US releases Guantanamo prisoner once tortured at CIA sites

Feb 1, 2023, 9:17 PM | Updated: Feb 3, 2023, 1:22 am

FILE - In this photo reviewed by U.S. military officials, flags fly at half-staff at Camp Justice, ...

FILE - In this photo reviewed by U.S. military officials, flags fly at half-staff at Camp Justice, Aug. 29, 2021, in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba. Majid Khan, the onetime courier for al-Qaida is a free man after serving more than 16 years at Guantanamo, and surviving torture at notorious CIA "black sites." The Pentagon announced the release of Pakistan citizen Khan on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. Khan is now in Belize, after that nation reached agreement with the Biden administration to take him. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. military officials said Thursday they have freed and sent to Central America a onetime al-Qaida money courier who had completed his sentence, ending an imprisonment that included torture at clandestine CIA sites and 16 years at the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

Majid Khan, a Pakistani citizen who grew up outside Baltimore, arrived in Belize on Thursday under a Biden administration agreement with that government.

This was the first time since the Obama administration that U.S. officials have been able to reach agreement with a stable third-party country willing to take Guantanamo prisoners whom the U.S. no longer considers a threat. 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 years of working with al-Qaida in his early 20s. That included ferrying $50,000 from Pakistan to fund a deadly 2003 hotel bombing in Indonesia and taking part in plotting several attacks 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 al-Qaida’s 2001 attacks against America on Sept. 11, 2001. The U.S. counterterror effort succeeded over the years in capturing or killing key al-Qaida figures. It also swept up, imprisoned and abused some others on little or no real evidence. Many of the detainees were never legally charged.

Khan’s treatment was detailed in a Senate Intelligence Committee report released in 2014 that accused the CIA of abusing al-Qaida 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, doused with ice water to deprive him of sleep for days, and subjected to beatings, water torture, 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 11 years because of his cooperation with U.S. authorities.

“This is a historic victory for human rights and the rule of law, but one that took far too long to reach,” Katya Jestin, one of Khan’s lawyers, said in a statement.

The Defense Department thanked Belize and others working to find resettlement outside the United States for Guantanamo prisoners deemed not a threat. The Pentagon also said the U.S. remains intent on eventually closing Guantanamo.

Wells Dixon, an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights who has represented Khan since his arrival at Guantanamo in 2006, said he hoped Belize’s agreement and preparations for providing a home for Khan would serve as a model for more third-country transfers.

“They are approaching Mr. Khan as a free man who is in need of humanitarian assistance,” Dixon said from Belize. “That’s the right way to do it, 100%.”

Guantanamo at its peak in 2003 held about 600 people whom the U.S. considered terrorists. Supporters of using the detention facility for such figures contend it prevented attacks. Guantanamo’s many critics say the system subverted human rights and constitutional rights and undermined the United States’ influence and moral standing.

Thirty-four detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay, including 20 eligible for transfer if stable third-party countries can be found to take them, the Pentagon said. Many are from Yemen, a country considered too plagued with war and extremist groups and too devoid of services for freed Yemeni detainees to be sent there.

A 2016 report by the Office of the Director for National Intelligence looking at recidivism rates by former Guantanamo detainees said six out of 115 detainees released between 2009 and 2015 were confirmed to have either returned to extremist violence or been in contact with violent extremists.

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US releases Guantanamo prisoner once tortured at CIA sites