U.S. releases Guantanamo prisoner once tortured at CIA sites
U.S. military officials said Thursday they released and sent to Belize a onetime al Qaeda courier who had completed his sentence. The transfer of Majid Khan ended an imprisonment that included torture at clandestine CIA sites and 16 years at the Guantanamo Bay detention center.
Khan, a Pakistani citizen who grew up outside Baltimore, wound up in the Central American nation under a Biden administration agreement with that government. Khan's lawyers said he should have been freed last February under a pretrial agreement.
Khan, who is in his early 40s, said in a statement through his legal team that he deeply regretted his period of working with al Qaeda in his early 20s. That included working as a courier and taking part in planning several plots that were never carried out.
"I promise all of you, especially the people of Belize, that I will be a productive, law-abiding member of society," the statement said. "I will not let you down."
Before arriving at the military prison on the U.S. base in Cuba in 2006, Khan spent some three years at so-called CIA black sites overseas. The CIA used the clandestine locations in what the United States called its "war on terror" after the attacks against America on Sept. 11, 2001.
Khan's treatment was detailed in a Senate Intelligence Committee report released in 2014 that accused the CIA of abusing al Qaeda prisoners far beyond its legal boundaries and of giving the public false accounts of useful interrogations at the sites.
His treatment included being suspended from a ceiling beam for long periods of time, doused with ice water to deprive him of sleep for days, and beatings, water torture, forced enemas, sexual assault and starvation, Khan told a military courtroom as it considered his sentence in a military-run war crimes trial.
Khan pled guilty before a U.S. military commission in 2012. He was sentenced in 2021 to 26 years, though a pretrial agreement required a Pentagon legal official to cut that term to no more than more than 11 years because of his cooperation with U.S. authorities. Khan's team said he should have been released last February as part of that deal.
One of his lawyers, Katya Jestin, noted the U.S. had continued to hold Khan more than a year after he completed his sentence. "This is a historic victory for human rights and the rule of law, but one that took far too long to reach," she said in a statement.
The Defense Department and State Department thanked Belize and others working to transfer Guantanamo prisoners deemed not a threat to freedom outside the United States. The agencies also said the U.S. remains intent on eventually closing Guantanamo.
"Belize's commitment to human rights, as evidenced by its generous support in working with the United States to resettle Mr. Kahn in a safe and secure setting, is a credit to the people of Belize and its government," Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols said in a statement.
At its peak in 2003, Guantanamo Bay held about 600 people whom the U.S. considered suspected terrorists. Supporters of using the detention facility contend it prevented attacks. Guantanamo's many critics say the system subverted human rights and constitutional rights, and undermined the country's influence and moral standing around the globe.
Thirty-four detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay, including 20 eligible for transfer if third-party countries can be found to take them, the Pentagon said.