WASHINGTON — Lawyers for a terrorism suspect from suburban Baltimore who's imprisoned at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba claim they have evidence that their client "was subjected to a program of state-sanctioned torture" while he was in CIA custody.
The lawyers for Majid Khan are asking a federal court to order the Bush administration to preserve evidence of how their client was treated during his three-plus years in CIA custody, saying they have ample evidence that he was tortured.
Their heavily censored court filing, which was delivered under seal Thursday to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and obtained by The Miami Herald, comes as Congress and the Justice Department have opened preliminary investigations into the CIA's destruction of tapes of interrogations of two men who were held with Khan in a secret prison camp for "high-value" detainees at Guantanamo.
Defense lawyers Gitanjali Gutierrez and Wells Dixon met with Khan for two weeks in mid-October at Guantanamo, where he's held in Camp 7, a previously unknown part of the prison that's reserved for former "ghost detainees", according to declassified notes of their meetings.
In the notes, the two wrote that they found Khan with a scar on his arm from trying to gnaw through an artery, and that he still suffers psychological trauma. Their brief, which includes two still-secret appendices, was crafted from those interviews and speaks of Khan's treatment in captivity and that of other prisoners who, it alleges, "were similarly abducted, imprisoned and tortured by U.S. personnel at CIA black sites around the world."
CIA censors redacted, or blacked out, whom the lawyers allege ran what they call "The CIA Torture Program." Censors also blacked out two full pages in which the lawyers argue why, "There is no doubt that Khan was subjected to a program of state-sanctioned torture."
There was no way to test the lawyers' allegations independently, and the U.S. government denies that it engages in torture. Justice Department spokesman Erik Ablin Saturday said that the government was "reviewing the allegations" and preparing a response to the lawyers' motion.
No one but his lawyers and U.S. military and intelligence officials has seen Khan, and none of the other former CIA captives who've been detained at Guantanamo for more than a year has seen an attorney.
Still, the notes of the two attorneys from the New York Center for Constitutional Rights offer a glimpse inside the prison-within-a-prison at the detention center.
Camp 7 was opened when the alleged high-value detainees arrived at Guantanamo, around Labor Day 2006, to prevent their tales from spreading to the other 300 or so prisoners.
The lawyers' notes claim that Khan and another alleged al Qaida terrorist, Abu Zubaydeh, had contact with each other. The disclosure that the CIA destroyed tapes of interrogations of Abu Zubaydeh triggered the ongoing investigations.
Khan was born in Pakistan but grew up near Baltimore, where he graduated from a suburban high school, and got political asylum in the United States, where his father still lives. The son was visiting Pakistan in March 2003 when, he claims, CIA officers kidnapped him in Karachi. He then disappeared into a secret interrogation program shielded even from the International Committee of the Red Cross, which tracks prisoners around the globe.
President Bush ordered Khan and 13 other former CIA captives, among them alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, transferred to military custody in September 2006.
In October, granting the lawyers access to Khan, the Pentagon charged that he "reportedly had links to al Qaida operatives and facilitators, some who . . . involved him in a discussion of smuggling explosives into the United States."
Khan hasn't been charged with any crime, and his lawyers say in their brief that the alleged CIA torture "will be the central focus of any military commission proceedings involving Khan." They also allege that while he was in CIA custody, "Khan admitted anything his interrogators demanded of him, regardless of the truth."
Gutierrez was due back on the isolated naval base in southeast Cuba on Sunday night to meet with her client again and to brief him on the effort to preserve evidence in his case.
The information is being disclosed now because, under lawyer-access rights at Guantanamo, the attorneys had to turn all 500 pages of notes of their conversations with their client over to classification inspectors and only recently have had four pages of a summary cleared for public disclosure.
Rosenberg reports for The Miami Herald.