U.S. Is Urgently Seeking a Country to Resettle a Qaeda Informant
GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — U.S. diplomats have asked 11 countries if they would be willing to take in a former courier for Al Qaeda who was tortured by the C.I.A. and became a government informant, Justice Department lawyers said in a court filing on Tuesday.
The lawyers said that finding a nation to resettle the prisoner, Majid Khan, 42, with his wife and daughter was a priority for the Biden administration at a time when prosecutors are discussing possible plea agreements with other prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.
Mr. Khan, a U.S.-educated Pakistani citizen, gained attention last year as the first former prisoner of the C.I.A.’s black site prison network to publicly describe his torture, between 2003 and 2006, by U.S. agents. A U.S. military jury condemned his treatment as “a stain on the moral fiber of America.”
Justice Department lawyers described the Biden administration’s efforts to find a place for him in a filing that urged Judge Reggie B. Walton of the U.S. District Court in Washington to essentially take no action for now on Mr. Khan’s petition of habeas corpus.
“The government is actively — and urgently — working to facilitate petitioner’s transfer,” the lawyers wrote in a 37-page filing that did not make clear how many of the 11 countries were still considering the request.
Mr. Khan pleaded guilty to terrorism-related offenses in 2012. His lawyers have described him as isolated in the same detention setting in which he served his sentence, which ended on March 1.
In a filing on July 25, they asked the judge to order his release into the United States or on the U.S. Navy base beyond the prison zone, which functions like a small American town of 6,000 residents.
In the alternative, they said, he should be transferred to the custody of the Department of Homeland Security, which has a small facility on the base that houses Cubans and other Caribbean citizens whose cases are being reviewed for possible third-country asylum.
Mr. Khan has family members in suburban Baltimore, where he attended high school in the 1990s. But U.S. law forbids the release of Guantánamo detainees into the United States.
Justice Department lawyers also dismissed the suggestion of releasing him on the base.
But his lawyers say he cannot go back to Pakistan, where his wife and daughter live, because he fears persecution there as a former Qaeda member who offered testimony against other Guantánamo prisoners.
Col. Matthew Jemmott of the Army, the warden of the Pentagon prison, disputed Mr. Khan’s description of his detention as essentially solitary confinement.
Mr. Khan socializes with F.B.I. agents, prison guards, military lawyers and top prison officials during “religious feasts, social meetings and meetings regarding detention-related issues,” Colonel Jemmott said in an affidavit.
He also said that Mr. Khan was entitled to quarterly calls with family through a prison program called the Detainee Interactive Call Experience, but that he had declined his last two offers. DICE, as the colonel called it, has been described in court as stop-and-go, intelligence-monitored conversations. A security officer listens to what the prisoner wants to say on the call and decides on the spot whether to release the audio to the family member. The relative’s response is also on a censored delay.
Justice Department lawyers said in their filing that finding a nation to safely resettle Mr. Khan “is in the government’s national security interests to encourage cooperation by individuals accused of acts of terrorism or other offenses triable by military commissions.”
Of the 36 prisoners at Guantánamo, two — including Mr. Khan — have been convicted and 10 others are in pretrial proceedings.
Prosecutors are in plea negotiations with the five men accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks. It is not known if any of the defendants are seeking sentences that could lead to resettlement in third countries or imprisonment abroad.
But a disabled Iraqi prisoner recently offered a guilty plea in exchange for transfer within two years to a nation that can provide him medical treatment.
Justice Department lawyers said Mr. Khan’s detention was lawful because “hostilities with Al Qaeda remain ongoing.” They cited the drone strike by the C.I.A. last month that killed the movement’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, in Kabul, Afghanistan, as proof that the war had not ended.