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Gitmo Plea Deal May Speed Prosecutions; Does Not Address Torture, Indefinite Detention

Common Dreams staff

A guard tower at the US Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay (AFP/File, Jim Watson)

A plea deal and an admission of guilt by Guantanamo prisoner and accused international terrorist Majid Khan may speed criminal prosecutions of other 'high value' detainees at the US facility.  But, according to critics, it will do little to address the torture many of these men received, including Khan, at the hands of the CIA and US forces and does nothing for those already cleared of charges at Guantanamo who remain in legal limbo because acts by the US Congress have made their release impossible.

Agence France-Presse reports on Khan admission of guilt at military tribunal today:

Khan, 32, a protege of September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, pleaded guilty to conspiracy, murder and attempted murder in violation of the laws of war, and to material support for terrorism and espionage.

Dressed in a dark suit and pink tie, he spoke in fluent English without the aid of an interpreter, denying he every met or spoke to slain Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden but admitting to taking part in a "conspiracy" in Pakistan, Thailand and Indonesia.

Khan, who has spent the last nine years behind bars, faced possible life in prison but will receive a reduced sentence of no more than 25 years as part of a plea agreement that requires him to cooperate with US authorities.

In exchange for the lighter sentence, he will testify against other "high value" detainees, including Mohammed and four others alleged to have taken part in the 2001 attacks.

To insure he fulfills his side of the bargain, the sentence will not be handed down for four years, until February 29, 2016.


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Zachary Katznelson, ACLU National Security Project senior staff attorney, was at Guantánamo Bay to observe Khan’s arraignment. He said the following in response to today's events:

“Any plea deal and testimony by Majid Khan must be seen in the context of his years of secret, incommunicado detention and torture at the hands of the CIA, and the prospect of trial by an unfair military commissions system. Whether the plea deal permits or restricts Mr. Khan from revealing the details of torture and abuse he suffered in CIA custody is a test of the Obama administration's promise that the commissions will provide transparency.”

David Remes, who has represented several detainees, speaking with AFP said, "The irony is that if you're charged with a crime and make a plea deal, you know you'll be released someday and have some idea when. You have an end-point. But if you're not accused of a crime, you don't know whether you'll ever be released, much less when. That may be the crueler fate. The system is upside-down." 

AFP notes:

Over the years, 779 inmates have been detained at Guantanamo, most without charge or trial. Most have been transferred to their home countries or third countries in recent years and released.

Today, 171 people are still languishing there in limbo, including 89 detainees who have been cleared for release but are still in custody, thanks to a law passed by the US Congress.

For the other detainees who remain, pleading guilty may be the only way to guarantee that they one day leave the facility.


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