Guantánamo Prisoner Who Completed War Crimes Sentence Sues for Release
GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — A Pakistani man who was tortured by the C.I.A. and then pleaded guilty to serving as a courier for Al Qaeda has filed suit against the Biden administration for continuing to hold him prisoner after he completed his war crimes sentence.
Lawyers for Majid Khan, 42, asked a federal judge in a 30-page petition filed in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to release him to anywhere but his native Pakistan where, they argue, he would risk persecution. They suggested that he should be granted parole on the Navy base here, which has about 6,000 residents, until a country is found to receive him.
The Justice Department declined to comment on the case.
Mr. Khan has a unique status at Guantánamo Bay as the only former prisoner of a C.I.A. black site who has been convicted of a crime. He pleaded guilty and became a cooperating witness for the United States government, starting in 2012, when he admitted to delivering $50,000 from Pakistan to a Qaeda affiliate that was used in the deadly 2003 bombing of a Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia.
At his sentencing hearing in October, he was permitted to describe his torture during three years of clandestine C.I.A. custody. A military jury sentenced him to 26 years in prison and urged clemency in a letter that condemned Mr. Khan’s torture as “a stain on the moral fiber of America.”
With credit for time served and other accommodations, Mr. Khan’s sentence ended on March 1.
Yet he is still at Guantánamo Bay, “held by himself, away from other detainees, and without direct access to his family or the outside world,” his lawyers wrote.
He cannot make or receive calls from his family, which includes his wife and a daughter who was born after his capture, the lawyers said. He also has been denied videoconferencing with his lawyers and a laptop computer to help him prepare for life after two decades of detention, the filing said.
The filing reflects how difficult it has been for the Biden administration to find nations to take detainees who have been approved for transfer. One of the lawyers who represented Mr. Khan at the Guantánamo court, Ian Moss, subsequently went to work at the State Department. His title is deputy coordinator for countering violent extremism and terrorist detentions, a key position in an office that has struggled to negotiate transfer agreements for cleared detainees.
Besides Mr. Khan, 20 of Guantánamo’s 37 prisoners have been approved for transfer with security assurances by an interagency board.
Brig. Gen. Jackie L. Thompson Jr., of the Army, who is the chief defense counsel, condemned the delay in releasing the detainee and suggested that other prisoners charged with war crimes might be less inclined to enter into guilty pleas until Mr. Khan was resettled.
Ten of the detainees are in war crimes proceedings. Plea deals for six of those prisoners would eliminate the possibility of a death sentence.
“Keeping a person in indefinite detention after his sentence is over is very unhelpful,” said General Thompson, adding that defense lawyers were not in a position to find a country for Mr. Khan. “We are at the mercy of the U.S. government for this.”
Mr. Khan’s lawsuit also seeks to improve his conditions at Guantánamo while the United States searches for a place for him to be resettled with his wife and daughter.
His lawyers specifically asked the judge to find his continued imprisonment unlawful, to order his transfer to anywhere but Pakistan and to order the prison to restore his access to video-link meetings with his lawyers in the United States.
The military discontinued Mr. Khan’s legal meetings by videoconference after he completed his sentence, the lawyers said. They described that as a punitive measure.
His lawyers also suggested that the judge “release him from unlawful detention at Guantánamo on bail or parole,” apparently borrowing a page from the case of Uyghur prisoners from China who languished in U.S. custody for years.
After a federal judge found 18 of the Uyghur prisoners to be unlawfully held in 2008, their attorneys proposed that they live in guest quarters on a remote portion of the base near the runway. Instead, the prison built them their own detention area, called Camp Iguana, where the last three were held until the United States found a country, Slovakia, in which to resettle them in 2013.