October 29, 2021, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba ‒ The military commission sentencing hearing of a man tortured and imprisoned by the U.S. for eighteen years concluded today, paving the way for his transfer out of Guantánamo. The 26-year sentence Majid Khan received today from a jury is a formality because his 2012 plea agreement with the U.S. government supersedes it. Under the terms of that deal, he is scheduled for release in February 2022. Seven of the panel members today recommended clemency for Mr. Khan.
The United States will need to identify a third country where Mr. Khan can be resettled along with his wife and daughter. Mr. Khan’s lawyers expect the Biden administration to fulfill its obligation to transfer their client at the conclusion of his sentence, especially given that doing so would align with and further its expressed goal of closing the prison.
Yesterday, at the first day of his sentencing hearing, Mr. Khan expressed remorse for his actions and looked forward to starting a new life with his family, including a daughter he has never met.
“Since arriving at GITMO I have done everything in my power to make amends for my actions by pleading guilty and cooperating with the U.S. government at every possible opportunity,” Mr. Khan told the courtroom. “I am a husband, a son, a father, and a brother. My only wish is to be released so I can see and hug my daughter for the first time. I have so many wrongs that I wish to right.”
Alone among Guantánamo detainees, Mr. Khan has family members who are U.S. citizens and he himself received political asylum in the United States after his family moved from Pakistan when he was a child. He returned to Pakistan when he was in his early 20s to get married. After he was disappeared by the U.S. government, his family thought he was dead, until 2006 when President Bush announced he had been sent to Guantánamo. Some of his family members were at today’s hearing, where they saw him in person for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Because neither Pakistan nor the United States is an option for transfer, the Biden administration will need to find a third country willing to take him in. Mr. Khan’s lawyers expect the Biden administration to fulfill its commitment to transfer their client, especially given that doing so would align with its expressed goal of closing the prison.
“Majid has fulfilled his cooperation obligations completely. He has provided consistently truthful and complete information to the government, and he looks forward to his release and transfer in February 2022,” said Katya Jestin, a partner at Jenner & Block as well as a lawyer representing Mr. Khan.
Today’s hearing ends a long legal process that began shortly after Mr. Khan arrived at Guantánamo. Attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights initially had to fight for a year just to see their client; the government’s resistance, they said, was an effort to conceal illegal acts that could embarrass the United States. Since signing the plea agreement in 2012, Mr. Khan has fully cooperated with the government, holding up his end of the deal.
“We look forward to working with the Biden administration to ensure that when Majid is transferred from Guantánamo at the conclusion of his sentence in February, he has the necessary support to allow him to move on with his life and be a positive, contributing member of society,” said Wells Dixon, a senior attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights who represents Mr. Khan.
Each of the last four presidential administrations has transferred prisoners from Guantánamo, which once held nearly 780 men and boys and now holds 39. All told, 59 countries have accepted people from Guantanamo for resettlement or repatriation. Even President Trump, who pledged not to transfer anyone from the prison, moved Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed Haza al-Darbi to Saudi Arabia to serve the remainder of his sentence after he signed a plea deal. In July, the Biden administration repatriated Guantánamo prisoner Abdullatif Nasser to Morocco.
For his part, Majid Khan knows what he most looks forward to when he is released. Addressing his daughter, Mr. Khan said, “Hugging you for the first time will be the happiest day of my life.”
Majid Khan is represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the law firm of Jenner & Block LLP, and the Military Commissions Defense Organization.
For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case page.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.