US military jurors decry Guantanamo detainee torture

Guantanamo Bay prisoner Majid Khan last week detailed torture at CIA black sites in unprecedented testimony.

Military officers serving as jurors in the case of Guantanamo Bay detainee Majid Khan are urging clemency [File: Charles Dharapak/The Associated Press]

Seven United States military officers have written a letter urging clemency for Guantanamo Bay detainee Majid Khan, calling his account of torture at so-called CIA black sites a “stain on the moral fiber of America”.

The seven officers were part of an eight-member military jury that on Friday issued a sentence of 26 years in prison to Khan for his support of al-Qaeda in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Khan had previously pleaded guilty in 2012 to serving as a courier for the group and helping to plan attacks.

The letter from the officers, which was sent to a senior official reviewing the case, was published by the New York Times on Sunday. They were identified only by their juror numbers.

Last week, Khan became the first detainee at Guantanamo to publicly detail his interrogation and torture at the secret CIA sites in Pakistan, Afghanistan and a third country. The sites and so-called “advanced interrogation techniques” were used amid the US’s decades-long “war on terror”. Their use was discontinued in 2009.

The abuses, which spanned three years after Khan was detained in Karachi in 2003, included being waterboarded, hung naked from a ceiling beam, starved, and being physically and sexually assaulted, he read in a 39-page testimony during his sentencing hearing.

In the letter, the seven officers said that Khan’s treatment went “well beyond 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 US interests,” the letter said. “Instead, it is a stain on the moral fiber of America; the treatment of Mr Khan in the hands of the US personnel should be a source of shame for the US government.”

It was not immediately clear if the message, which was also verified by the AFP news agency, would have any influence on the case.

A 2018 photo provided by the Center for Constitutional Rights shows Majid Khan [File: Center for Constitutional Rights/The Associated Press]

Khan pleaded guilty in February 2012 to charges that include conspiracy, murder and providing material support to “terrorism” after admitting to delivering $50,000 of al-Qaeda funds used for a deadly bombing of a Marriott hotel in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, in 2003 and plotting other attacks.

He is expected to be released some time next year due to a previous plea deal, of which the military jury was not made aware. The 26-year sentence issued by the jurors last week was at nearly the lowest end possible given the charges, according to the New York Times.

‘Affront to American values’

A citizen of Pakistan born in Saudi Arabia, Khan moved to a Baltimore, Maryland suburb with his family when he was 16.

He was working at a technology job in Washington, DC, on September 11 and attributed his subsequent support for al-Qaeda to his vulnerability in the wake of his mother’s death.

“I’m not the young, impressionable, vulnerable kid I was 20 years ago,” Khan, now 41, told the court. “I reject al-Qaeda, I reject terrorism.”

The letter from the military officers endorsed Khan’s apology, saying he is “remorseful and not a threat for future extremism”.

Khan’s testimony and the military jurors’ letter also appeared to affirm a 2014 US Senate Intelligence Committee report that said the CIA techniques not only exceeded the agency’s legal bounds, but were largely ineffective.

Khan had told the court “the more I cooperated, the more I was tortured”, leading him to lie to investigators in hopes of ending the abuse.

Authorities say Khan has since offered information in several high-profile cases, including against the five men currently being held at Guantanamo who are charged with planning and providing logistical support for the September 11 attacks.

Rights monitors have regularly called for accountability for the abuses committed at the secret CIA sites, with UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, saying in 2017 the conduct was in “clear violation of the Convention against Torture and is sending a dangerous message of complacency and impunity to officials in the US and around the world”.

They have also increasingly urged US President Joe Biden to end indefinite detentions at Guantanamo, something his previous boss, former President Barack Obama, had promised and failed to do. There are currently 39 detainees at the US Navy base, which is located in Cuba.

In the letter published on Sunday, the officers noted that Khan had been held by the US without charges or legal representation for nine years, and then held for a further nine years without sentencing.

They said the US government’s conduct showed a “complete disregard for the foundational concepts upon which the constitution was founded”, describing the indefinite detention as “an affront to American values and concept of justice”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies