Man Who Pleaded Guilty to Terrorism Gives First Public Account of Torturous CIA 'Black Sites'

"The more I cooperated and told them," Majid Khan said, "the more I was tortured"

Majid Khan
Photo: Department of Defense/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

An admitted terrorist who has long been detained at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay appeared in military court on Thursday and gave a detailed account of the torturous conditions and infamous "enhanced interrogation techniques" he was subjected to from 2003 until 2006, according to multiple news reports.

In sharing his statement to the military jury considering his sentence, 41-year-old Majid Khan became the first person to speak publicly about life inside covert CIA facilities known as "black sites" for high-value detainees, the Associated Press reports.

Khan's account also underlined what had once been a major debate among American politicians and intelligence and military leaders: How should suspected extremists be treated in captivity and what were the moral, legal and practical consequences of abusing them for possible information?

"I thought I was going to die," Khan said in his statement, according to the AP, which reports his account of being forced to endure extended periods when he was suspended while naked as well as suffering sexual assault, starvation, getting doused with icy water and nearly drowning in undisclosed overseas prisons until he was transferred to Guantanamo in 2006. He was also force-fed through his rectum.

Khan — who is a citizen of Pakistan, was born in Saudi Arabia and attended high school in the Baltimore suburbs — has admitted to being an al-Qaida courier and assisting in plans for terror attacks that were never carried out.

In February 2012, he pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war and providing material support to terrorism for delivering $50,000 to an al-Qaida-connected group in 2003 that helped fund a hotel bombing, according to The New York Times.

In exchange for his cooperation, Khan's plea deal included a cap on a 25- to 40-year sentence handed to him by the jury as well as credit for time in custody since his guilty plea almost 10 years ago.

According to the AP, that means he should be released in 2022. Earlier this year, the Times reports, he agreed to a more expedient release in exchange for not trying to call CIA witnesses to testify about his abuse.

Khan said in his statement before the jury that he told his captors everything he knew while cooperating with authorities conducting other terrorism investigations, including the cases of men held at Guantanamo who are charged with planning and providing logistical support for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"The more I cooperated and told them," he said, "the more I was tortured."

The extent of the CIA's tactics have only become more clear in recent years, including in an exhaustive Senate report released in 2014 which showed how the agency had not been forthcoming with the rest of the government about its operations.

The Senate report also undercut the argument that "enhanced interrogation" — which critics denounce as a euphemism for torture — was an effective way of gathering intelligence to stop future attacks.

However, the report was "severely criticized by current and former" members of the CIA, the Times reported in 2014, and the agency's work was defended by former President George W. Bush. (Then-President Barack Obama ended the interrogation program in 2009.)

For more than two hours on Thursday, Khan, who was captured in 2003, read a 39-page statement to the jury made up of military officers selected by the Pentagon's convening authority.

He told the jurors, who are not aware of his plea deal, about dungeon-like conditions, being unable to sleep because of chains around his arms and that he never saw daylight while held at the black sites until moving to Guantanamo in September 2006 and had no contact with anyone except his captors until his sixth year at that base in Cuba.

Khan apologized for his actions and said he hopes to reunite with his wife and a daughter who was born while he was held captive, according to the AP.

"I have also tried to make up for the bad things I have done," he said. "That's why I pleaded guilty and cooperated with the USA government."

Kahn's father and a sister, who are U.S. citizens, were in a court gallery during the hearing on Thursday.

The Times reports it was the first time they've seen him in person since he left the United States and joined al-Qaida after the 9/11 attacks. "To those who tortured me, I forgive you," Kahn said, adding that he rejected terrorism, "violence and hatred" during his time in custody.

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