Guantánamo prisoner claims undisclosed episodes of CIA waterboarding, other torture

Majid Khan at Guantánamo in a in September 2009 photo released June 2, 2015 by the Center for Constitutional Rights, his civilian defense firm.
Majid Khan at Guantánamo in a in September 2009 photo released June 2, 2015 by the Center for Constitutional Rights, his civilian defense firm.

A U.S.-educated captive at Guantánamo who has pleaded guilty to being an al-Qaida money courier has told his attorneys he was twice waterboarded by CIA agents, something not previously disclosed, according to his lawyers in a release Tuesday of once-censored torture allegations.

The attorneys for Majid Khan, 35, and awaiting sentencing next year at Guantánamo, also said the 1999 Maryland high school graduate spent much of his 2003-06 CIA captivity in solitary confinement and was kept in “total darkness” through much of the first year, denied sunlight.

The CIA denied the new waterboarding claim issued by the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York City, first released Tuesday morning to the Reuters news agency and then more widely to the general public with a call for the dismissal of CIA Director John Brennan.

The disclosures are among the first defense-attorney abuse claims made public under a recent Obama administration declassification regime surrounding the CIA’s so-called Black Site program — which interrogated and incarcerated more than 100 men overseas, out of reach of the U.S. courts and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

As described in a prosecution filing earlier this year at the Guantánamo war court, the U.S. government is systematically lifting some censorship about certain aspects of the CIA program — notably those involving allegations of torture and conditions of confinement.

“As layers of secrecy have been peeled away throughout the Obama administration, we see more and more evidence of CIA savagery and treachery,” Khan’s CCR attorney, J. Wells Dixon, said in a statement that also urged the Justice Department to reopen its criminal investigation of the CIA program. “There must be greater transparency and accountability for what happened.”

Khan, whose family lives in suburban Baltimore, has been held since 2006 at a secret prison at Guantánamo, called Camp 7. In February 2012 he pleaded guilty to war crimes for joining al-Qaida after the 9/11 attacks and moving $50,000 used to fund a 2003 terrorist bombing of a Marriott hotel in Southeast Asia. He also agreed to testify against others at war court proceeding, something that has not yet happened.

Under the plea deal, Khan can be released in 2031 at the earliest, said Army Lt. Col. Myles B. Caggins III, a Pentagon spokesman. Dixon said Tuesday that a senior Pentagon official could reduce the sentence, which should be done in light of Khan’s torture.

The world first learned some of the lurid details of Khan’s CIA detention in December when the Senate Intelligence Committee released 524 partially redacted pages of its 6,700-page “Torture Report” on the Black Sites. It recounted how the CIA “rectally infused” a pureed “food tray” of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins into Khan in what was described as a quasi-medical procedure because the captive was on a hunger strike.

Dixon on Tuesday called it “rape” and said, based on interviews with Khan that were previously sealed as Top Secret, he also suffered sexual abuse such as having “his ‘private parts’ touched while he was hung naked from the ceiling.”

The public portion of the Senate report, however, does not include Khan among those captives who were waterboarded by the agency. A footnote on page 104 of the Senate report does describe agents putting him in a tub where he was doused with ice water.

Dixon said Khan first described that episode to his lawyers as far back as October 2007, a year after his arrival at Guantánamo, in a level of greater detail that made clear that agents were waterboarding Khan in May and July 2003. Pakistani security officials had captured him in March and handed over to the CIA two months later.

“An interrogator forced Khan's head under the water until he thought he would drown,” the account released Tuesday said. “The interrogator would pull Khan's head out of the water to demand answers to questions, and then force his head back under the water, repeatedly. Water and ice were also poured from a bucket onto Khan's mouth and nose when his head was not submerged.”

The CIA, in a statement, denied the claim.

“There were three detainees subject to waterboarding by CIA. Majid Khan was not one of them,” the statement said.

The CIA also referred to its “detailed, declassified response“ to the Senate Torture Report — which defended the “rectal rehydration” of Khan as “the most appropriate means.” Khan, the report said, dangerously removed “his naso-gastric tube,” the system of force-feeding now used at Guantánamo.

The three men the CIA has acknowledged it waterboarded were the alleged Sept. 11 plot mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammed; the alleged architect of the USS Cole bombing, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri; and the first high-value captive of the post 9/11 era, Abu Zubyadah, whose full name is Zayn al Abdeen Mohammed al Hussein. Mohammed and Nashiri are awaiting death-penalty trials at Guantánamo. Abu Zubaydah faces no charges.

Khan also claimed to his attorneys that medical doctors participated in his torture beyond the use of rectal feeding.

At one point during his CIA custody, the CCR account said, “a physician came to examine him” and “Khan begged for help.”

“In response, the physician instructed the guards to take Khan back into the interrogation room with the metal bar and hang him,” it added. “Khan remained hanging there for another 24 hours before being interrogated again and forced to write his own ‘confession’ while being filmed naked if he wanted some rest. He was finally placed in a cell, where he remained numb and immobile for several days.”

The public portion of the Senate report also makes no mention of a systematic deprivation of sunlight beyond a generalized claim on page 422 that “the CIA had subjected detainees to constant darkness.” But Khan’s allegation on that is the second to surface in a month.

On May 18, the Pentagon released a prosecution war court filing disclosing a similar allegation made during a Top Secret hearing held at Guantánamo on Dec. 16, 2013 by the attorney for Walid bin Attash, 36, awaiting trial as an alleged conspirator in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Bin Attash’s lawyer, Cheryl Bormann, told the judge that, with one exception, the captive “was held in place where he never saw sunlight” throughout most of his three and a half years of CIA detention before he got to Guantánamo in 2006, according to the filing signed by a junior 9/11 case prosecutor Clay Trivett for the chief Pentagon prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins.

At one secret lockup, she said, the CIA let the captive “see the sun for 30 minutes a day.”

The claim is no longer classified, they wrote, although the locations of the places where Bin Attash did or did not see the sun still were.

Bormann, for her part, said by email, “I have no idea why it was classified previously or why Clay Trivett says it is now unclassified.”

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