Home Civilian based defense US military jury condemns torture of terrorist, calls for clemency

US military jury condemns torture of terrorist, calls for clemency



GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba – In a harsh rebuke of CIA torture following the 9/11 attacks, seven senior military officers who overheard graphic descriptions last week of the brutal treatment of a terrorist as he was detained by the agency wrote a letter calling it “a stain on America’s moral fiber.”

The officers, all but one member of an eight-member jury, condemned the conduct of the U.S. government in a letter of mercy on behalf of Majid Khan, a suburban Baltimore high school graduate turned Qaeda messenger.

They had been brought to the US Navy base at Guantánamo Bay to convict Mr. Khan, who had previously pleaded guilty to terrorism charges. They handed down a sentence of 26 years, the shortest possible sentence according to the court’s instructions.

At the request of Mr. Khan’s lawyer, they then took the prerogative available in military justice to write a letter to a senior official who will review the case, asking for leniency.

Prior to his conviction, Khan spent two hours describing in appalling detail the violence inflicted on him by CIA operatives and operatives in dungeon conditions in prisons in Pakistan, Afghanistan and one country. third party, including sexual abuse and mind-numbing isolation, often in the dark. while he was naked and in chains.

“Mr. Khan has been subjected to physical and psychological abuse far beyond approved enhanced interrogation techniques, approximating instead torture practiced by the most abusive regimes in modern history,” according to the letter, which was obtained by The New York Times.

The panel also responded to Mr. Khan’s claim that after his capture in Pakistan in March 2003, he told interrogators everything, but “the more I cooperated, the more I was tortured”, and he said so. subsequently invented lies to try to appease his captors.

“This abuse had no practical value in terms of intelligence or any other tangible benefit to American interests,” the letter said. “Instead, it’s a stain on America’s moral fiber; Mr. Khan’s treatment at the hands of US personnel should be a source of shame on the US government.

Credit…Center for Constitutional Rights

In his testimony Thursday evening, Mr. Khan became the first former prisoner of the so-called CIA black sites to publicly describe in detail the violence and cruelty used by US agents to extract information and discipline suspected terrorists in the clandestine prison program abroad. which was put in place after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

In doing so, Mr. Khan also provided insight into the kind of information that could emerge in the death penalty trial of the five men accused of instigating the 9/11 attacks, a process that has become bogged down in civil law. pre-trial hearings for nearly a decade in part because of the secrecy surrounding their CIA torture

The agency declined to comment on the substance of Mr. Khan’s descriptions of the black sites, which prosecutors have not sought to refute. He only said that his detention and interrogation program, which ran the black sites, ended in 2009.

More than 100 suspected terrorists disappeared into the CIA’s clandestine prison network abroad after September 11, 2001. The agency used “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation and violence to try to get prisoners to disclose Al Qaeda’s plans and the whereabouts of the leaders. and sleeper cells, but with no immediate plan to try his captives.

President George W. Bush revealed the existence of the CIA program in September 2006, with the transfer of Mr. Khan and 13 other high value detainees to Guantanamo. President Barack Obama ordered the program to shut down completely after taking office in 2009.

Mr Khan, 41, was detained without access to either the International Red Cross, the authority entrusted under the Geneva Conventions to visit prisoners of war, or a lawyer until he had been transferred to Guantánamo Bay. He pleaded guilty in February 2012 to terrorist crimes, including delivering $ 50,000 from Al Qaeda to an allied extremist group in Southeast Asia, Jemaah Islamiyah, which was used to finance a deadly bomb attack on a Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, five months after his capture. . Eleven people were killed and dozens more were injured.

The time of his prison sentence began with his guilty plea in 2012, meaning the panel’s 26-year sentence would end in 2038.

But Mr Khan, who has been cooperating with the US government, helping federal and military prosecutors build cases, has reached a jury-kept deal that could end his sentence in February or 2025 at the latest.

Under the military commission system put in place after 9/11, even defendants who plead guilty and reach a deal with the government must have a jury sentencing hearing. This was the case with Mr Khan, whose sentencing was delayed by nearly a decade to give him time to work with government investigators and gain favor in the form of early release from a sentence. with jury.

The leniency letter also condemned the legal framework that kept Mr. Khan without charge for nine years and denied him access to a lawyer for the first four and a half months as “a complete disregard for the core concepts on which the Constitution was founded “and” an affront to American values ​​and the concept of justice.

Although this is rarely done, a military defense lawyer can ask a panel for letters approving leniency, such as a reduced sentence, for a member who is convicted by a court martial.

But it was the first time that the request for a sentencing jury has been made at Guantanamo, where accused terrorists are tried by a military commission. A clemency recommendation is not binding, but it could send a powerful message to the convening authority of military commissions, the senior Pentagon official overseeing the war tribunal, whose role is to review a completed case and a request. Please accompany the defense attorneys to decide whether to shorten a sentence. An Army Colonel, Jeffrey D. Wood of the Arkansas National Guard, currently fulfills this role as a civilian.

In closing arguments, Mr. Khan’s military attorney, Army Major Michael J. Lyness, asked the panel for a minimum sentence and then consider drafting a letter recommending leniency.

Senior prosecutor Colonel Walter H. Foster IV of the military asked the panel to impose a severe sentence. He admitted that Mr. Khan had been “treated extremely brutally” while in CIA detention, but said he was “still alive” which was “a luxury” that victims of the Qaida attacks did. had not.

The foreman of the jury, a Navy captain, told the court that he had supported the defense request and handwritten the letter of mercy, and all the officers on the sentencing jury, except one, signed it, using their panel member numbers, as jurors enjoy anonymity at the Guantanamo National Security Court.

Ian C. Moss, a former Navy who is a civilian lawyer for Mr Khan’s defense team, called the letter an “extraordinary reprimand”.

“Part of what makes the Letter of Mercy so powerful is that, given the seniority of the jury members, it stands to reason that their military careers have been affected in a direct and probably personal way by the last two decades of war, ”he said.

At no time did the jurors suggest that Mr. Khan’s treatment was illegal. Their letter noted that Mr. Khan, who had never obtained US citizenship, was considered an “unprivileged foreign enemy belligerent”, a status which made him eligible for trial by a military commission and “technically did not grant him the rights of American citizens ”.

But, the officers noted, Mr. Khan pleaded guilty, admitted his actions and “expressed remorse for the impact of the victims and their families. Leniency is recommended.

Sentencing was delayed for nearly a decade after his guilty plea to give Mr Khan the time and opportunity to cooperate with federal and military prosecutors, so far behind the scenes, in federal terrorism cases and military. In the years that followed, prosecutors and defense lawyers clashed in court cases over who would be called to testify about abuse committed by Mr. Khan during his CIA detention, and how.

In return for the reduced sentence, Mr. Khan and his legal team agreed to abandon their efforts to call witnesses to testify about his torture, much of which is likely classified as secret, as long as he could recount his story. story to the jury.

Jurors were also sympathetic to Mr Khan’s account that he was drawn to radical Islam in 2001 at the age of 21, after the death of his mother, and was recruited by al-Qaeda after the attacks. of September 11. “A vulnerable target for recruiting extremists, it has fallen under the influence of radical Islamic philosophies, as many others have done in recent years,” the letter said. “Now, at 41 with a girl he has never seen, he has remorse and is not a threat to future extremism.”

The panel received nine letters of support for Mr. Khan from family members, including his father and several siblings – U.S. citizens who live in the United States – as well as his wife, Rabia, and his daughter, Manaal, who were born in Pakistan and live there.