Majid Khan Released From Guantánamo to New Life in Belize; 20 Others Approved for Release But Still Held Must Now Be Prioritized by Biden


Majid Khan, photographed at Guantánamo in 2022.

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Congratulations to Majid Khan, the former Guantánamo prisoner who is beginning a new life in the central American coastal country of Belize, formerly known as British Honduras when, for over a century, it was under British rule.

Now 42 years old, Khan spent almost half his life in US custody, and was, for most of that time, one of the most profoundly isolated prisoners in the whole of the “war on terror.” He is the first of 16 “high-value detainees” held at Guantánamo to be released, the sixth prisoner released under President Biden, and the first of these six to be resettled in a third country.

Seized in Karachi in March 2003, Majid Khan disappeared into the CIA’s global network of “black sites” for three and a half years — when his family had no idea of his whereabouts — until President Bush announced in September 2006 that he was one of 14 ”high-value detainees” transferred from the CIA’s secret torture prisons to Guantánamo.

In October 2007, after a long struggle by his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights, who had taken up his case, Khan was the first of the “high-value detainees” to meet with lawyers, when the next long journey of his imprisonment began, via efforts to negotiate a plea deal in the military commissions trial system.

As he explained in a statement in October 2021, “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.”

When what Khan had done finally emerged from the shadows of Guantánamo, it turned out that he had grown up in Baltimore, but that, in 2002, distraught at the death of his mother, he had been opportunistically targeted for recruitment by Al-Qaeda members in Pakistan, had met Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and had couriered money to Thailand that was used in a terrorist attack.

From the moment of his capture, however, as I explained in an article in November 2021, Khan was profoundly remorseful for his actions, although, as he explained in his statement in October 2021, “the more I cooperated and told them, the more I was tortured.”

Eventually, at Guantánamo, his remorse and his willingness to cooperate led to a plea deal being negotiated that, in turn, led to his eventual release. On February 29, 2012, as he described it, “I pled guilty to all of the crimes that I was guilty of,” and also agreed to “cooperate with the US authorities to include Prosecutors and Investigators, both for Commissions Cases and for federal, civil and criminal cases.”

As a result of his plea deal, however, Khan “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 I explained in October 2021. As he described it, “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 as 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.”

Khan’s sentencing hearing finally took place in October 2021, when he was allowed to deliver the statement I have quoted from above, which I posted in two parts, here and here. It was the first time that a “high-value detainee” had been allowed to speak openly about torture in the “black sites” — and at Guantánamo — and it not only shocked the world; it also disgusted seven of the eight military officers involved in his sentencing, who gave him the minimum sentence allowed — 26 years — but recommended clemency.

In the end, as had been made clear at the time of his plea deal, his sentence was capped at ten years — or 19 years since his initial capture — but although successive US governments had had ten years to prepare for his release, the negotiations required to find a third country prepared to offer him a new home seem only to have begun after his sentence ended.

To clarify why a third country needed to be found, this was because it was unsafe for him to return to Pakistan, and because provisions inserted by Republicans into the annual National Defense Authorization Act under President Obama, and renewed every year, prevent any Guantánamo prisoner from being freed in the US — or, indeed, from coming to the US for any reason whatsoever.

It is to the credit of the government of Belize that they have agreed to provide a new home for Majid Khan, and for his wife, and the daughter he has never seen because she was born after his capture, who will be joining him soon, and thanks must also be extended to his lawyers, and the State Department officials who negotiated his release — particularly, former ambassador Tina Kaidanow, who was appointed last August as the Senior Representative for Guantánamo Affairs, “responsible for all matters pertaining to the transfer of detainees from the Guantánamo Bay facility to third countries.”

In the local media, in response to questions about who is supporting Khan financially, the foreign minister, Eamon Courtenay, “explained that the US government is footing the bill for Khan’s new home, which will be fully furnished, a car, which he gets to choose, plus communication devices including a laptop and a phone.”

Contrasting Majid Khan’s release with the ongoing abandonment of 20 other men approved for release

Whilst it is entirely appropriate that the US government foots the bill for supporting Khan, for two reasons — firstly, because it is the type of care that is traditionally extended to cooperating witnesses, but also because, to protect future plea deals, they must be seen to fulfill their obligations — the truly shameful flip side of all this is that, while Khan, who, however remorseful and cooperative, was convicted of terrorism, 20 other men approved for release from Guantánamo, but never even charged with a crime (out of the 34 prisoners still at the prison), are still held because their approval for release came not through legal means, but through purely administrative review processes (mainly, the Periodic Review Boards, a parole-type process established under President Obama).

Last June, highlighting the contrast between Majid Khan and these 20 men, his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights asked a court to order his release, something that the 20 other men cannot do. As I stated at the time, “When his attorneys explained, in their submission, that Khan’s ‘prompt transfer from Guantánamo upon the completion of his sentence is required by law,’ they also contrasted his situation with that of the other 20 men approved for release, via high-level government review processes, which are not legally binding, and require the ‘discretion and grace’ of the authorities.”

“Discretion and grace” is no substitute for the law, of course, but it is all that these 20 other men can hope will be extended to them as they wonder whether one day they too will be freed, because, without the weight of the law behind them, it removes any sense of urgency from the government’s negotiations with their home countries, or, as with Majid Khan, with third countries that must be found that are prepared to offer them a new home.

As I explained in a Facebook post three days ago, “Until they are freed, the message the US government is sending to these 20 men, and to the world, is that it is easier to resettle from Guantánamo someone convicted of terrorism but demonstrably remorseful than it is to resettle someone never charged with a crime at all.”

This is not the first time that the release of a prisoner from Guantánamo in connection with the military commissions has highlighted how less significant prisoners have less rights than those who can be charged with crimes. It was first made particularly apparent in November 2008, when Salim Hamdan, who had been a paid driver for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, was freed after a military commission trial, while most of the rest of the prison population — over 250 men at the time — continued to be held without charge. As a result, in the intervening years, as a handful of other prisoners were charged, accepted plea deals and were freed, other insignificant prisoners occasionally begged to be charged just so that they could do the same, although their entreaties were always in vain.

In conclusion, then, the release of Majid Khan, though welcome and just, especially after his long and fundamentally gratuitous abuse and torture, in other ways simply highlights the chasm of injustice that is an intrinsic part of the broken nature of Guantánamo — that, although the military commissions are irredeemably broken in relation to the trials of men accused of the most heinous crimes, when it comes to those who can be charged with lesser crimes, plea deals continue to be a route out of Guantánamo, while those who are so insignificant that they can’t be charged at all remain as fundamentally without rights as they were when Guantánamo first opened, and, even when approved for release through high-level government review processes, have no guarantee of when, if ever they will eventually be freed.

Some of the reports about Majid Khan’s release have suggested that, imminently, two of these 20 men — the Rabbani brothers, Ahmed and Abdul Rahim — will soon be freed in Pakistan (and a fundraiser for their reintegration costs has already been launched by former Reprieve director Clive Stafford Smith’s 3DC organization). This, again, is welcome news, but it will be cold comfort to the 18 other men unless they receive concrete assurances that the government is also working flat-out to secure their release.

To return finally to Majid Khan, I’m posting below the statement that he made on his release, made available by his lawyers at CCR, in which he succinctly summarized his past horrors and his future hopes.

Majid Khan, photographed in Belize, after his release, by Carol Rosenberg of the New York Times.

Majid Khan’s statement on his release from Guantánamo

My name is Majid Khan, and I am a real person. I am a human being. I am a Muslim man, and I first want to thank God for freeing me.

When I was captured and disappeared into the CIA black sites twenty years ago, I thought that my life was over. I was young, alone, and very scared. I was sure that I would never be free or see my family again. No one knew where I was, or what had happened to me, or even whether I was alive. I was a ghost, a walking dead man. The CIA wanted me to remain this way forever. In fact, when I was being tortured, I often wished for death to escape the terror and the pain. But I didn’t die. God protected me. I survived. I am a survivor. I was meant to live.

Today, I feel like I am reborn. I have reentered the world. I am a free man. I am beginning a new life in a new country and a new culture. It’s all new to me, and I have a lot to learn. I’m in a little bit of shock because I have been waiting so long to be free, and I can hardly believe it has finally happened. I also realize how much time I have lost and what I need to make up. Most importantly, I will soon meet my daughter for the first time, who was born after my capture, and reunite with my wife and family after twenty years. I am nervous, but also excited.

I have been given a second chance in life and I intend to make the most of it. I deeply regret the things that I did many years ago, and I have taken responsibility and tried to make up for them. I continue to ask for forgiveness from God and those I have hurt. I am truly sorry. The world has changed a lot in twenty years, and I have changed a lot as well. I promise all of you, especially the people of Belize, that I will be a productive, law-abiding member of society. Thank you for believing in me, and I will not let you down. My actions will speak louder than my words.

I am sure that some of you will still have questions about me, about who I am, what I did, and what happened to me during the last twenty years. All I can say is that there may be a time at some point in the future for me to answer those questions and explain my past more fully. But I worry that if I dwell too much on the last twenty years, then I won’t be able to concentrate fully on my next twenty years. The sooner I put the past behind me, the sooner I can move on. My goal is to move on and make the most of the rest of my life. My motto now is live and let live.

Eventually, I do want to work and start a business. I don’t want to be a burden to anyone. I want to start a real estate business, or maybe a restaurant or food truck business. I am a great cook and would love to introduce everyone in my new country to Pakistani food. I also want my daughter to be educated, and for my wife and our family to make friends in our new home.

Today, however, and for the immediate future, I really need to take some time to rest and recover from what I have been through, with help from my family who I have missed so much. I realize that I may face some challenges adjusting to life after Guantánamo. At times it may not be easy, so I ask for your patience and understanding. I also ask for privacy for my family and me. Please do not reach out to me directly; please contact me through my lawyers and their PR representatives.

I would like to end by thanking everyone who helped me get to where I am today. I especially want to thank the Government of Belize and the Foreign Minister, Mr. Courtenay, for accepting me. I also want to thank Ian Moss and all of those at the US State Department who worked on my transfer, for their dedication and efforts. And I would like to thank all my lawyers, both civilian and military, for their unwavering commitment to me for the last 15+ years. In particular, Wells Dixon and Katya Jestin have advocated for me from the beginning and have stood by me to the end. I am very grateful to them, and to all who have fought for justice and accountability at Guantánamo.

Thank you.

* * * * *

See the following for articles about the 142 prisoners released from Guantánamo from June 2007 to January 2009 (out of the 532 released by President Bush), the 196 prisoners released from February 2009 to January 2017 by President Obama, the one prisoner released by Donald Trump, and the first five prisoners released by President Biden, whose stories are covered in more detail than is available anywhere else – either in print or on the internet – although many of them, of course, are also covered in The Guantánamo Filesand for the stories of the other 390 prisoners released by President Bush, see my archive of articles based on the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011: June 2007 – 2 Tunisians, 4 Yemenis (herehere and here); July 2007 – 16 Saudis; August 2007 – 1 Bahraini, 5 Afghans; September 2007 – 16 Saudis1 Mauritanian1 Libyan, 1 Yemeni, 6 Afghans; November 2007 – 3 Jordanians, 8 Afghans14 Saudis; December 2007 – 2 Sudanese; 13 Afghans (here and here); 3 British residents10 Saudis; May 2008 – 3 Sudanese, 1 Moroccan, 5 Afghans (herehere and here); July 2008 – 2 Algerians1 Qatari, 1 United Arab Emirati, 1 Afghan; August 2008 – 2 Algerians; September 2008 – 1 Pakistani, 2 Afghans (here and here); 1 Sudanese, 1 Algerian; November 2008 – 1 Kazakh, 1 Somali, 1 Tajik2 Algerians; 1 Yemeni (Salim Hamdan), repatriated to serve out the last month of his sentence; December 2008 –- 3 Bosnian Algerians; January 2009 – 1 Afghan, 1 Algerian, 4 Iraqis; February 2009 — 1 British resident (Binyam Mohamed); May 2009 —1 Bosnian Algerian (Lakhdar Boumediene); June 2009 — 1 Chadian (Mohammed El-Gharani); 4 Uighurs to Bermuda; 1 Iraqi; 3 Saudis (here and here); August 2009 — 1 Afghan (Mohamed Jawad); 2 Syrians to Portugal; September 2009 — 1 Yemeni; 2 Uzbeks to Ireland (here and here); October 2009 — 1 Kuwaiti, 1 prisoner of undisclosed nationality to Belgium; 6 Uighurs to Palau; November 2009 — 1 Bosnian Algerian to France, 1 unidentified Palestinian to Hungary, 2 Tunisians to Italian custody; December 2009 — 1 Kuwaiti (Fouad al-Rabiah); 2 Somalis4 Afghans6 Yemenis; January 2010 — 2 Algerians, 1 Uzbek to Switzerland1 Egyptian1 Azerbaijani and 1 Tunisian to Slovakia; February 2010 — 1 Egyptian, 1 Libyan, 1 Tunisian to Albania1 Palestinian to Spain; March 2010 — 1 Libyan, 2 unidentified prisoners to Georgia, 2 Uighurs to Switzerland; May 2010 — 1 Syrian to Bulgaria, 1 Yemeni to Spain; July 2010 — 1 Yemeni (Mohammed Hassan Odaini); 1 Algerian1 Syrian to Cape Verde, 1 Uzbek to Latvia, 1 unidentified Afghan to Spain; September 2010 — 1 Palestinian, 1 Syrian to Germany; January 2011 — 1 Algerian; April 2012 — 2 Uighurs to El Salvador; July 2012 — 1 Sudanese; September 2012 — 1 Canadian (Omar Khadr) to ongoing imprisonment in Canada; August 2013 — 2 Algerians; December 2013 — 2 Algerians2 Saudis2 Sudanese3 Uighurs to Slovakia; March 2014 — 1 Algerian (Ahmed Belbacha); May 2014 — 5 Afghans to Qatar (in a prisoner swap for US PoW Bowe Bergdahl); November 2014 — 1 Kuwaiti (Fawzi al-Odah); 3 Yemenis to Georgia, 1 Yemeni and 1 Tunisian to Slovakia, and 1 Saudi; December 2014 — 4 Syrians, 1 Palestinian and 1 Tunisian to Uruguay4 Afghans2 Tunisians and 3 Yemenis to Kazakhstan; January 2015 — 4 Yemenis to Oman, 1 Yemeni to Estonia; June 2015 — 6 Yemenis to Oman; September 2015 — 1 Moroccan and 1 Saudi; October 2015 — 1 Mauritanian and 1 British resident (Shaker Aamer); November 2015 — 5 Yemenis to the United Arab Emirates; January 2016 — 2 Yemenis to Ghana1 Kuwaiti (Fayiz al-Kandari) and 1 Saudi10 Yemenis to Oman1 Egyptian to Bosnia and 1 Yemeni to Montenegro; April 2016 — 2 Libyans to Senegal9 Yemenis to Saudi Arabia; June 2016 — 1 Yemeni to Montenegro; July 2016 — 1 Tajik and 1 Yemeni to Serbia, 1 Yemeni to Italy; August 2016 — 12 Yemenis and 3 Afghans to the United Arab Emirates (see here and here); October 2016 — 1 Mauritanian (Mohammedou Ould Slahi); December 2016 — 1 Yemeni to Cape Verde; January 2017 — 4 Yemenis to Saudi Arabia8 Yemenis and 2 Afghans to Oman1 Russian, 1 Afghan and 1 Yemeni to the United Arab Emirates, and 1 Saudi repatriated to Saudi Arabia for continued detention; May 2018 — 1 Saudi to continued imprisonment in Saudi Arabia; July 2021 — 1 Moroccan; March 2022 — 1 Saudi (Mohammed al-Qahtani); April 2022 — 1 Algerian; June 2022 — 1 Afghan; October 2022 — 1 Pakistani (Saifullah Paracha).

* * * * *

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 you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.50).

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.

9 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, reporting the good news from Guantanamo that Majid Khan, whose terrorism-related sentence came to an end nearly a year ago, has been resettled in Belize.

    Seized in March 2003 in Pakistan, he was held in CIA “black sites” for three and a half years, where he was tortured even though he was remorseful about his actions from the beginning, and made it clear that he was willing to cooperate. He was transferred to Guantanamo in September 2006, where his abuse continued, but eventually, when he secured representation from lawyers, he negotiated a plea deal, which was formalized in February 2012, and eventually led to a ten-year sentence that ended on March 1 last year.

    Since then, the US government has been working hard to find him a new home, because he couldn’t safely be returned to Pakistan, and US law (passed by Republicans) prevents any Guantanamo prisoner — even a prominent cooperating witness in a high-profile terrorism case — from being resettled in the US, or, indeed, from coming to the US for any reason.

    Sadly, I have to contrast his situation with that of the 20 other men still held at Guantanamo, never even charged with a crime, who have also been approved for release, but whose freedom isn’t being prioritized by the Biden administration, because the recommendations for their release were made via a purely administrative process, which has no legal weight.

    For anyone who cares about the ongoing, grinding injustice of Guantanamo, it is imperative that we put as much pressure as possible on the Biden administration to ensure that these 20 men are also freed as swiftly as possible.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Kevin Hester wrote:

    No other journalist on the planet has done more to expose these human rights violations than you.
    I’m proud to call you a friend, colleague and comrade.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Kevin also posted an inspiring quote from Che Guevara: “Let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.”

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Kevin, for your extraordinarily supportive words. That’s a hugely inspiring quote from Che, which I am taking to heart. Proud to know you too!

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Lizzy Arizona wrote:

    Free the Gitmo victims!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Lizzy. Good to hear from you.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    David Barrows wrote:

    At last!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, very much so, David – eleven months since Majid completed his military commission sentence. It’s important, however, that those who care about getting Guantanamo closed also make as much noise as possible for the 20 men approved for release though administrative review processes, who are still held – three men approved for release 13 years ago, one approved for release two years and three months ago, and the 16 men approved for release under Biden, the first of whom were approved for release nearly 21 months ago.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    For a Spanish version, on the World Can’t Wait’s Spanish website, see ‘Majid Khan liberado de Guantánamo a una nueva vida en Belice; los otros 20 que han sido aprobados para ser liberados, pero continúan detenidos deben ser ahora la prioridad de Biden’:

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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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