The Pentagon Tuesday announced it had charged a suburban Baltimore high school graduate now at Guantánamo with conspiring to commit terror attacks on U.S. soil and serving as an al-Qaida courier after the 9/11 attacks.
The prosecution of Majid Khan, who was scooped up in Pakistan and disappeared into the CIA’s secret overseas prison network, is the first war court case entirely initiated during the administration of President Barack Obama.
It seeks life imprisonment, not military execution, in a charge sheet that portrays Khan, now 31, as a willing foot soldier for radical Islam. He allegedly recorded a martyr’s message and donned an explosive vest in a 2002 attempt to kill Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf at a mosque. The attack failed because Musharraf never arrived.
Pakistani authorities arrested Khan the next year and turned him over to the United States, which held and interrogated him out of reach of the International Committee of the Red Cross until President George W. Bush had him sent to the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba in September 2006 for a war crimes trial.
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Khan’s case is an unusual one for the Guantánamo war court. He’s a fluent English speaker whose family moved from his native Pakistan in 1996, in time for him to graduate from an American high school and work at the family’s gas station outside of Baltimore.
The last known photos of him before his capture show a clean-shaven young man waving a diploma and donning a mortar board. His Guantánamo intelligence file photo, released by WikiLeaks last year, shows a bushy bearded adult with a receding hairline. He’s one of just two known former legal U.S. residents now held at Guantánamo.
Part of his charge sheet alleges he conspired with confessed 9/11 attack planner Khalid Sheik Mohammed, also at Guantánamo, to blow up gasoline stations on U.S. soil.
Khan was married and living in Pakistan at the time of his arrest. He had allegedly traveled back to the United States on his green card after the Sept. 11 attacks at Mohammed’s behest and allegedly couriered $50,000 to Bangkok that was funneled to an al-Qaida affiliate that blew up the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, in August 2003, killing 11 and wounding 81 others.
He is defended by the Center for Constitutional Rights, CCR, whose lawyers have filed an unlawful detention suit claiming Khan was tortured.
“Majid is doing well considering these challenging circumstances," CCR attorney Wells Dixon and Katya Jestin of Jenner & Block said in a statement Tuesday night.
“We are reviewing the charges, and will represent Majid throughout this process.”
In 2008, the New York civil liberties firm released portions of letters from Khan describing himself as an innocent, one-time U.S. resident who paid $2,400 a month in U.S. taxes and who was caught in a “’big mistake” by the CIA.
“I ask you to give me justice,” one letter said, “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.”
His Pentagon defense lawyer is Army Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, who declined comment Tuesday night. Jackson is a military commissions veteran, who last year orchestrated a plea deal for since confessed Canadian war criminal Omar Khadr, 25, Guantánamo’s youngest war on terror captive.
A copy of the 15-page charge sheet against Khan posted on a Pentagon website Tuesday night indicated that the prison camps staff attorney, Navy Cmdr. Thomas Welsh, presented Khan with the charges a day earlier. Attorneys Dixon and Jestin said they were there, too.
The charges, and a Defense Department announcement, identified the accused terrorist as Majid Shoukat Khan, perhaps in a bid to make a distinction between him and a famed former Pakistan cricket team captain also named Majid Khan.
The next step is for a senior Pentagon official, retired Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald, to review the charges and decide how, when and whether to go forward with a trial by military commission at Guantánamo. MacDonald is currently reviewing seven-month-old capital charges against five alleged 9/11 conspirators, including Mohammed, to decide whether it should go forward as a death penalty case.
Meantime, the chief war crimes prosecutor, Brig. Army Gen. Mark Martins, assigned a Justice Department lawyer, Courtney Sullivan, to prosecute the case with help from Army Lt. Col. Michael Hosang and Navy Lt. Nathaniel Gross at the court system that was created after the 9/11 attacks and borrows from both the federal and military court martial systems.
In separate Guantánamo developments Tuesday:
• The chief war court judge refused a subpoena request by the lawyers for the alleged USS Cole bomber that sought to question Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is now in New York for medical treatment. Saleh has diplomatic immunity, according to the State Department, but war court defense lawyers argued that didn’t protect him from questioning about al-Qaida’s bombing of the warship off Aden, Yemen, in October 2000.
• The Navy announced that the prison camps commander, Rear Adm. David B. Woods, will move later this year to a San Diego post. Woods, who has been embroiled in a legal mail controversy since soon after taking charge of the detention center in August, would complete a full year, said his spokeswoman, Cmdr. Tamsen Reese.