American Forces Press Service
FORT MEADE, Md. – The only legal U.S. resident being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, today became the first high-value detainee to plead guilty to charges of helping terrorists plot and carry out attacks.
Majid Shoukat Khan, 32, pleaded guilty to all charges against him as part of a plea deal that will give him a reduced sentence in exchange for cooperating with the U.S. government, including possibly testifying at other detainees’ trials.
Khan is charged with conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attempted murder in violation of the law of war, providing material support for terrorism and spying.
The charges come from Khan’s role in delivering funds used to carry out the August 2003 bombing of the J.W. Marriot hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, and his attempted assassination of former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
In addition, he is accused of collaborating with self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on several domestic plots. These included plans to poison U.S. water reservoirs and blow up underground fuel storage tanks at U.S. gas stations.
Sentencing will be delayed for four years and will be based on Khan’s compliance, Army Col. James L. Pohl, the judge, explained during Khan’s arraignment today at Guantanamo Bay.
Should Khan provide “thorough, truthful cooperation and assistance” in support of upcoming proceedings, his sentence will be reduced to a maximum of 25 years, and as little as 19 years, in accordance with the plea deal, Pohl explained. Sentencing guidelines for his offenses typically would be be 25 to 40 years.
Time served beginning today will count toward fulfilling that sentence, Pohl said.
Khan responded “yes” when Pohl asked if he had entered into the plea agreement voluntarily and of his own free will as he waived his right to appear before a military jury.
“I understand the charges and specifications, and I am aware I have a legal and moral right to plead not guilty and to leave the government with the burden of proving my guilt beyond a reasonable doubt by legal and competent evidence,” he noted in signing the pretrial agreement. However, based on the terms of the deal, he continued, “I offer to plead guilty to all charges and specifications.”
The plea deal also bars Khan from filing suit against the U.S. government or any of its agencies regarding his capture, detention or confinement conditions before his plea.
Pohl denied the defense team’s request to seal details about the plea deal to protect the defendant and his family. The judge noted the need to keep the commission proceedings transparent and the fact that the plea arrangement is a public document.
Khan acknowledged during questioning by Pohl that the agreement does not guarantee his freedom, and that the convening authority has no power to change his status as an “alien unprivileged enemy belligerent.” He recognized that after serving his time, he must file a habeas corpus petition to apply for release.
“I am making a leap of faith here, sir,” he told the judge.
Born in Pakistan, Khan moved to the United States with his family in 1996 and lived there until 2002. He graduated from Owings Mills High School near Baltimore and worked at his family’s gas station and in various office jobs.
Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor, said Khan admitted that he became radicalized after watching smoke rise from the Pentagon during the 9/11 attacks from the office building where he was working in Northern Virginia.
He has been in U.S. custody since March 2003, when Pakistani forces raided his family's home in Karachi and turned him over to U.S. authorities. Khan was held at an undisclosed overseas facility before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay in 2006.
Today, wearing a dark suit, white shirt and tie during his arraignment, Khan told Pohl in fluent English that he understands the charges against him and acknowledges his guilt. He emphasized that although he was part of a conspiracy to commit terror attacks, he did not necessarily know details about the attacks.
Khan noted, for example, that he did not know the money he delivered to al-Qaida affiliates in Bangkok would be used to bomb the Jakarta Marriott, and that he already was in custody when the attack occurred. Under questioning by Pohl, he did, however, acknowledge that he was part of the broader conspiracy that ultimately led to the attack that killed 11 people and wounded 81 others.
Khan also acknowledged his direct role in an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Musharraf. He is charged with recording a “martyr video” at Khalid Sheik Mohammad’s direction before donning an explosives-laden vest with the intent to use it to kill Musharraf. The former Pakistani president foiled Khan’s plot by not arriving as expected at a mosque where the attack was to take place.
“I volunteered to do a lot of things” between January 2002 and March 2003, Khan acknowledged to Pohl. However, he said he never took any kind of formal oath vowing allegiance to al-Qaida or any other terrorist organization.
Army Lt. Col. Jon S. Jackson, Khan’s military defense counsel, told reporters following the arraignment that Khan wishes he had never been involved with al-Qaida, had never been confined at Guantanamo Bay and had never been involved with the military commission system.
Khan’s plea today demonstrates his remorse for what he has done, Jackson said, and his desire to accept responsibility for his actions and, ultimately, go on to live a productive life with his family.
“This is a story of atonement,” agreed Katya Jestin, one of Khan’s civilian defense counsels. Khan “has taken a leap of faith,” she said, that the military commission process will work as intended.
Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor, offered high praise for reforms incorporated into the 2009 Military Commissions Act that have reduced legal uncertainty and made outcomes more predictable.
Today’s proceedings demonstrated a blend of legal practices in the federal and military judicial systems being incorporated into the military commissions. A cap on sentences, for example, is common in military justice practice, but not in federal court proceedings. Sentencing delays to allow defendants to cooperate are common in federal court but highly unusual in military courts.
“This system is fair, and it is not politically driven,” Martins said. “We believe that these reformed military commissions are fair and that they serve an important role in the armed conflict against al-Qaida and associated forces.”
The case against Khan was based on “irrefutable and lawfully obtained evidence” that Martins said validates the interagency efforts that enabled it to come together. This includes investigators from the Defense Department’s Criminal Investigative Task Force, the FBI and other federal agencies, as well as the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, he said.
“We must reject the false choice presented by those who say that only law enforcement or only the military may be used to take down vicious organizations that attack out of the shadows and hide among civilians,” he said. “Instead, we must use all of the lawful instruments of our national power and authority to do so.”