A senior Pentagon official approved terror charges Wednesday against a U.S. high school graduate accused of conspiring with confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed — a swift turnaround that sets the stage for a new war court case at Guantánamo within the month.
Majid Khan, 31, faces a maximum of life in prison if convicted of murder, attempted murder and providing material support for terrorism for serving as a cash courier ahead of a terror attack on the J.W. Marriott in Indonesia that killed 11 people in August 2003.
He also allegedly plotted with Mohammed to blow up underground fuel tanks at U.S. gas stations and volunteered to assassinate then President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan with a suicide bomb belt.
Neither plot was realized, but Pentagon prosecutors have been preparing the capital murder Sept. 11 case against Mohammed for years, and Wednesday’s developments put Khan’s case ahead of the 9/11 trial.
A Pentagon spokesman would not say whether a plea agreement was under discussion with Khan. Unusually, the Pakistani native was in the company of two civilian lawyers at the remote base in southeast Cuba when the so-called high-value detainee was handed sworn charges Monday.
“His trial will be open to the public, as required by the Rules for Military Commissions,” said Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokesman. “As to whether or not there’s some sort of plea, he certainly has the right to make one.”
Lawyers for the 1999 suburban Baltimore high school graduate haves claimed in federal court filings that the CIA tortured Khan after his 2003 capture in Pakistan.
But the attorneys were uncharacteristically mute this week, issuing a short statement that described Khan as “doing well considering these challenging circumstances.”
The Pentagon spokesman said Wednesday that Khan’s status as a former legal U.S. resident — he’d been given asylum as a teenager — and the torture allegations did not disqualify him from a war crimes trial.
“To the extent that Mr. Khan persists in any such allegations, they will be given their appropriate factual and legal consideration by the military commission and military judge detailed to hear his case,” Breasseale said. “Without conceding the substance of such allegations, the United States believes it can prevail on the merits of the charges referred against Khan.”