x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Pakistan keeps its distance on Guantanamo detainee's plea deal with US

Foreign minister suggests it is for the US court to decide fate of Majid Khan, a Pakistani who admitted he was an Al Qaeda money courier and a would-be suicide bomber.

A court sketch of Majid Khan. He pleaded guilty on Wednesday in helping Al Qaeda attacks from Pakistan. He reached a plea deal with the US government which he will help convict fellow prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
A court sketch of Majid Khan. He pleaded guilty on Wednesday in helping Al Qaeda attacks from Pakistan. He reached a plea deal with the US government which he will help convict fellow prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

ISLAMABAD // Pakistan yesterday distanced itself from the trial of a Pakistani who admitted he was an Al Qaeda money courier and a would-be suicide bomber, suggesting it was for the US court to decide his fate.

After nearly nine years in US custody, Majid Khan, 32, appeared in public for the first time in a courtroom on the Guantanamo Bay US naval base in Cuba on Wednesday and admitted his crimes.

"There is nothing for us to comment on, as it has been through a legal process," Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit told a news conference in Islamabad.

Pakistani Islamists denounced Khan's trial as "unfair" and "cruel" and said he was not given proper opportunities to defend himself.

"This confession was the result of cruelty being done in the name of war on terror," said Liaquat Baluch, deputy head of Jamaat-e-Islami, the country's largest Islamist party.

But there was no evidence of that in the courtroom on Wednesday. Wearing a dark business suit and sporting a short haircut and a closely trimmed goatee, Khan, a former resident of the Baltimore suburbs, pleaded guilty to five war crimes, including murder, attempted murder and spying.

Sentencing has been delayed for four years, and, if Khan fails to cooperate, he could receive up to 25 years. The deal calls for him to provide "complete and accurate information in interviews, depositions and testimony wherever and whenever requested by the prosecutors."

Before September 11, 2001, Khan worked for Electronic Data Systems in Northern Virginia, and on the day of the attacks watched smoke rise from the Pentagon from his office building, according to court documents.

In the documents, Khan, a Pakistani citizen, acknowledges that he flew to Pakistan after September 11 and volunteered to work for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the attacks.

Over the course of a year, before his capture in March 2003, Khan couriered US$50,000 (Dh183,665) to Al Qaeda associates to fund a hotel bombing in Jakarta, discussed terrorist strikes in the United States — including poisoning water reservoirs — and agreed to a suicide attack to assassinate the then president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, court documents state.

During most of the hearing, Khan appeared quite relaxed. At one point, he smiled at two FBI agents on the prosecution side, and pumped his fist. The agents smiled back.

When the judge said he could continue to be held under the laws of war even after he has served his sentence, Khan said, "I'm making a leap of faith here, sir, that's all I can do."

Lt Col Jon Jackson, Khan's military counsel, said that his client had pushed for a deal for a long time and wanted a "second chance in life."

"He's remorseful; he wished he had never been involved with Al Qaeda," Col Jackson said.

Referring to Khan's cooperation, Col Jackson said his client's plan over the "next four years is to join Team America."

Pakistani police arrested Khan in Karachi in 2003 and turned him over to the CIA. His family did not learn what had happened to him until US President George W Bush announced in 2006 that he had closed secret prisons and sent Khan and more than a dozen other CIA "ghost prisoners" to Guantanamo.

Amina Masud Janjua, who is leading a campaign for the release of hundreds of suspects detained by security agencies since Pakistan joined the US-led war on terror in 2001, said Khan was picked up along with 18 members of his extended family by the Pakistani security agencies.

"Seventeen members of the family were released after three days and his brother was released after three months," she said. But the family had no idea about the fate of Majid Khan until 2006.

Ms Janjua, whose husband has been missing since 2005, heads the Defence of Human Rights group. She said she had met Khan's wife, Raabia, and daughter, Manaal, two years ago in Karachi and does not know their whereabouts now.

"Khan was arrested five months after his marriage and Manaal was born after his arrest. She has never seen her father."

She said Raabia had told her that Khan had been writing letters to her after his whereabouts were known.

"Despite his detention, he was in high spirits and was writing very jolly letters to his wife and daughter," she said.

Khan's case came to light at a time when Pakistan's own intelligence agencies have come under increasing scrutiny over the disappearance of hundreds of Pakistanis detained over the past 11 years suspected of being involved in militant Islamist groups.

The relatives of the missing persons have set up a "protest camp" near the parliament house for the past two weeks to press authorities to tell them the whereabouts of the suspected people.

"After so many years of torture, solitary confinement and worst kind of interrogation, a confession or non-confession does not matter. Injustice is being done to Majid Khan in the name of justice," Fauzia Siddiqui, sister of American-educated neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui, who was sentenced in 86 years in jail by a US court in 2010 on charges of attacking US soldiers in Afghanistan. "The US has no right to try Majid because he is a Pakistani."

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting from the Washington Post and Reuters