By John Bechtel
A Guantanamo Bay inmate’s testimony before a U.S. military tribunal last week about being tortured at a secret CIA site and the jury’s clemency recommendation tied to that account may have implications for the trial of three Southeast Asian terror suspects incarcerated at the notorious prison, lawyers and activists say.
Majid Khan, who acknowledged having served as a money courier leading up to the 2003 bombing of the Marriott hotel in Jakarta, was sentenced to 26 years in prison last week. Before his sentencing, he testified in graphic detail about torture he experienced at an overseas “black site” run by the Central Intelligence Agency after his arrest that year until he was transferred to the U.S. military prison in Cuba in 2006.
“I thought I was going to die,” Khan, a Pakistani national, said while reading from a 39-page statement during his sentencing hearing at Guantanamo on Oct. 28, according to the Associated Press. “The more I cooperated and told them, the more I was tortured.”
In a stunning turn of events, seven of the eight senior military officers on the jury delivered a handwritten clemency recommendation for Khan based partly on his account of the torture, which they noted was “of no practical value in terms of intelligence, or any other tangible benefit to U.S. interests.”
“Instead, it is a stain on the moral fiber of America; the treatment of Mr. Khan in the hands of U.S. personnel should be a source of shame for the U.S. government,” according to a copy of the letter obtained and published by The New York Times.
Attorney Jim Hodes, who represents Encep Nurjaman, declined to comment about whether his client would give similar testimony in his upcoming trial on terror charges linked to the Marriott bombing and the Bali Bombings in October 2002. Twelve people were killed in the hotel bombing and 202 were killed in the twin bombings in Bali – Indonesia’s deadliest terrorist attack to date that was blamed on Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian affiliate of al-Qaeda.
Nurjaman, an Indonesian citizen more commonly known as Hambali, is to be tried with Malaysians Mohammed Nazir bin Lep and Mohammed Farik bin Amin on terror charges after they were arraigned at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay on Aug. 30 and 31. All three have been locked up in the prison there since 2006 after spending time at CIA black sites following their arrests in 2003.
Hodes called the letter “incredibly enlightening.”
“That letter is a powerful rebuke of what our government did in the past and what it is doing now, in my opinion,” he told BenarNews.
Lawyers for bin Lep and bin Amin could not be reached immediately for comment.
The letter on behalf of Khan, who had lived in Baltimore, Maryland, but was not an American citizen, noted that he had been held for nearly two decades without due process.
“Although designated an ‘alien unprivileged enemy belligerent,’ and not technically afforded the rights of U.S. citizens, the complete disregard for the foundational concepts upon which the Constitution was founded is an affront to American values and concepts of justice,” the jurors wrote.
Khan is the first high-value detainee who went through the CIA program of worldwide detentions of terror suspects, who were rounded up and interrogated at secret black sites around the globe after the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States, to be convicted and sentenced at Guantanamo’s Camp Justice.
He could be freed as soon as February 2022 because of a plea deal reached in 2012, AP reported, adding that the jurors were not told about the deal.
‘Most unusual’ letter
Joshua Kastenberg, a former Air Force prosecutor and judge, said he had never seen anything like the jury’s letter.
“This particular letter is most unusual because instead of the comment – ‘there were mitigating circumstances to the offense,’ or that the defendant/accused was ‘a good guy’ – this clemency request included a statement on constitutional law and the due process rights of human beings,” Kastenberg, who teaches law at the University of New Mexico, told BenarNews.
“[T]he letter may sway the authorities responsible for prosecuting the cases to take a more holistic approach and offer up plea agreements,” he said.
Usman Hamid, chairman of Amnesty International Indonesia, discussed the importance of the jury’s action.
“What should be pointed out is not that clemency, but the torture that Majid Khan has been subjected to – this is a violation of the convention against torture which was ratified by the United States in 1994. That the jury acknowledged there was torture should be the basis for an investigation,” he told BenarNews.
“Similar clemency should be granted to Hambali because he was subjected to torture too.”
A Human Rights Watch official, meanwhile, questioned why Khan, Hambali and others have had to wait years for their day in court.
“Majid Khan’s graphic testimony about his torture at the hands of the CIA is further evidence of the harms of the so-called U.S. ‘global war on terror,’” Letta Tayler, an associate director in HRW’s crisis and conflict division, told BenarNews.
“But given the agonizingly slow pace at which these Guantanamo cases are proceeding and the systemic flaws in the military commission system created to try terrorism suspects there, it could be years before a jury delivers a verdict on the Hambali case – if ever. It took 18 years for the U.S. to even indict him.”
Tria Dianti in Jakarta contributed to this report.