Guantanamo detainee denies al-Qaida link, alleges torture

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- A Guantanamo Bay detainee who grew up in Catonsville forcefully denied government charges that he is an al-Qaida operative and said he had been tortured by CIA and Pentagon officers, according to transcripts of a military hearing released yesterday.

Majid Khan, 27, one of 15 men the U.S. government designated as "high-value" enemy combatants, is alleged to have helped top al-Qaida leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed research terrorist plots against the United States. Khan and 13 others were moved from secret CIA prisons to Guantanamo in September.

Meanwhile, Khan's brother said in a recent interview with The Sun that the FBI had monitored his home and his father's home, both in the Baltimore suburbs, for more than a year after Khan was captured in Pakistan in March 2003.

A transcript from the April 15 hearing, which gave Khan his first opportunity to defend himself since being captured, was released yesterday.

"I swear to God this place in some sense [is] worst than CIA jails," he said in a statement read by his personal representative at the hearing. "I am being mentally torture here."

The Defense Department denied yesterday any ill treatment. "Majid Khan has been treated humanely while in Department of Defense custody," said spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler.

In intelligence documents released by the U.S. government, Khan is alleged to have helped Mohammed research plots to blow up gas stations and poison water reservoirs, and Mohammed reportedly considered Khan for an operation to assassinate Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

At the hearing, the government provided new information about Khan's alleged connections to al-Qaida, including statements from family members and other detainees that purport to link the Pakistani national to the global terrorist group.

But written statements from Khan's father and other witnesses contradicted the government's claims. The government has said that in earlier interviews, these witnesses said Khan was working with al-Qaida.

These "status review" hearings are designed to review whether detainees are properly categorized as enemy combatants, but Khan and other detainees argue that the hearing process is unfair because they are not given access to lawyers.

Khan repeatedly rebutted the government's charge that he is an enemy combatant or has any connection with al-Qaida.

"How can a homeowner in Baltimore be an enemy combatant?" he said, according to the transcript. "I am not al-Qaida. To be al-Qaida, a person needs to be trained in Afghanistan and needs to take an oath in front of Usama bin Laden." He added that he has never been to Afghanistan or met bin Laden.

Khan also said that he helped the FBI track down an illegal Pakistani immigrant named Shafeeq in 2002. "Certainly al-Qaida lovers would rather die than do what I did," he said.

Khan said he went on hunger strikes to try to force the United States to either charge him or send him back to Pakistan.

In addition to disputing the government's charges, Khan submitted multiple statements, one which he called his "torture report," a kind of diary detailing his treatment and suicide attempts at Guantanamo, including his decision to "[chew] through my artery which goes through my elbow."

Khan alleged in the 12-page statement read by his representative that "there is extensive torture even for the smallest of infractions."

But Khan's descriptions of his experience, detailing nearly day-by-day events, are far less dramatic. He complains about a photograph of his 3-year-old daughter being taken from him, being forced to wear glasses with the wrong prescription, having his beard shaved and being given cheap deodorant soap.

In a written statement, his father, Ali Khan, provided more graphic descriptions of his son's treatment based on information provided by one of Majid Khan's brothers in Pakistan.

"The Americans tortured him for eight hours at a time, tying him tightly in stressful positions in a small chair until his hands, feet, and mind went numb," Ali Khan wrote. "He was often hooded and had difficulty breathing. They also beat him repeatedly."

In an interview with Majid Khan's brother Mahmood and in Ali Khan's written statement, the two family members describe their experience with U.S. authorities after Majid Khan was captured.

Mahmood Khan alleged that his family's Catonsville homes were searched without warrants and they were under surveillance for "a year to a year and a half."

He said the homes were raided two or three days after Majid Khan was captured in Pakistan. "The whole team of FBI with guns and everything storm in," he said, adding that they searched his and his father's homes and their gas station businesses, and seized computers.

But Michelle Crnkovich, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Baltimore, said the agency conducted its searches lawfully.

"We made no searches without their consent," she said. "In the turmoil of everything that was transpiring, they were interviewed, they did get searched, and their brother was arrested, and it was very upsetting. I'm sure it's hard to remember the timeline of events."

Mahmood Khan said that for more than a year after the raids an FBI agent was often stationed in a car outside his family's homes and family members were required to tell the FBI when they left their homes. They were repeatedly brought to the FBI's Baltimore field office for questioning, he said, and his father, under stress, suffered a stroke.

Neighbors began to "look differently at us," Mahmood Khan said, and eventually the family felt it had to move to another Baltimore suburb.

The FBI, he said, had tapped their phones. As evidence, he pointed to questions he was asked about phone calls he had made.

Majid Khan's unusual chronicling of his time at Guantanamo provided a window into both his treatment and his thinking while imprisoned.

He said in his written statement that when a guard "forcibly took" a photo of his daughter on Oct. 6, 2006, "I went crazy and yelled for one hour and they ignored me as if they didn't know I was yelling." He continued, "they took all my incentive items comfort items, until October 16th 06. Again, they can't do this."

He said he spent 2 1/2 months in "disciplinary status" at one point "without comfort, incentive items, and sometimes without even basic items." He did not say what, specifically, was withheld from him.

"On November 28th, 06, I wrote on my walls stop, 'torturing me, I need mails, newspaper and my lawyer.'" He said in response to this behavior that he was put on disciplinary status for two days and had his pen taken away for two weeks.

In a listing he called "Some Facts How They Are Mentally Torturing Us," Majid Khan said that while those working at the detention center use "the best kind of stuff," they give the detainees cheap deodorant, shampoo, and toothpaste.

He also said they receive "only twelve to fourteen pages of newsletter only once a week," adding "most of the stuff is crap; only few pages are worth reading it."

Majid Khan's tribunal is the last of the hearings for the 14 detainees transferred in September. All are awaiting verdicts on their status as enemy combatants.

A Pentagon official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that a handful of the 14 cases have been decided and their home countries have been alerted of the decisions, but none has been officially announced.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad