Ex-U.S. resident writes of alleged torture

 

crosenberg@MiamiHerald.com

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- In a personal handwritten plea, a suburban Baltimore high school graduate now held at Guantánamo has written a federal court about his alleged torture in CIA custody -- details hidden from public view by censorship.

''Think of me as a human being . . . not a terrorist,'' Majid Khan, 27, wrote last month in careful English penmanship between heavily censored portions of a federal court filing made public Friday.

Lawyers for Khan also argue in the filing that CIA director Michael Hayden director Michael Hayden ''was demonstrably incorrect'' when he claimed in a statement issued last month that videotaping of interrogations stopped in 2002.

''The agency stands by that statement,'' said George Little, spokesman for the CIA, on Monday.

''At a bare minimum, Gen. Hayden is not fully informed about the CIA torture program,'' countered Wells Dixon, one of Khan's attorneys.

The documents are part of the latest legal salvo between the Bush administration and Khan's attorneys, who allege he was subjected to ''a ruthless program of state-sponsored torture'' during three years of secret CIA custody at a so-called ''black site'' overseas.

The CIA and the Bush administration have maintained that they do not engage in torture. There is no way to independently verify either Khan's claims or that of the government.

Now, the letters are part of an additional filing in their case, written by Khan personally last month at the U.S. Navy base where he is held in southeast Cuba. All references to what he says happened to him are concealed by a censor's pen.

Throughout the case, intelligence censors have blackened out each and every description of what Khan said was done to him in the three years of secret custody.

In one five-page handwritten account from Khan to his lawyers, only a single sentence survives the censor's pen. It says, 'I was `practically' an American who lived a comfortable live [sic] under freedoms of America, who never lived in caves or Afghanistan.''

The U.S. government alleges that Khan was tasked by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed to conduct research on poisoning reservoirs and blowing up gas stations in the United States.

Born in Pakistan, he moved with his family to the United States at age 15 and became a legal resident. In 2002, while visiting Pakistan, security forces captured him and handed him over to the CIA, which held him secretly until he was sent to Guantánamo in September 2006, along with 14 other ``high-value detainees.''

None have been charged with crimes. But Khan is the only one of the 15 to see an attorney so far, spending days describing his treatment to Gitanjali Gutierrez and Dixon of the New York Center for Constitutional Rights.

Based on those interviews, they have filed sworn statements, now sealed at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C.

His lawyers have filed a petition asking the circuit court to rule he was tortured in U.S. custody; it's the only court empowered by Congress to review the detention of Guantánamo captives, who today number about 275.

At Guantánamo, his lawyers say, he has only shared recreation time and the opportunity to speak with only one other detainee, an alleged senior al Qaeda operative called Abu Zubaydah.

The CIA has said it created its ''terrorist detention and interrogation program'' after capturing Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan and videotaping his interrogations in 2002. It said the videotapes were destroyed three years later to spare agents retribution by al Qaeda or sympathizers.

A former CIA agent, John Kiriakou, who was involved in the program, has said in successive media interviews that the agency engaged in waterboarding, strategically, in the war on terrorism as part of special techniques made legal by President Bush. Waterboarding simulates drowning.

The public portions of the Khan filings do not specifically allege that Khan himself was waterboarded, but one footnote refers to such treatment as illegal.

In his letters, Khan describes himself as a one-time U.S. resident who paid $2,400 a month in U.S. taxes, now caught in a ''big mistake'' by the CIA. ``I ask you to give me justice . . . in the name of what U.S.A. once stood for and in the name of what Thomas Jefferson fought for . . . allow me a chance to prove that I am innocent.''

Read more Guantánamo stories from the Miami Herald

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