High-value Guantanamo Detainee Pleads Guilty in Deal

FORT MEADE, Md., Feb. 29, 2012 — The only legal U.S. res­i­dent being held at Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba, today became the first high-val­ue detainee to plead guilty to charges of help­ing ter­ror­ists plot and car­ry out attacks.

Majid Shoukat Khan, 32, plead­ed guilty to all charges against him as part of a plea deal that will give him a reduced sen­tence in exchange for coop­er­at­ing with the U.S. gov­ern­ment, includ­ing pos­si­bly tes­ti­fy­ing at oth­er detainees’ tri­als.

Khan is charged with con­spir­a­cy, mur­der in vio­la­tion of the law of war, attempt­ed mur­der in vio­la­tion of the law of war, pro­vid­ing mate­r­i­al sup­port for ter­ror­ism and spy­ing.

The charges come from Khan’s role in deliv­er­ing funds used to car­ry out the August 2003 bomb­ing of the J.W. Mar­riot hotel in Jakar­ta, Indone­sia, and his attempt­ed assas­si­na­tion of for­mer Pak­istani Pres­i­dent Per­vez Mushar­raf.

In addi­tion, he is accused of col­lab­o­rat­ing with self-pro­claimed 9/11 mas­ter­mind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on sev­er­al domes­tic plots. These includ­ed plans to poi­son U.S. water reser­voirs and blow up under­ground fuel stor­age tanks at U.S. gas sta­tions.

Sen­tenc­ing will be delayed for four years and will be based on Khan’s com­pli­ance, Army Col. James L. Pohl, the judge, explained dur­ing Khan’s arraign­ment today at Guan­tanamo Bay.

Should Khan pro­vide “thor­ough, truth­ful coop­er­a­tion and assis­tance” in sup­port of upcom­ing pro­ceed­ings, his sen­tence will be reduced to a max­i­mum of 25 years, and as lit­tle as 19 years, in accor­dance with the plea deal, Pohl explained. Sen­tenc­ing guide­lines for his offens­es typ­i­cal­ly would be be 25 to 40 years.

Time served begin­ning today will count toward ful­fill­ing that sen­tence, Pohl said.

Khan respond­ed “yes” when Pohl asked if he had entered into the plea agree­ment vol­un­tar­i­ly and of his own free will as he waived his right to appear before a mil­i­tary jury.

“I under­stand the charges and spec­i­fi­ca­tions, and I am aware I have a legal and moral right to plead not guilty and to leave the gov­ern­ment with the bur­den of prov­ing my guilt beyond a rea­son­able doubt by legal and com­pe­tent evi­dence,” he not­ed in sign­ing the pre­tri­al agree­ment. How­ev­er, based on the terms of the deal, he con­tin­ued, “I offer to plead guilty to all charges and spec­i­fi­ca­tions.”

The plea deal also bars Khan from fil­ing suit against the U.S. gov­ern­ment or any of its agen­cies regard­ing his cap­ture, deten­tion or con­fine­ment con­di­tions before his plea.

Pohl denied the defense team’s request to seal details about the plea deal to pro­tect the defen­dant and his fam­i­ly. The judge not­ed the need to keep the com­mis­sion pro­ceed­ings trans­par­ent and the fact that the plea arrange­ment is a pub­lic doc­u­ment.

Khan acknowl­edged dur­ing ques­tion­ing by Pohl that the agree­ment does not guar­an­tee his free­dom, and that the con­ven­ing author­i­ty has no pow­er to change his sta­tus as an “alien unpriv­i­leged ene­my bel­liger­ent.” He rec­og­nized that after serv­ing his time, he must file a habeas cor­pus peti­tion to apply for release.

“I am mak­ing a leap of faith here, sir,” he told the judge.

Born in Pak­istan, Khan moved to the Unit­ed States with his fam­i­ly in 1996 and lived there until 2002. He grad­u­at­ed from Owings Mills High School near Bal­ti­more and worked at his family’s gas sta­tion and in var­i­ous office jobs.

Army Brig. Gen. Mark Mar­tins, the chief pros­e­cu­tor, said Khan admit­ted that he became rad­i­cal­ized after watch­ing smoke rise from the Pen­ta­gon dur­ing the 9/11 attacks from the office build­ing where he was work­ing in North­ern Vir­ginia.

He has been in U.S. cus­tody since March 2003, when Pak­istani forces raid­ed his family’s home in Karachi and turned him over to U.S. author­i­ties. Khan was held at an undis­closed over­seas facil­i­ty before being trans­ferred to Guan­tanamo Bay in 2006.

Today, wear­ing a dark suit, white shirt and tie dur­ing his arraign­ment, Khan told Pohl in flu­ent Eng­lish that he under­stands the charges against him and acknowl­edges his guilt. He empha­sized that although he was part of a con­spir­a­cy to com­mit ter­ror attacks, he did not nec­es­sar­i­ly know details about the attacks.

Khan not­ed, for exam­ple, that he did not know the mon­ey he deliv­ered to al-Qai­da affil­i­ates in Bangkok would be used to bomb the Jakar­ta Mar­riott, and that he already was in cus­tody when the attack occurred. Under ques­tion­ing by Pohl, he did, how­ev­er, acknowl­edge that he was part of the broad­er con­spir­a­cy that ulti­mate­ly led to the attack that killed 11 peo­ple and wound­ed 81 oth­ers.

Khan also acknowl­edged his direct role in an unsuc­cess­ful assas­si­na­tion attempt on Mushar­raf. He is charged with record­ing a “mar­tyr video” at Khalid Sheik Mohammad’s direc­tion before don­ning an explo­sives-laden vest with the intent to use it to kill Mushar­raf. The for­mer Pak­istani pres­i­dent foiled Khan’s plot by not arriv­ing as expect­ed at a mosque where the attack was to take place.

“I vol­un­teered to do a lot of things” between Jan­u­ary 2002 and March 2003, Khan acknowl­edged to Pohl. How­ev­er, he said he nev­er took any kind of for­mal oath vow­ing alle­giance to al-Qai­da or any oth­er ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion.

Army Lt. Col. Jon S. Jack­son, Khan’s mil­i­tary defense coun­sel, told reporters fol­low­ing the arraign­ment that Khan wish­es he had nev­er been involved with al-Qai­da, had nev­er been con­fined at Guan­tanamo Bay and had nev­er been involved with the mil­i­tary com­mis­sion sys­tem.

Khan’s plea today demon­strates his remorse for what he has done, Jack­son said, and his desire to accept respon­si­bil­i­ty for his actions and, ulti­mate­ly, go on to live a pro­duc­tive life with his fam­i­ly.

“This is a sto­ry of atone­ment,” agreed Katya Jestin, one of Khan’s civil­ian defense coun­sels. Khan “has tak­en a leap of faith,” she said, that the mil­i­tary com­mis­sion process will work as intend­ed.

Army Brig. Gen. Mark Mar­tins, the chief pros­e­cu­tor, offered high praise for reforms incor­po­rat­ed into the 2009 Mil­i­tary Com­mis­sions Act that have reduced legal uncer­tain­ty and made out­comes more pre­dictable.

Today’s pro­ceed­ings demon­strat­ed a blend of legal prac­tices in the fed­er­al and mil­i­tary judi­cial sys­tems being incor­po­rat­ed into the mil­i­tary com­mis­sions. A cap on sen­tences, for exam­ple, is com­mon in mil­i­tary jus­tice prac­tice, but not in fed­er­al court pro­ceed­ings. Sen­tenc­ing delays to allow defen­dants to coop­er­ate are com­mon in fed­er­al court but high­ly unusu­al in mil­i­tary courts.

“This sys­tem is fair, and it is not polit­i­cal­ly dri­ven,” Mar­tins said. “We believe that these reformed mil­i­tary com­mis­sions are fair and that they serve an impor­tant role in the armed con­flict against al-Qai­da and asso­ci­at­ed forces.”

The case against Khan was based on “irrefutable and law­ful­ly obtained evi­dence” that Mar­tins said val­i­dates the inter­a­gency efforts that enabled it to come togeth­er. This includes inves­ti­ga­tors from the Defense Department’s Crim­i­nal Inves­tiga­tive Task Force, the FBI and oth­er fed­er­al agen­cies, as well as the sol­diers, sailors, air­men, Marines and Coast Guards­men of Joint Task Force Guan­tanamo, he said.

“We must reject the false choice pre­sent­ed by those who say that only law enforce­ment or only the mil­i­tary may be used to take down vicious orga­ni­za­tions that attack out of the shad­ows and hide among civil­ians,” he said. “Instead, we must use all of the law­ful instru­ments of our nation­al pow­er and author­i­ty to do so.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)