Majid Khan, appearing before a military commission for the first time in more than four years, apologized Wednesday to the families of victims of his crimes, calling his actions as an al-Qaida operative "grotesque and pernicious."
The former Baltimore County man, a native of Pakistan, spoke in imperfect English.
"If it's any consolation I would like to sincerely apologize to the family that I've either mentally or physically caused pain," he told Col. Tara Osborn, the officer who presided over the hearing. "I don't get to come to court as often as possible. ... I'm using this opportunity to show some kind of compunction or regret."
Video footage of the hearing was played live at Fort Meade.
Khan, 36, has admitted to plotting with the self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, trying to assassinate Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and ferrying money to Thailand that was used in the 2003 hotel bombing in Jakarta that killed 11 people and wounded dozens more.
After first proclaiming his innocence, Khan pleaded guilty in 2012 to murder, conspiracy, spying and other offenses, and agreed to cooperate with military prosecutors in cases against his former al-Qaida comrades.
His sentencing was delayed to allow authorities to assess the value of his cooperation. Under the terms of the plea agreement, he is to serve no more than 19 years in prison.
"Actions speak louder than words," Khan told Osborn on Wednesday. "That's what I'm trying to show by my cooperation."
Khan came to the United States with his family in the 1990s. He graduated from Owings Mills High School in 1999 and landed an information technology job in Northern Virginia.
He was at work on Sept. 11, 2001, when the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 plowed into the Pentagon. From his office window, he watched the smoke rise over Washington.
Within months, he traveled to Pakistan, ostensibly for an arranged marriage. There he would connect with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
He has acknowledged plotting to assassinate Musharraf in Pakistan — he wore what he believed to be a suicide vest to a mosque at which the president was supposed to appear but didn't — and to blow up gas stations in the United States.
Khan was taken into custody by Pakistani security forces in 2003 and eventually turned over to the CIA. The CIA kept him in secret prisons, where he was subjected to sleep deprivation and rectal feeding, kept naked and submerged in ice water.
He was transferred to Guantanamo Bay in 2006.
Khan's comments near the end of the hearing Wednesday were unexpected.
"I ask Allah to forgive me," he said. "Maybe Allah can put forgiveness for me in their heart."
He had appeared before the commission to withdraw a guilty plea to the charge of providing material support to terrorists. A federal appeals court has ruled that the commission does not have jurisdiction to hear the charge.
Khan also agreed to wait another three years before being sentenced while he continues to work with investigators.
He told Osborn he was comfortable with the delay: "I think it will probably help me."
The changes do not affect the maximum sentence to which Khan has agreed or the facts to which he has admitted.
Federal appeals courts are weighing what jurisdiction the military commissions have over other charges. Khan asked Osborn about the possibility that other charges would be dropped.
"There's also a charge of conspiracy," he said. "If that gets dropped by the court of appeals ... How's that going to work? We're going through the same process with the exact same method, right?"
Osborn said the question was relevant to the hearing. Then Khan answered it himself.
"There's a good chance that if that happens we'd do the same procedure," he said.
Khan wore a dark suit, white shirt and pink tie to the proceeding Wednesday. He has aged visibly since the last photos of him were released, in 2009. His hair is shorter, and a formerly trim mustache and beard have been shaved to stubble.
He appeared to be in good spirits. He let out a quick chuckle after one set of questions he had for the judge were resolved.
Osborn asked him if he was happy with new people who have been added to his legal team.
"The more, the merrier," he said.
But given the chance to address the judge, who was recently assigned to the case, Khan adopted a serious tone.
"Thanks to Allah the omnipotent and omniscient to give me courage to do the right thing," Khan said, and offered his apology to the families.
"I made obviously some grotesque mistakes in my life," he said. "That's how I ended up here."