Updated Oct 29, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Gitmo prisoner shares first public account of CIA abuse

Photo of an American flag flying on a pole behind barbed wire

The U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Photo: Maren Hennemuth/picture alliance via Getty Images

For the first time, a detainee at the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay has testified about the brutal treatment he experienced as part of the U.S. government's interrogation program at CIA black sites.

Driving the news: A panel of military officers, selected by a Pentagon legal official, sentenced Majid Khan, a Pakistani citizen and former Baltimore resident who joined al-Qaeda as a courier, to 26 years in prison on Friday, AP reports.

  • The legal official, acting as the convening authority, will reduce the jury's sentence to no more than 11 years, giving Khan credit for his time in custody since 2012.
  • He could be released as early as next year due to his cooperation with U.S. authorities in other investigations.

Why it matters: A 2014 Senate Intelligence panel report said the CIA went beyond legal boundaries to inflict pain on terrorism suspects, finding that the agency's techniques weren't effective in obtaining information.

  • Policymakers and the public have remained divided on the issue with some considering the CIA’s techniques torture, while others still say they were necessary to extract vital information.
  • The report, which detailed some of Khan's experiences, found that the CIA tried to spin a narrative of useful and necessary interrogations despite lack of evidence that the techniques were effective in obtaining information.

What he's saying: At his sentencing hearing this week, Khan told jurors about the sexual assault, beatings, solitary confinement, starvations and forced enemas he was forced to endure after being captured in 2003.

  • Interrogators allegedly suspended him naked from a ceiling beam for days without food, held his head under water to the brink of near drowning and kept him awake for days by repeatedly submerging him in ice, he testified at his sentencing hearing this week.
  • "I thought I was going to die," Khan said while reading from a 39-page statement, adding that he started hallucinating and self-harming due to the trauma.

Context: Khan spent roughly three years in CIA black site facilities before he was moved to Guantánamo in 2006.

  • He admitted to his role as an al-Qaeda courier and agreed to a deal with prosecutors in February 2012, pleading guilty to charges including conspiracy, murder and providing material support to terrorists.

The big picture: Most of the detainees held at Guantanamo have been released or transferred to different countries. After the United States' August withdrawal from Afghanistan, questions remain about whether those captured on the battlefield can continue to be held.

  • President Biden said during his campaign that he supported closing the prison, but he did not offer any concrete plans on how he would do so.
  • In February, he launched a policy review. And the Pentagon under Biden, as it did under Donald Trump and Barack Obama, has already cleared a handful of detainees for release to other countries.
  • 39 men remain at the naval facility, according to AP.
Go deeper