Guantánamo prisoner postpones terror plea sentencing for 3 years

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

A freshly unsealed war court document shows an American-educated former al-Qaida courier turned government witness has agreed to postpone his Guantánamo sentencing hearing by three years.

Majid Khan, 35, pleaded guilty to terror charges in February 2012 in an agreement that initially scheduled his sentencing hearing for this coming February — after he had testified for the government as a post-9/11 al-Qaida recruit who moved $50,000 used to fund a 2003 terrorist bombing of a Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia.

But the war court has not held a trial of any alleged al-Qaida terrorist since then. The five-man, Sept. 11 conspiracy trial, has been mired in pretrial proceedings and has no trial date set.

Meantime, the alleged al-Qaida affiliate chieftain in Southeast Asia — Indonesian Riduan Isomuddin, known as Hambali — is still a prisoner at the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba, but has never been charged with a crime.

Khan, a 1999 Maryland high school graduate, was captured in Pakistan in 2003 — before the Jakarta Marriott bombing — then disappeared into the CIA’s secret prison program until President George W. Bush announced in 2006 that he was at Guantánamo awaiting trial.

At the CIA black sites he was subjected to lurid treatment — from a year’s solitary confinement in “total darkness” and techniques akin to waterboarding, according to his lawyers, to U.S. agents having food “infused” up his rectum because he was on hunger strike, according to the so-called Senate Torture Report.

The chief of the war court judiciary, Army Col. James L. Pohl, took his guilty plea on Feb. 29, 2012 in Khan’s only war court appearance. His military defense attorney, Army Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, told reporters that day that Khan was “going to join Team America, do the right thing to make sure that he has a chance for a productive, meaningful life.”

The court filing does not specify at which trial Khan would testify, nor whether postponement might permit him to serve a shorter sentence than the original plea deal to be released in 2031 at the earliest, if he satisfied the Pentagon prosecutor’s conditions.

His attorneys, who visited him recently, had no comment on the reason for the delay.

“Majid is doing very well, and continues to cooperate under the terms of his pretrial agreement,” said Wells Dixon of the Center for Constitutional Rights, his longest-serving lawyer. “He will continue to cooperate in whatever fashion, and in whatever forum, the government deems appropriate.”

The timetable extends beyond the presidency of Barack Obama, who is still seeking to close the detention center in Cuba and move some captives to the United States for indefinite detention or trial. The war court Bush created and Obama reformed in cooperation with Congress is not bound by geography to Guantánamo.

In fact, in May 2013 Obama instructed the Pentagon “to designate a site in the United States where we can hold military commissions.” Defense Department spokesmen have declined to say what site was designated although former administration officials with knowledge of the process said the Pentagon provisionally chose the U.S. military base in Charleston, S.C., currently shared by the Air Force and Navy.

Meantime, the judge recently canceled what was to be only Khan’s second war court appearance — a Nov. 17 scheduling hearing — leaving the Camp Justice compound dark for the rest of the year except for a one-week Sept. 11 pretrial hearing in mid-December.

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg