A onetime al-Qaida money courier who attended Owings Mills High School has been released after serving more than 16 years at the Guantanamo Bay detention center for war crimes including conspiracy and murder.
U.S. military officials said Thursday that they released Majid Khan, a Pakistani citizen who grew up in Baltimore County and graduated from Owings Mills in 1999. Khan, who was tortured at CIA sites, had completed his sentence and was released to Belize after the nation struck an agreement with the Biden administration to take him.
Khan, who is in his early 40s, said in a statement through his legal team that he deeply regretted his period of working with al-Qaida in his early 20s. That included working as a courier and taking part in planning several plots that were never carried out.
”I promise all of you, especially the people of Belize that I will be a productive, law-abiding member of society,” the statement said. “I will not let you down.”
Khan was sentenced to 26 years of detention in 2021, but a pretrial agreement required a Pentagon legal official to cut that term to no more than 11 years because of his cooperation with U.S. authorities. He was also granted credit for the time he’s served since 2012, when he pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the U.S.
Khan’s legal team said he should have been released last February as part of that deal.
“This is a historic victory for human rights and the rule of law, but one that took far too long to reach,” Katya Jestin, one of Khan’s lawyers, said in a statement, noting the U.S. had continued to hold Khan more than a year after he completed his sentence.
In 2012, Khan pleaded guilty to war crimes for plotting with 9/11 architect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, trying to assassinate then-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.
When Khan pleaded guilty in February 2012, he agreed to cooperate with military prosecutors in cases against his former al-Qaida comrades.
Khan came to the United States with his family in the 1990s, settling in Baltimore County. In 1999, he graduated from Owings Mills, where he took classes in English as a second language, excelled at baseball and once dreamed of becoming a rapper.
After high school, Khan worked an information technology job in Northern Virginia. He was at work on Sept. 11, 2001, and watched the smoke rise over Washington after the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon.
Months after the attacks, he traveled to Pakistan and connected with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He said he turned to radical ideology following the death of his mother, whom he described at his sentencing hearing as the most important person in his life.
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Khan was taken into custody by Pakistani security forces in 2003 and eventually turned over to the CIA.
At his sentencing hearing in 2021, Khan told military jurors details of his captivity in clandestine CIA sites, where he was subject to what the U.S. described as “enhanced interrogation” techniques. His treatment included being suspended from a ceiling beam for long periods of time, doused with ice water to deprive him of sleep for days, and subjected to beatings, water torture, forced enemas, sexual assault and starvation, Khan told the courtroom.
Khan’s treatment was detailed in a Senate Intelligence Committee report released in 2014 that accused the CIA of abusing al-Qaida prisoners far beyond its legal boundaries and of giving the public false accounts of useful interrogations at the sites.
Khan was eventually transferred to Guantanamo Bay in 2006.
Wells Dixon, an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights who has represented Khan since his arrival at Guantanamo in 2006, said he hoped Belize’s agreement and preparations for providing a home for Khan would serve as a model for more third-country transfers.
“They are approaching Mr. Khan as a free man who is in need of humanitarian assistance,” Dixon said from Belize. “That’s the right way to do it, 100%.”
In the Thursday statement, the Pentagon also said the U.S. remains intent on eventually closing Guantanamo. Thirty-four detainees remain at the Cuba base, including 20 eligible for transfer if stable third-party countries can be found to take them, the Pentagon said.