The New York Times reported last week that a military jury at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo issued a sharp rebuke against the C.I.A.’s treatment of al-Qaeda prisoner Majid Khan, calling the Agency’s torture program "a stain on the moral fiber of America."
The jury recommended that Khan receive a 26-year sentence, the shortest possible under the court’s rules. Seven of the eight jurors—all U.S. military officers—then hand-wrote a letter to the military judge urging clemency for Khan. The sentencing hearing, and Khan’s two hours of graphic testimony, marked the first time that details of the C.I.A. torture program were laid bare in public.
Khan testified that during the course of his interrogations, after he was captured in Pakistan in 2003, he told the C.I.A. "literally everything" he knew. He was truthful with the information, but "the more I told them, the more they tortured me." Khan said that his only alternative was to make up information about threats, anything to get his interrogators to stop torturing him. When the information then didn’t pan out, Khan was tortured yet again.
Khan was born in Saudi Arabia to Pakistani parents and raised in suburban Baltimore, Maryland. After his mother died in 2001 and his father sent the family back to Pakistan for an extended visit, Khan’s relatives radicalized him and he formally joined al-Qaeda after the Sept. 11 attacks.
He was trained in the organization’s camps in southern Afghanistan and was made "operational" shortly thereafter. Khan confessed to delivering $50,000 from al-Qaeda to an associated extremist group in Indonesia that was used to finance the deadly 2003 bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta. Eleven people were killed and dozens more were injured.
Khan also admitted to working closely with Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. Khan said that in one case he wore a suicide vest in a failed effort in 2002 to assassinate Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. The vest, however, failed to detonate. Musharraf never knew how close al-Qaeda had come to killing him.
When I served as chief of C.I.A. counterterrorist operations in Pakistan after the Sept. 11 attacks, one of my top priorities was to find and capture Majid Khan. We believed that he was particularly dangerous because he had spent almost his entire life in the United States, he spoke English like an American, his father and siblings were all American citizens, and we believed that al-Qaeda would use the handsome teenager to recruit other American citizens and green card holders into the group.
My team searched literally all over Pakistan for him, but he eluded us. Finally, in late 2003, my successor found and captured him in Karachi, Pakistan. Khan was immediately turned over to a C.I.A. rendition team, which took him first to the infamous Salt Pit torture center in Afghanistan and then to a series of secret C.I.A. prisons around the world. He finally arrived in Guantanamo in 2006, where he has remained ever since.
There was no doubt, at least in my mind, that Majid Khan was a very bad young man. He was a terrorist and a murderer, and he meant continued harm to Americans everywhere. But he didn’t deserve—nobody deserved—the treatment that he received at the hands of the C.I.A.
Hose in Rectum
Khan testified before the tribunal that he was subjected to repeated rounds of waterboarding with ice water. In more than one case he nearly drowned and had to be revived. He was chained to an eye bolt in the ceiling of his cell so that he could not sit, kneel, lay or get comfortable for days at a time.
He was subjected to sleep deprivation for as long as 12 days. (The American Psychological Association has warned us that people begin losing their minds at seven days with no sleep. They begin dying of organ failure at nine days with no sleep.)
When he went on a hunger strike to protest his treatment, C.I.A. officers pureed his food and forced it up his rectum with a tube. On other occasions, C.I.A. officers forced a green garden hose up his rectum and turned on the water, causing incontinence and searing pain.
Prosecutors acknowledged Khan’s "rough treatment." His attorney, a U.S. Army major, called what the C.I.A. did "heinous and vile acts of torture."
Exclusive: Hear from the senior officer who, as head of a military jury at Guantánamo’s war court, wrote a damning letter calling the U.S. treatment of a terrorist “a stain on the moral fiber of America.” How it went down, how all but one juror signed it.https://t.co/HavtHLXh9L— Carol Rosenberg (@carolrosenberg) November 6, 2021
In the end, despite Khan’s cooperation, despite the torture, despite his contrition, the military tribunal formally sentenced him to 26 years in prison. He would be eligible for release in 2038. Khan had earlier negotiated a secret deal with the U.S. government, though. In exchange for his cooperation and testimony against other al-Qaeda suspects, including Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, he will be given a second, separate, sentence that will see him released sometime between February 2022 and 2025.
Majid Khan over the past 20 years has been denied his constitutional rights to face his accusers in a court of law and to be tried by a jury of his peers. He was beaten, tortured, and sexually assaulted mercilessly. He faced spending the rest of his life in a Caribbean hellhole with no access to the outside world, including to regular legal representation or to the Red Cross/Red Crescent. That worst-case scenario now won’t come to fruition.
Even more importantly, the C.I.A.’s crimes have been exposed in public. Finally. There are no redactions to the information like there were in the Executive Summary to the Senate Torture Report. There were no C.I.A. denials that the torture program even existed. The C.I.A.’s only statement in response to Khan’s revelations was, "The detention and interrogation program ended in 2009."
At least now we can talk about it and not face the threat of an espionage charge. Now we can teach our children what our government did in their name.
John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act—a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program. The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.