Guantánamo trial exposes brutality of CIA torture

By Brian Williams
November 22, 2021

In testimony before a sentencing jury of eight senior military officers Oct. 28, Majid Khan read a statement in court detailing his personal experiences being tortured by the CIA. Khan has been imprisoned for 15 years by the U.S. government at its notorious military facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which it occupies against the will of the Cuban people.

“I thought I was going to die,” Khan said, describing the various torture techniques he was subjected to, including beatings, sexual assaults, being chained naked from a ceiling beam for long periods, starved, doused repeatedly with ice water to keep him awake for days, and being nearly drowned with his head held underwater.

Khan’s statement “had a real impact,” Katya Jestin, one of his lawyers, told the Militant by phone Nov. 5. “He’s the first Guantánamo detainee to publicly describe torture at the hands of the CIA.” He is also represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Military Commissions Defense Organization.

Khan told the military court, “The more I cooperated, the more I was tortured,” leading him to start lying in hopes of ending the abuse. In February 2012 he pleaded guilty to charges that included conspiracy, murder and providing material support to “terrorism” in delivering $50,000 of al-Qaeda funds that was used to set up the 2003 bombing of a Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, and planning other attacks.

Khan, 41, was born in Saudi Arabia and raised in Pakistan. He moved to the U.S. to join his family in Maryland at age 16. He graduated from high school in suburban Baltimore and was working for a telecommunications contractor that managed the Pentagon phone system at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Shortly afterwards his mother died and he moved back to Pakistan.

After being arrested in Karachi in 2003, Khan was subjected to interrogation and torture at several CIA secret facilities over the next three years before being sent to Guantánamo.

He told the military commission, as well as the media present, that his intention was “to tell my story with the hope that you better understand who I was and who I have become. I want you to know what I did, what happened to me, and what I hope for the future.” He added, “I’m not the young, impressionable, vulnerable kid I was 20 years ago. I reject al-Qaeda. I reject terrorism.”

Military officials turned down the request by Khan’s lawyers that his wife and daughter, who he has never seen, be present for the hearing.

In response to Khan’s chilling testimony, seven of the eight military officers on the jury signed a letter urging clemency for Khan. This is quite an unusual move, noted Jestin, who said she never heard of something like this happening before.

“Mr. Khan was subjected to physical and psychological abuse,” the letter said, “closer to torture performed by the most abusive regimes in modern history.”

“Mr. Khan has been held without the basic due process under the U.S. Constitution,” it noted. “He was held without charge or legal representation for nine years until 2012, and held without final sentencing until October 2021.”

The author of the letter, Capt. Scott B. Curtis, the jury foreman, told the New York Times the CIA torture “was a stain on the moral fabric of America.” “Slamming his head against the wall every time they moved him and beating him while he was hooded, I don’t think those things are legal acts,” he said.

The jury sentenced Kahn to 26 years in prison, to be counted from his guilty plea in 2012. But a plea-bargain agreement reached earlier this year — that the jury members weren’t informed of — makes Khan eligible for release as early as February 2022, even if he is not granted clemency. To be released, however, another country must be found that will accept him. Otherwise he will be held indefinitely.

There are 39 prisoners still held at Guantánamo Bay, despite promises made by President Joseph Biden and by former President Barack Obama over a decade ago to close the prison. Some still await trial. Others have never been charged with anything. A third group is cleared for release, but U.S. authorities haven’t agreed where they should go.