For the first time, a United States military commission jury urged clemency for a Guantanamo Bay detainee, Majid Khan, at a sentencing hearing. The jury’s recommendation, noting the severe abuse Khan endured while in detention, highlights the profound assault on fundamental rights committed by the US in its so-called “war on terror.”
Khan was captured by US forces in Pakistan in 2003 and pleaded guilty to several charges in 2012. His sentencing hearing had been delayed since then to facilitate his cooperation with the US government in exchange for a lighter sentence.
During last week’s hearing, the jury recommended Khan receive 26 years in prison, just over the minimum sentence of 25 years set out in the jury’s instructions. Because of his plea agreement with the prosecution, he may be released as early as February 2022.
In addition, seven out of eight jury members, all US military officers, signed a letter requesting the judge grant clemency – a reduction in sentence – to Khan. They provided three justifications: Khan’s lack of due process given the length of time he was held without charges and legal representation; his physical and psychological abuse, which “went well-beyond approved enhanced interrogation tactics”; and his personal vulnerability at the time for extremist recruitment.
In their letter, the panel members characterized the US government’s treatment of Khan as “a stain on the moral fiber of America” and as “a source of shame.”
Military jurors learned firsthand of Khan’s torture and other mistreatment, which included prolonged sleep deprivation, regular beatings, and forced feeding. His testimony marked the first time a detainee has spoken publicly about treatment at Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) “black site” detention centers overseas. He was ultimately allowed to provide that testimony only after agreeing not to call CIA interrogators to testify in court.
To promote transparency about the US torture program that began after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the administration should continue to allow detainees to testify regarding their treatment. It should also declassify the CIA torture program itself; at a minimum, it should release the full 2014 Senate intelligence report on the program.
The US has a long way to go in securing accountability for detainee torture. But increased transparency, which is a step toward true accountability, is a start.