. Later reports describe detainees being shackled to the bar with their hands above their heads, forcing them to stand and therefore not allowing the detainees to sleep.”

I was taken immediately to a room and hung with chains from a metal bar for approximately 7 days altogether. The guards forcibly removed my clothes with scissors, leaving me cold and naked. I was not hooded. I was not given any food and I was afraid to drink the water the CIA officers provided. As before, I was periodically and repeatedly doused with water. The only difference was that there was no fan set up to direct air on my naked body. The room was pitch black, but I could feel tiny bugs, smaller than mosquitoes, biting me repeatedly until I bled. With my hands shackled, I couldn’t swat the bugs or scratch the sores they left. There was also music played constantly at deafening volumes. I remember thinking the room was shaking. I was hung at a height where I was able to bend my legs slightly, but I was not able to sit or kneel. I remember the immense feeling of uncertainty that I felt; it was horrifying. I was so scared. I had no choice but to urinate on myself and the floor. I was so terrified that I had diarrhea. My back and entire body was in a constant state of excruciating pain partly because I had preexisting back problems. I was left for days with the smell of urine and feces that had collected on my body.

Besides the Americans who brought me food and doused me with water , one other person came to my cell during this time. An older American medic would come once a day and check on me. This man — always the same man, I called him the “Torture Doctor” — would monitor my vitals. He would shine lights in my eyes. I would tell him that I was scared and couldn’t breathe or that my heart was pounding. He would always say “you’re fine” and depart.

After days of hanging in total darkness without a break or rest, the guards came in and carried me to another room. There I was submerged into a makeshift tub of ice and water. This tub was constructed of plastic sheeting. My hands were shackled behind my back and the American guards forced me backwards into the tub onto my back and hands. The edge of the tub hit the arch of my back and the Americans forced my head to tilt backwards at an angle. Other U.S. interrogators held buckets with water and ice and poured the contents on my body and face. I couldn’t breathe and I gasped for air as I swallowed the water. The interrogators flipped me over, from my back to my front multiple times, but repeatedly forced my head in the cold water. This process continued on for about 15 or more minutes, while the interrogators demanded answers to the questions. I don’t remember their questions, but they cursed at me while I begged for mercy.

After this water torture session, I remember being taken to another interrogation room for a 15 minutes videotaped interrogation. I was dragged, handcuffed, and seated on a wooden box. I remember being placed in front of very bright lights and a hand-held camcorder was nearby on a tripod. I had been in total darkness for nearly a week so the light was very painful. The CIA officers, some of the same people who wanted me to “come clean” in June, demanded I write a signed confession. I don’t remember what I wrote, but I did whatever they asked.

After this interrogation, U.S. personnel then instructed guards to shackle me to the wall. This location would become my permanent cell in Prison B. I was short shackled to a ring in the wall about 18-24 inches high, which prevented me from being able to rest or sleep. I was left alone for a few hours. I was not given any food and left naked. I was unable to stand or move to my other side because of the short shackle. I couldn’t move off the cold ground or away from the wall. I shivered so hard without clothes. I was exhausted and delirious in total darkness with the music blasting at tremendous volume.

When the “Torture Doctor” came to examine me, I begged for help. In response, the physician instructed the foreign guards to take me back to the interrogation room with the metal bar and hang me again. The same doctor pointed with his hooked thumbs to the outside and then made a hanging motion with his arms to wordlessly instruct the guards. I pleaded for mercy, but was ignored. After another 24 hours of hanging, I met with more CIA officers. They had reviewed my confession and wanted more details. They asked me to write more, telling me I would be able to rest afterwards. I wrote maybe three pages, which the interrogators read, and asked a few clarifying questions. I don’t remember if I signed the document. After the second signed confession I returned to my cell at Prison B. In July 2003 , the CIA officers said to me, “now you’re cooperating. You can have your clothes back and a carpet to sleep on.” I remember thinking, “thank God, at least I’m not going to be hung again.” After the shackles were removed, my legs were so swollen, which took weeks to heal and when they eventually healed my skin peeled like a reptile shedding.

I remained confined at Prison B until about September 2003. I calculated that it had been about 60 days since I arrived at Prison B before I was moved back to Prison A. The same movement procedures as before were followed. It was degrading and humiliating as they stripped me of my clothes, searched and hooded me, tightly duct taped goggles to my head, and placed very tight hand and leg shackles on me that cut my flesh. I can show you the scars.

Back at Prison A, I was mostly left alone. I stayed there until about April 2004.The CIA personnel would sometimes visit but it was always short. It was around this time that I started to go on hunger strikes. I was protesting my harsh treatment and my repeated denial to see a lawyer. I remember that I really wanted books and reading materials, anything to keep my mind occupied during the endless days. I had no one to talk to and the days were so empty. I just wanted mental stimulation. It was at this point that I knew that I was never going to be released.

During this 7-month time of being held at Prison A, I met with more CIA people to include doctors and other medical specialists. They asked me lots of medical-related questions: how I was feeling, what was bothering me; like they were trying to diagnosis me. They asked me if I wanted to harm myself or commit suicide. I answered — yes. They took lots of notes, and gave me some reading  materials. I was so starved for attention. I remember feeling grateful that they were spending time with me, but now I understand they were just doing their job. The visits only lasted a short while as the CIA tried to quell my hunger strikes. Once the visits stopped and I was ignored I returned to protesting, yelling, kicking doors, and I continued to tell my captors that I was going to harm myself. I wanted answers. I wanted to know why I couldn’t see an attorney. I wanted to know why I was still being held. I had provided all of the information that I had ever known. I pleaded and begged for information and mental stimulation, but my efforts fell on deaf ears. Hunger strikes were the only way I could gain the attention of my captors.

Looking back now, my time at Prison A and B were some of the worst treatment that I endured. Mr. Jose Rodriguez, Head of the Counter-Terrorism Center (CTC) at the CIA from 2002-2004, explained years later that the problem we had with the Salt Pit is we were too busy chasing al-Qaeda and [the] Taliban”, “the CIA had a very young person in charge of the facility … the [CIA] station dropped the ball and somebody froze to death there”, “interrogation … was not our core skill, mistakes were made. I personally attest to the truth of those statements. I had given up the majority of my information from the first day that I was captured. Nothing the interrogators were doing was effective. I felt like I was being treated like a punching bag. My captors were taking their frustrations out on me and trying techniques that could never be effective. Whenever I was being tortured, I told them what I thought they wanted to hear. I lied just to make the abuse stop. I was so scared and could barely keep a thought in my head.

Continued in Part Two.

* * * * *

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.

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.

4 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, a transcript of the first part of Majid Khan’s statement at his recent sentencing hearing at Guantanamo (following a plea deal in 2012), in which he recounted his early life, how he was preyed on by al-Qaeda supporters following the death of his mother, and the horrendous torture to which he was subjected in a number of CIA “black sites” for over three years, despite having made it clear from the time of his capture that he intended to be as cooperative as possible.

    Majid’s description of the torture to which he was subjected was so harrowing that seven of the eight military jurors at his hearing signed a letter to the military commissions’ Convening Authority urging clemency in his case, and comparing the torture to which he was subjected to that “performed by the most abusive regimes in modern history.”

    Majid should be released next year, and I’ll be posting the second part of his statement tomorrow.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Rowena Wells wrote:

    Sadly, not suprising.
    Thank you though.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Rowena. Given how long we have known details of the torture program, it only reveals how obsessed with secrecy the US government is, in relation to it, that it’s taken all this time for Majid to become the first “black site” prisoner to be able to make a public statement about what happened to him. I’m glad to note that it generated quite a lot of mainstream media interest.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    For a Spanish translation, on the World Can’t Wait’s Spanish website, see ‘Majid Khan describe años de tortura y abuso en los “sitios negros” de la CIA y en Guantánamo en su declaración de sentencia (parte uno)’: http://www.worldcantwait-la.com/worthington-majid-khan-describe-anos-tortura-y-abuso-parte-1.htm

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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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