The Biden administration transferred an inmate from the detention facilityGuantanamo-Bucht, Cuba, on Thursday and is preparing to transfer at least two more in the coming weeks, according to two senior US officials and a former senior administration official.
Majid Khan left Guantanamo early Thursday and arrived in Belize several hours later, officials said. He is the first inmate relocated by the Biden administration and one of the few sent to a location in the western hemisphere.
"I have been given a second chance at life and I intend to make the best of it," Khan said in a statement issued by his legal team. "I deeply regret the things I did many years ago and I took responsibility and tried to make things right. I continue to ask forgiveness from God and those I have hurt. I'm really sorry. The world has changed a lot in 20 years and I've changed a lot too. I promise you all, especially the people of Belize, that I will be a productive, law-abiding member of society. Thank you for believing in me and I will not let you down. My actions will speak louder than my words.”
Pakistani national and Guantanamo's only legal US citizen, Khan received asylum in 1998 while attending high school near Baltimore. In 2002, he returned to Pakistan and, according to a Defense Ministry detainee investigation, joined al Qaeda and became a direct subordinate to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, often known as KSM, Al Qaeda's senior operations planner and chief architect of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
According to the US documents, KSM hired Khan to deliver money and transport another high-ranking al Qaeda figure to carry out a deadly attack on the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, in August 2003. KSM intended to use Khan to attack US gas stations and water reservoirs, the US claims.
Khan was arrested in Karachi in March 2003 and taken to a CIA secret storage facility, where he suffered sleep deprivation, an ice water bath, and forced rectal feeding and rehydration, according to a Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA's detention and interrogation program. In the report, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called the treatment torture.
In September 2006, then-President George W. Bush announced that Khan was one of 14 "high-quality inmates" transferred there from CIA prisonsGuantanamo-Buchtto face the military tribunal system. One of the other high-level detainees was KSM, also arrested in Pakistan in March 2003 and held in undisclosed locations.
In 2012, Khan pleaded guilty to terrorism charges and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. That sentence ended on March 1, 2022. Khan still has family in the US, but federal law does not allow resettlement of Guantanamo detainees to the US.
The Biden administration reached out to about a dozen countries to find a place to relocate Khan, now 42. In the end, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was personally involved in the negotiations for the deal with Belize, according to two US officials. A senior State Department official said the issue was one of the items on the agenda during a meeting with Belize's prime minister in September, but said the US and Belize had previously discussed the issue for months.
The senior State Department official said the US had looked at many countries where Khan could be posted, taking into account places that have a good relationship with the US that are able to support the person, including any medical ones or safety requirements, and they have political willingness.
"It's a political question," the official said. "Belize was a great choice because ultimately we have a lot to do with them." The official said Belize is willing to involve Khan as a humanitarian gesture.
The official commended Belize officials, saying "you asked the right questions early in this process" and "did an excellent job of assessing" whether this was the right decision for Khan.
"We are very satisfied with the things that we have asked of them that they can and will do," the official said.
The two senior US officials and a senior State Department official declined to provide specific details on Belize's security or humanitarian assurances or on aspects of the resettlement agreement.
J. Wells Dixon of the Center for Constitutional Rights, an attorney for Khan, declined to comment on the details of the case, citing the public records in his military commission case and habeas corpus case.
Another of Khan's lawyers, Katya Jestin, said of his release: "This is a historic victory for human rights and the rule of law, but one that has lasted far too long."
When asked about possible movements, Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Col. César Santiago said: "We are aware of these reports and have nothing to announce at this time."
Two brothers from Pakistan, Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani and Mohammed Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani, are also close to transfer, according to two senior US officials. The Rabbani brothers have both been cleared to leave the detention facility and could be transferred in the coming weeks, but details are still being worked out.
Abdul, believed to be the older brother and one of the oldest detainees at Guantánamo, was born in 1967 and is said to have worked directly for KSM from 1999 until his arrest in September 2002. In 1998, Abdul's younger brother Ahmed recruited him for a trip to Afghanistan to visit the Khaldan camp near Khowst for basic weapons training, according to a US government detainee profile.
Abdul was thrown out of the camp for smoking. He returned to Karachi and, according to a US government detainee review, began operating al-Qaeda safehouses there, played a key role in moving their fighters from Afghanistan to Pakistan and transporting money, documents and equipment. Despite his close ties to KSM, the US believes he had no concrete insight into al Qaeda's operational planning, based on his assessment of the detainees.
On May 13, 2021, a Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board determined that "the continued existence of the War Detention Act to protect against an ongoing significant threat to the security of the United States is no longer necessary," and Abdul was cleared for release.
Both Abdul and Ahmed were arrested in Karachi in September 2002 and held for months at a secret CIA facility, and according to the Senate Intelligence Committee report, Ahmed was one of 17 detainees tortured at black CIA facilities without the consent of CIA headquarters became. The brothers were transferred to Guantanamo in September 2004.
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The US government claims that Ahmed, also known as Abu Badr, also ran safe houses in Karachi. He has claimed he is merely a taxi driver and the victim of a mistaken identity. He was cleared for release from Guantanamo in October 2021.
US officials say one of the brothers is very ill and they have been working to move him in hopes his health will improve. Both brothers have gone on an extended hunger strike.
In 2018, Ahmed wrote in the Los Angeles Times about the torture he endured at the CIA site. He said the pain he experienced as he was hung with his hands tied above his head was so severe that he attempted to amputate his own hand.
„Torture drives you insane. Sometimes I catch myself insane again now. Every time I'm force-fed, every time I meet with my lawyer, every time I see a doctor, they use some kind of metal detector to do a cave search. In all these years they have never found anything. What to hide, I have no idea. It's pointless. But I have to wonder if the radiation it emits isn't my own private Hiroshima or Nagasaki - four, six, eight times a day. Maybe I'm paranoid, but I feel like something bad is happening to me, deep down," he wrote.
“There is no morning and no evening. There is only despair.”
Now there are 34 prisoners leftat Guantanamo Bay Detention Center, which housed about 660 inmates at its peak.