Former U.S. resident pleads guilty at Guantanamo to murder

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 29, 2012 10:24 AM
Former U.S. resident pleads guilty at Guantanamo to murder

By Jane Sutton

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba, February 29 - A former CIA "ghost prisoner" who grew up in the Baltimore area admitted to a U.S. war crimes court on Wednesday that he was an al Qaeda money courier and martyr-in-training now prepared to help prosecute other terrorism suspects.

After nearly nine years in U.S. custody, Pakistani native Majid Khan appeared in public for the first time at a top-security courtroom on the Guantanamo Bay U.S. naval base in Cuba. He pleaded guilty to all five charges against him, including murder and attempted murder, in a deal that spares him from a potential life sentence in exchange for helping prosecute other prisoners.

Khan, a square-faced 32-year-old with short black hair, goatee and glasses, wore a dark suit, white shirt and tie as he stood in court next to his military lawyer, Army Lieutenant Colonel Jon Jackson, who spoke on his behalf.

"Mr. Khan pleads as follows to all charges and specifications, guilty," Jackson told the court.

Asked by the judge if he concurred with that, Khan replied, "Yes sir."

In addition to murder and attempted murder, Khan was convicted of conspiring with al Qaeda, providing material support for terrorism and spying on U.S. and Pakistani targets. He faces up to 25 years in prison but will likely serve far less if he makes good on a plea agreement that remains sealed to protect Khan's family. Sentencing will be deferred to 2016.

Khan moved to Maryland with his family in 1996 and graduated from a suburban Baltimore high school. He met self-described September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed during a trip to Pakistan in 2002 and became his acolyte.

Under Mohammed's instruction, Khan passed a test designed to prove his willingness to become an al Qaeda suicide bomber. He donned a fake bomb vest and waited to set it off in a mosque in Karachi where he was told then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf would show up.

Khan also delivered $50,000 of al Qaeda cash to the group that drove a truck bomb into the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in 2003, killing eight people and wounding dozens.

A California woman who survived the blast watched Wednesday's hearing from behind a glass wall in the courtroom spectators' gallery.

Khan's parents and other relatives were scheduled to watch via closed-circuit television at a Maryland military base. He also has a wife in Pakistan and a daughter he has never seen.

Pakistani police arrested Khan at his brother's house in Pakistan in March 2003 and turned him over to the CIA. His family did not learn what had happened to him until three and a half years later, when then-President George W. Bush announced he had closed the secret prisons and sent Khan and more than a dozen other CIA "ghost prisoners" to Guantanamo.

Khan is the seventh captive convicted in the still-evolving Guantanamo tribunals designed to prosecute non-U.S. citizens on terrorism charges outside the regular civilian and military courts. He is the fifth to plead guilty in exchange for leniency.

Four of those guilty pleas have occurred under the administration of President Barack Obama, whose attempts to close the Guantanamo detention camp and move the trials into civilian federal courts have been thwarted by Congress.

(Editing by Tom Brown and Vicki Allen)