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Guantanamo: Tortured detainee released, transferred to Belize

Majid Khan, who was the first former CIA prisoner to testify about his torture, was transferred out of Guantanamo after 16 years
After being captured in 2003, Khan was transferred to a number of CIA black sites before he was sent to the Guantanamo Bay prison in 2006 for trial.
After being captured in 2003, Khan was transferred to a number of CIA black sites before he was sent to the Guantanamo Bay prison in 2006 for trial (Courtesy of the Center for Constitutional Rights)

Majid Khan, a Guantanamo detainee who spent 16 years in the prison and completed his sentence nearly a year ago, has been released and transferred to Belize, his legal team told Middle East Eye.

With his transfer, Khan has become the first Guantanamo detainee who came from CIA detention to be released from the US prison. He described the release as being "reborn". 

"I have been given a second chance in life and I intend to make the most of it," Khan said in a statement provided by his legal team.

Khan added that he will be joined by his wife and family in Belize.

'I have been given a second chance in life'

- Majid Khan, former Guantanamo detainee

"Most importantly, I will soon meet my daughter for the first time, who was born after my capture, and reunite with my wife and family after twenty years. I am nervous, but also excited," he said.

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Khan became the first former prisoner of the CIA's clandestine overseas prison network to openly testify about his treatment there. He says he was waterboarded, sexually abused, suspended naked from a ceiling beam for long periods, and subject to sleep deprivation for days.

In 2012, he pleaded guilty to multiple charges that included conspiracy, murder and providing material support to terrorism. Khan then agreed to cooperate with authorities in other investigations, including the case against the five men being held at Guantanamo charged with planning and providing logistical support for the 9/11 attacks.

He was issued a 26-year sentence which was mostly symbolic, given the plea agreement and his time already served. He was due for release in March 2022 but remained in prison until the US could find a suitable host country for him.

Last year, he filed a federal lawsuit against the US for keeping him in custody longer than his sentence.

"I continue to ask for forgiveness from God and those I have hurt. I am truly sorry," Khan said.

Belize is the closest country to the detention centre at Guantanamo that has agreed to host a detainee. The small coastal nation in Central America has a population of 400,000, with fewer than a thousand Muslims.

Guantanamo an 'anathema to a just society'

A citizen of Pakistan who was born in Saudi Arabia in 1980, Khan immigrated to the US with his family in the 1990s, graduated from a Baltimore suburb high school and held a telecommunications job in the Washington DC area. 

In 2002, during a family trip to Pakistan, he encountered relatives with ties to al-Qaeda and admitted he "went willingly" to the militant group.

According to a Defence Department detainee assessment, after joining al-Qaeda, he became a direct subordinate to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, often known as KSM, the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks.

After being captured in 2003, he was transferred to a number of CIA black sites before he was sent to the Guantanamo Bay prison in 2006 for trial.

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Khan's transfer is the first case under the Biden administration where a detainee has been transferred to a third country. He is also the sixth detainee to be transferred under the Biden administration.

"Majid's transfer is the culmination of decades-long litigation and advocacy by the Center for Constitutional Rights to challenge the worst abuses of the 'war on terror' and close the Guantanamo Bay prison," said Wells Dixon, a senior attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights who has represented Khan since his arrival at Guantanamo in 2006.

Katya Jestin, who has represented Khan pro bono since 2009, said the news was a "historic victory for human rights and the rule of law, but one that took far too long to reach".

"Guantanamo is a national shame, and we hope that today is another step forward towards its ultimate closure. The men languishing in Guantanamo who have been cleared for release must be transferred; indefinite detention is anathema to a just society," said Jestin, a co-managing partner of Jenner & Block LLP.

After his transfer, there will still be 34 men detained at Guantanamo, 20 of whom are cleared for transfer out of the prison.

Khan's release marks a potential turning point for the administration, as Khan is one of a handful of detainees who went through the military commissions process and was charged and sentenced.

It also comes ahead of a visit to the prison by UN special rapporteur Fionnuala Ni Aolain next week.

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