Majid Khan Released From Guantánamo, To Begin New Life In Belize – OpEd
By The Center for Constitutional Rights
Today, more than 16 years after he was brought to Guantánamo Bay and almost a year after he completed a military commission sentence there, pursuant to a plea and cooperation agreement with U.S. authorities, Majid Khan was transferred to Belize. He is the first of the prisoners transferred from secret CIA detention to Guantánamo in September 2006 to be released, and the first third-country resettlement by the Biden administration. Mr. Khan and his legal team are deeply grateful to Belize for offering him a chance to begin a new life.
“I have been given a second chance in life and I intend to make the most of it,” said Mr. Khan in a statement issued through his legal team. “I deeply regret the things that I did many years ago, and I have taken responsibility and tried to make up for them. I continue to ask for forgiveness from God and those I have hurt. I am truly sorry. The world has changed a lot in twenty years, and I have changed a lot as well. I promise all of you, especially the people of Belize that I will be a productive, law-abiding member of society. Thank you for believing in me, and I will not let you down. My actions will speak louder than my words.”
Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Attorney Wells Dixon, who has represented Mr. Khan since his arrival at Guantánamo in September 2006, said, “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 Guantánamo Bay prison. We are thrilled that Majid is free. Belize has done an outstanding job to prepare for his resettlement, and their success serves as a model for other countries to accept men who no one thinks should remain at Guantánamo but who cannot return to their home countries for humanitarian reasons.”
Katya Jestin, Co-Managing Partner of Jenner & Block LLP, who has represented Mr. Khan pro bono since 2009, said, “After 16 years in Guantánamo, including over a year in detention after completing his criminal sentence, Majid Khan will finally have the opportunity to live his life as a free man. This is a historic victory for human rights and the rule of law, but one that took far too long to reach. Having cooperated with the government for over a decade, Majid’s commitment to contrition and cooperation never wavered. Majid honored his obligations, but the government delayed in holding up its end of the bargain. We are very grateful that that delay is now over, and that Majid is free. Guantánamo is a national shame, and we hope that today is another step forward towards its ultimate closure. The men languishing in Guantánamo who have been cleared for release must be transferred; indefinite detention is anathema to a just society. Closing Guantánamo would go a long way toward reclaiming the values that our country was founded upon and that have never been more important than today. I’m grateful for the commitment of my law firm, Jenner & Block, in supporting our representation of Majid for over a decade. As lawyers, we have an obligation to uphold the rule of law, irrespective of the political climate. I’m proud of our work on Majid’s behalf, which I believe to be in the best tradition of the bar.”
Majid Khan was born in Saudi Arabia in February 1980. A citizen of Pakistan, he moved with his family to the United States in 1996, and they were granted asylum in 1998. Mr. Khan grew up outside of Baltimore, Maryland, USA. In March 2003, he was captured and tortured in secret CIA detention. He was transferred to the Guantánamo prison in September 2006, and has since been represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights and Jenner & Block LLP. He has also been represented by the Military Commissions Defense Organization of the U.S. Department of Defense in connection with his military commission case, which began in February 2012 and concluded in March 2022.
Mr. Khan’s resettlement comes after long stagnation in efforts to reduce the population of now 34 men still held at Guantánamo, which the U.S. government has said must be closed. Mr. Khan is only the sixth man transferred by the Biden administration and the first resettled in a third country. His transfer marks a turning point for the administration, which must seize this moment and promptly transfer all those men who are eligible to leave the prison with assistance from the international community so Guantánamo will finally close.
Aliya Hussain, an advocacy program manager at the Center for Constitutional Rights who has worked on Mr. Khan’s case for more than a decade, said, “Today did not seem possible when we started. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the unwavering commitment of everyone who has represented Majid, and the allies around the world who for so many years have spoken out against torture, protested in orange jumpsuits, shared Majid’s story and words, and demanded justice and accountability for Guantánamo. We are so grateful.”
STATEMENT OF MAJID KHAN
My name is Majid Khan, and I am a real person. I am a human being. I am a Muslim man, and I first want to thank God for freeing me.
When I was captured and disappeared into the CIA black sites twenty years ago, I thought that my life was over. I was young, alone, and very scared. I was sure that I would never be free or see my family again. No one knew where I was, or what had happened to me, or even whether I was alive. I was a ghost, a walking dead man. The CIA wanted me to remain this way forever. In fact, when I was being tortured, I often wished for death to escape the terror and the pain. But I didn’t die. God protected me. I survived. I am a survivor. I was meant to live.
Today, I feel like I am reborn. I have reentered the world. I am a free man. I am beginning a new life in a new country and a new culture. It’s all new to me, and I have a lot to learn. I’m in a little bit of shock because I have been waiting so long to be free, and I can hardly believe it has finally happened. I also realize how much time I have lost and what I need to make up. Most importantly, I will soon meet my daughter for the first time, who was born after my capture, and reunite with my wife and family after twenty years. I am nervous, but also excited.
I have been given a second chance in life and I intend to make the most of it. I deeply regret the things that I did many years ago, and I have taken responsibility and tried to make up for them. I continue to ask for forgiveness from God and those I have hurt. I am truly sorry. The world has changed a lot in twenty years, and I have changed a lot as well. I promise all of you, especially the people of Belize that I will be a productive, law-abiding member of society. Thank you for believing in me, and I will not let you down. My actions will speak louder than my words.
I am sure that some of you will still have questions about me, about who I am, what I did, and what happened to me during the last twenty years. All I can say is that there may be a time at some point in the future for me to answer those questions and explain my past more fully. But I worry that if I dwell too much on the last twenty years, then I won’t be able to concentrate fully on my next twenty years. The sooner I put the past behind me, the sooner I can move on. My goal is to move on and make the most of the rest of my life. My motto now is live and let live.
Eventually, I do want to work and start a business. I don’t want to be a burden to anyone. I want to start a real estate business, or maybe a restaurant or food truck business. I am a great cook and would love to introduce everyone in my new country to Pakistani food. I also want my daughter to be educated, and for my wife and our family to make friends in our new home.
Today, however, and for the immediate future, I really need to take some time to rest and recover from what I have been through, with help from my family who I have missed so much. I realize that I may face some challenges adjusting to life after Guantanamo. At times it may not be easy, so I ask for your patience and understanding. I also ask for privacy for my family and me. Please do not reach out to me directly; please contact me through my lawyers and their PR representatives.
I would like to end by thanking everyone who helped me get to where I am today. I especially want to thank the Government of Belize and the Foreign Minister, Mr. Courtenay, for accepting me. I also want to thank Ian Moss and all of those at the U.S. State Department who worked on my transfer, for their dedication and efforts. And I would like to thank all my lawyers, both civilian and military, for their unwavering commitment to me for the last 15+ years. In particular, Wells Dixon and Katya Jestin have advocated for me from the beginning and have stood by me to the end. I am very grateful to them, and to all who have fought for justice and accountability at Guantanamo.
- The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach.
- Jenner & Block LLP is a law firm with global reach, with offices in Chicago, London, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. The firm is known for its prominent and successful litigation practice, global investigations practice, and experience handling sophisticated and high-profile corporate transactions.