Guan­tanamo de­tainee’s kin grap­ple with ter­ror, tor­ture

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Ian Dun­can

Mah­mood Khan had no idea that his brother had suc­cumbed to “this poi­son” of ter­ror­ism.

When Ma­jid Khan was ar­rested by Pak­istani se­cu­rity forces in 2003, fam­ily mem­bers — many of whom still live in the Bal­ti­more area — be­lieved he had been ab­ducted by crim­i­nals.

When they didn’t hear from him for three years, they feared he was dead.

When Ma­jid ad­mit­ted be­fore a U.S. mil­i­tary com­mis­sion that he had helped al-Qaida carry out a deadly ho­tel bomb­ing in In­done­sia and pleaded guilty to war crimes in­clud­ing mur­der, spying and con­spir­acy, Mah­mood says, they were shocked.

“We did not think that it is even pos­si­ble,” Ma­jid Khan

Mah­mood said.

In the nearly 15 years since Ma­jid Khan left Bal­ti­more County for Pak­istan and joined some­of­thetop­fig­ures in al-Qaida, his fam­ily has been slowly com­ing to terms with his jour­ney from a tech job in North­ern Vir­ginia to de­ten­tion at Guan­tanamo Bay.

Mah­mood, 43, is the first fam­ily mem­ber to speak pub­licly about his brother’s case since Ma­jid pleaded guilty and his tor­ture by the CIA was re­vealed.

Ma­jid Khan told the mil­i­tary com­mis­sion in 2012 that he had plot­ted with the self-pro­claimed 9/11 mas­ter­mind Khalid Sheikh Mo­hammed to as­sas­si­nate Pres­i­dent Pervez Mushar­raf in Pak­istan and blow up gas sta­tions in the United States.

He ad­mit­ted car­ry­ing money to Thai­land that was used by al-Qaida in the 2003 sui­cide car bomb­ing at the J.W. Mar­riott Ho­tel in Jakarta that killed 11.

Khan was named in the Se­nate tor­ture re­port re­leased in 2014, and ad­di­tional notes de­tail­ing his tor­ture were de­clas­si­fied last year. The Se­nate in­ves­ti­ga­tors found that Khan had been sub­jected to sleep de­pri­va­tion and rec­tal feed­ing, been kept naked and sub­merged in ice water.

For the fam­ily, each new rev­e­la­tion has raised new ques­tions. But with Khan locked up at Guan­tanamo, and con­tact se­verely limited, they haven’t been able to ask them.

Khan, 36, has pleaded guilty and agreed to help author­i­ties pros­e­cute his for­mer alQaida com­rades in ex­change for his even­tual re­lease. In an un­usual ar­range­ment, he is to be sen­tenced at a later date, with the length of the sen­tence based in part on his level of co­op­er­a­tion. Un­derthe­p­leaa­gree­ment, heis to serve no more than 19 years.

Now a hear­ing to­day is likely to com­pli­cate his case. In a case in­volv­ing a dif­fer­ent ter­ror sus­pect, a fed­eral court has ruled that the mil­i­tary com­mis­sion at Guan­tanamoBay doesn’t have ju­ris­dic­tion to hear one of the charges to which Khan has pleaded guilty, and pros­e­cu­tors have agreed to drop it.

A case be­fore the fed­eral ap­peals court in Washington could bring the other charges against Khan into ques­tion. Khan has agreed to change his plea deal, which will de­lay his sen­tenc­ing still fur­ther.

Ma­jid Khan is the youngest of four brothers from a mid­dle-class fam­ily from Hy­der­abad, Pak­istan. When they were grow­ing up, the brunt of the chores fell on Ma­jid.

Mah­moodKhan­said he was in­volved in a po­lit­i­cal party that was tar­geted by the Pak­istani govern­ment. In the mid-1990s, the fam­ily left the coun­try and claimed asy­lum in the United States.

They set­tled in Bal­ti­more County, and Ma­jid Khan grad­u­ated from Ow­ings Mills High School in 1999. A deep­en­ing in­ter­est in tech­nol­ogy led to a good job as a data­base ad­min­is­tra­tor in North­ern Vir­ginia. He loved cricket and mu­sic, Mah­mood Khan said, and tin­ker­ing with the fam­ily’s cars.

Ma­jid Khan hadn’t been par­tic­u­larly re­li­gious, his brother said, but started go­ing to the Is­lamic So­ci­ety of Bal­ti­more in Ca­tonsville to teach a com­puter class. A fam­ily friend who told tales of fight­ing against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in­spired him to ex­plore vi­o­lent in­ter­pre­ta­tions of his faith, Khan said in his plea agree­ment.

In 2002, Ma­jid Khan trav­eled to Pak­istan for an ar­ranged mar­riage. He was 22.

His fa­ther later told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that he be­lieved his son came un­der the in­flu­ence of anti-Amer­i­can rel­a­tives in Karachi.

Ma­jid Khan quickly made con­tact with Khalid Sheikh Mo­hammed, and ul­ti­mately trav­eled to Thai­land with money that would be used to pay for the 2003 bomb­ing of the ho­tel in Jakarta.

At the time of the at­tack, Khan was al­ready in cus­tody. Pak­istani se­cu­rity forces had ar­rested Khan, his brother Mo­hammed, Mo­hammed’s wife and their in­fant daugh­ter in early 2003.

The fam­ily had few de­tails, and thought that the two brothers must have been taken for ran­som.

“We were com­pletely in shock,” Mah­mood Khan said. “We did not even un­der­stand the ab­duc­tion or who took him. First we thought it was a crim­i­nal act.”

Mo­hammed Khan was even­tu­ally re­leased, but Ma­jid Khan dis­ap­peared. The fam­ily be­gan to be­lieve he was dead. But in 2006, Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush ac­knowl­edged that the CIA had been run­ning se­cret “black site” pris­ons and that Khan was among 14 “high-value” de­tainees be­ing trans­ferred to Guan­tanamo Bay.

Mah­mood Khan said the news left him with more ques­tions about what had hap­pened in those 31⁄ miss­ing years — but also a sense of re­lief.

“At least we knew he ex­isted and where he ex­isted,” Mah­mood Khan said.

At first, Khan said he was in­no­cent. He chal­lenged the al­le­ga­tions against him at a 2007 hear­ing. But in 2012, he pleaded guilty.

Mah­mood Khan got a copy of the Se­nate tor­ture re­port af­ter it was re­leased in 2014. He waited one night un­til his wife and chil­dren had gone to sleep be­fore open­ing it. As he read, the tears rolled from his eyes. “It was so de­tailed and graphic that words can­not de­scribe it,” Khan said.

Mah­mood Khan says he doesn’t un­der­stand how his brother be­came in­volved in such se­ri­ous of­fenses in just a few months. He said he takes com­fort in know­ing that his brother has agreed to co­op­er­ate, and hopes the court takes that into ac­count.

The fam­ily wants to be able to talk all this over with Ma­jid. But they have had only very limited con­tact with him. Their first chance came last year, when the Red Cross was al­lowed to or­ga­nize video con­fer­ences for the for­mer CIA pris­on­ers.

Fam­ily mem­bers headed down to Washington and sat around a con­fer­ence table. Khan’s fa­ther had tears in his eyes be­fore his son even ap­peared on the large TVscreen in the room, Mah­mood Khan re­called. Then his face popped up. “The feel­ing for the fam­ily was a sense of re­lief, a sense of joy,” Mah­mood Khan said.

Ma­jid Khan’s fu­ture re­mains un­cer­tain. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama promised dur­ing his 2008 cam­paign to close the de­ten­tion cen­ter at Guan­tanamo, but he has been blocked by Con­gress, and a few dozen men re­main there.

Even if the fed­eral ap­peals court finds that the Guan­tanamo court doesn’t have ju­ris­dic­tion to hear the case against him, it’s un­likely he would be re­leased.

Khan’s lawyers have in­di­cated he would be will­ing to plead guilty in a civil­ian court and serve a prison sen­tence out­side the United States. He could en­ter such a plea by video link, with­out leav­ing Guan­tanamo Bay. But that ar­range­ment re­quires ap­proval in Con­gress.

Mah­mood Khan said he hopes his brother will be free one day to re­turn to Pak­istan. His wife and daugh­ter live in a small town out­side Hy­der­abad.

“If he gets the free­dom of go­ing to Pak­istan and liv­ing with his fam­ily,” Mah­mood Khan said, “that would be in it­self enough sat­is­fac­tion.”

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