News

Biden Administration Transfers 'High-Value Detainee' Majid Khan From Guantanamo to Belize

Khan, who testified about the CIA's use of torture and became a U.S. government informant, pleaded guilty to aiding al-Qaeda's terrorist activities.

Published Feb 6, 2023

 (PAUL HANDLEY/AFP via Getty Images)
Image Via PAUL HANDLEY/AFP via Getty Images

On Feb. 2, 2023, a Saudi-born Pakistani citizen convicted of aiding Al Qaeda's terrorist activities in 2002 and 2003, Majid Khan, was released from U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay and transferred to the custody of the small Central American nation of Belize, where he will be a free man. 

Khan is the first so-called "high-value detainee" — a special prisoner designation made by the George W. Bush Administration in 2006 — to be released and repatriated. He was also the first detainee to publicly describe the torture he and others faced in the custody of the CIA prior to being transferred, in 2006, to Guantanamo. 

Khan's repatriation to Belize comes nearly a year after his official sentence ended on March 1, 2022, and ends a complex diplomatic effort that had Khan waive his rights to call witnesses regarding the torture he experienced at CIA black sites in return for leniency in sentencing. On Oct 2021, he testified in open court about that abuse without calling or naming witnesses:

Appearing in open court, Majid Khan, 41, became the first former prisoner of the black sites to openly describe, anywhere, the violent and cruel "enhanced interrogation techniques" that agents used to extract information and confessions from terrorism suspects.

He spoke about dungeonlike conditions, humiliating stretches of nudity with only a hood on his head, sometimes while his arms were chained in ways that made sleep impossible, and being intentionally nearly drowned in icy cold water in tubs at two sites, once while a C.I.A. interrogator counted down from 10 before water was poured into his nose and mouth. [...]

He spoke about failed and sadistic responses to his hunger strikes and other acts of rebellion. Medics would roughly insert a feeding tube up his nose and down his throat. He would try to bite it off and, in at least one instance, he said, a C.I.A. officer used a plunger to force food inside his stomach, a technique that caused stomach cramps and diarrhea.

His sentence was shortened as part of a secret deal with the government in which he provided testimony against 9/11 "mastermind" Khalid Sheik Mohammad while admitting to serving as a courier for funds that supported a 2003 bombing at a Marriott Hotel in Indonesia in 2003. As reported in The New York Times in May 2021:

In pleading guilty [Khan] admitted to delivering $50,000 from [Khalid Sheik] Mohammed to militants in Indonesia that was used to finance the bombing of a Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2003, killing 11 people. 

His sentence officially ended on March 1, 2022. For 11 months after that sentence ended, the United States searched for a country willing to accept Khan. In announcing the transfer, Belize's Foreign Minister Eamon Courtenay described the decision to resettle Khan "a humanitarian act":

Though Khan may have contributed to acts of terrorism, he was brutally abused and tortured, has repudiated radicalism, cooperated with U.S. authorities in the fight against terrorism — and has served his time.

Some online, most notably the conspiracy website The Gateway Pundit, falsely described Khan as a "9/11 planner." Khan has never been accused of planning or participating in 9/11. In his own testimony, he has stated that he was radicalized by the events of 9/11 and began supporting Al Qaeda following those attacks.

Sources

"Biden Administration Transfers Guantanamo Detainee Majid Khan to Belize." NBC News, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/national-security/biden-guantanamo-detainee-majid-khan-transferred-belize-rcna68166. Accessed 6 Feb. 2023.

Bush Admits to CIA Secret Prisons. 7 Sept. 2006. news.bbc.co.uk, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/5321606.stm.

Rosenberg, Carol. "For First Time in Public, a Detainee Describes Torture at C.I.A. Black Sites." The New York Times, 29 Oct. 2021. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/28/us/politics/guantanamo-detainee-torture.html.

---. "Tortured Guantánamo Detainee Is Freed in Belize." The New York Times, 2 Feb. 2023. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/02/us/politics/tortured-guantanamo-detainee-freed.html.

Rosenberg, Carol, and Julian E. Barnes. "Guantánamo Detainee Agrees to Drop Call for C.I.A. Testimony." The New York Times, 14 May 2021. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/14/us/politics/guantanamo-detainee-cia-testimony.html.

Alex Kasprak is an investigative journalist and science writer reporting on scientific misinformation, online fraud, and financial crime.