Pakistani prisoner released from Guantanamo, sent to Belize
Majid Khan plans to open restaurant or food truck: Says CIA interrogators tortured and raped him in prison despite his full cooperation
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A Pakistani who was tortured by the CIA and held in the Guantanamo Bay prison for 16 years after admitting to helping Al-Qaeda was released to Belize, the US military announced Thursday.
Majid Shoukat Khan, captured by US authorities in 2003 and interrogated by US intelligence for three years before being sent to Guantanamo, admitted in a 2012 plea deal to joining a plot to assassinate Pakistan's president and acting as a money courier for an Indonesia hotel bombing plot.
But, as one of the US "high value" prisoners captured in the wake of the September 11, 2001 Al-Qaeda attacks on the United States, Khan, now 42, was sentenced only two years ago.
He was officially given 26 years in prison but was promised release in 2022 based on his original plea deal.
In his sentencing hearing Khan became the first of the "high value" prisoners to testify to the US military court about being tortured.
He told the court of being held for days partially suspended by chains without food or clothing, and of being repeatedly beaten and raped by CIA interrogators.
Khan said he admitted early on to what he had done, but the abuse continued for years.
"The more I cooperated and told them, the more I was tortured," he said.
- 'A second chance' -
The Pentagon said Khan had honoured his cooperation agreement and was credited in a sentence reduction, and that Belize, a country in Central America, had agreed to accept him.
"I have been given a second chance in life and I intend to make the most of it," Khan said in a statement released by his attorneys.
"I deeply regret the things that I did many years ago, and I have taken responsibility and tried to make up for them," he said.
He said that in Belize he hopes to open a restaurant or food truck.
"I am a great cook and would love to introduce everyone in my new country to Pakistani food," he said.
Wells Dixon, an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights who has represented Khan since 2006, said he was "thrilled" by the release.
"Majid's transfer is the culmination of decades-long litigation and advocacy by the Center for Constitutional Rights to challenge the worst abuses of the 'war on terror' and close the Guantanamo Bay prison," he said in a statement.
Khan, who grew up in Pakistan and moved to the United States at the age of 16 when he attended high school in Baltimore, said his decision to help Al-Qaeda was poor judgment.
He was recruited to help Al-Qaeda by family members in Pakistan while he was there in 2002 to find a bride.
- 34 left at Guantanamo -
Out of around 800 prisoners at its peak, the Guantanamo facility, on a US Navy base on the southeast coast of Cuba, now holds 34.
Of them, 20 have been approved for release and the US government is seeking countries to accept them, whether their home countries or others. Three more are seeking to be ruled eligible for release.
Of the other 11, two have been convicted in military courts and another nine, including five men accused of helping plan the September 11 attacks, are still in pre-trial phase.
The trials have bogged down on questions of rights and legal principles, including whether some of them were illegally tortured into confessing their crimes.
According to a New York Times report, attorneys for the five 9/11 defendants, including mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, may be in talks to settle their cases by offering to plead guilty if they avoid the death penalty.
President Joe Biden pledged before his election to try and shut down Guantanamo, which was opened to keep the defendants from claiming rights under US law.
"Guantanamo is a national shame," said Katya Jestin, another of Khan's attorneys. "Closing Guantanamo would go a long way toward reclaiming the values that our country was founded upon."