MIAMI — The Pentagon announced Tuesday it had charged a suburban Baltimore high school graduate now at Guantanamo with conspiring to commit terror attacks on U.S. soil and serving as an al-Qaida courier after the 9/11 attacks.
The prosecution of Majid Khan, who was scooped up in Pakistan and disappeared into the CIA’s secret overseas prison network, is the first war court case entirely initiated during the administration of President Barack Obama.
It seeks life imprisonment, not military execution, in a charge sheet that portrays Khan, now 31, as a willing foot soldier for radical Islam. He allegedly recorded a martyr’s message and donned an explosive vest in a 2002 attempt to kill Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf at a mosque. The attack failed because Musharraf never arrived.
Pakistani authorities arrested Khan the next year and turned him over to the United States, which held and interrogated him out of reach of the International Committee of the Red Cross until President George W. Bush had him sent to the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba in September 2006 for a war crimes trial.
Khan’s case is an unusual one for the Guantanamo war court. He’s a fluent English speaker whose family moved from his native Pakistan in 1996, in time for him to graduate from an American high school and work at the family’s gas station outside of Baltimore.
The last known photos of him before his capture show a clean-shaven young man waving a diploma and donning a mortar board. His Guantanamo intelligence file photo, released by WikiLeaks last year, shows a bushy-bearded adult with a receding hairline. He’s one of just two known former legal U.S. residents now held at Guantanamo.
Part of his charge sheet alleges he conspired with confessed 9/11 attack planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, also at Guantanamo, to blow up gasoline stations on U.S. soil.
Khan was married and living in Pakistan at the time of his arrest. He had allegedly traveled back to the United States on his green card after the Sept. 11 attacks at Mohammed’s behest, and he allegedly couriered $50,000 to Bangkok that was funneled to an al-Qaida affiliate that blew up the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, in August 2003, killing 11 and wounding 81 others.
He is defended by the Center for Constitutional Rights, whose lawyers have filed an unlawful detention suit claiming Khan was tortured.
In 2008, the New York civil liberties firm released portions of letters from Khan describing himself as an innocent, onetime U.S. resident who paid $2,400 a month in U.S. taxes and who was caught in a “big mistake” by the CIA.
“I ask you to give me justice,” one letter said, “in the name of what U.S.A. once stood for and in the name of what Thomas Jefferson fought for… allow me a chance to prove that I am innocent.”
A copy of the 15-page charge sheet posted on a Pentagon website Tuesday night indicated that the prison camps staff attorney, Navy Cmdr. Thomas Welsh, presented Khan with the charges a day earlier. The charges, and a Defense Department announcement, identified him as Majid Shoukat Khan, perhaps in a bid to make a distinction between him and a famed former Pakistan cricket team captain also named Majid Khan.