A U.S. military jury asked for clemency in the case against a Guantánamo detainee, Majid Shoukat Khan. The jury said in a letter leaked to the media that the detainee’s treatment while in U.S. custody over the past two decades “is a stain on the moral fiber of America.”
The New York Times was first to report and publish the letter.
Majid Shoukat Khan is one of 39 detainees who still remains at the military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He was captured in Pakistan in 2003 after he acted as a courier for al-Qaeda. He was held for more than three years at secret CIA prisons known as “black sites.”
The jury heard in graphic detail from Khan himself about the treatment he received. Khan described being held in brutal conditions. He was sleep-deprived, forced to be chained naked, and nearly drowned during waterboarding, according to the leaked letter.
Khan’s attorneys have said that he suffers “[from] severe physical and psychological trauma from which he is unlikely ever to recover fully” as a result of the torture sustained while in those black sites.
‘The More I Cooperated, the More I Was Tortured’
Khan testified that “the more I cooperated, the more I was tortured” in CIA custody at the black sites. He said that he made up lies in order to appease interrogators and to stop the torture.
This reveals a main reason why many intelligence professionals disdain the use of “enhanced interrogation” or torture since what is gained is often of dubious value: Suspects will lie or tell interrogators anything they want to hear just to avoid the pain of the torture.
Seven of the eight military members of the jury urged clemency in Khan’s case and said that Khan’s treatment “was of no practical value in terms of intelligence, or any other tangible benefit to U.S. interests.”
“Mr. Khan was subjected to physical and psychological abuse well beyond approved enhanced interrogation techniques, instead of [sic] being closer to torture performed by the most abusive regimes in modern history,” the letter read.
“This abuse was of no practical value in terms of intelligence, or any other tangible benefit to U.S. interests,” it continued. “Instead, it is a stain on the moral fiber of America; the treatment of Mr. Khan in the hands of U.S. personnel should be a source of shame for the U.S. government.”
The letter added that the practice of holding terrorists who have been deemed “alien unprivileged enemy belligerents” without charges or trials for over a decade, as in the case of Khan, represented a “complete disregard for the foundational concepts upon which the Constitution was founded” and an “affront to American values and concept of Justice.”
The letter also objected to the use of torture on moral grounds. This means that even if the intelligence gathered from the torture is of use, it is a method that is morally reprehensible.
Khan grew up in Pakistan and moved to the U.S. at age 16, where he graduated high school in Baltimore. He said he had been a “young, impressionable, vulnerable kid” when he was recruited to al-Qaeda and, now, 41, says he rejects both al-Qaeda and terrorism.
Majid Shoukat Khan was held for nine years without being charged with anything until 2012. As part of an agreement with the government, he pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against other detainees. His final sentencing wasn’t until last month; he was sentenced to 26 years in prison. He could be released as early as February 2022 after nearly 20 years in prison.
President Biden has made it clear that he wants Guantanamo closed. There remain 39 detainees in U.S. custody, several of whom still haven’t been put on trial. Others have never been charged but have been deemed too dangerous to be released.
Another group of detainees is slated for release, but the U.S. is trying to let them go under specific security conditions in another country. However, that tactic did not work for other detainees, as, upon their release, several Taliban went straight back into the fighting.