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US-educated Guantanamo captive admits to war crimes

By Carol Rosenberg, McClatchy Newspapers –

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — A U.S.-educated, one-time al-Qaida foot soldier stood at the war court Wednesday, and pleaded guilty to war crimes for joining the terror organization after the Sept. 11 attacks and moving money used to fund a deadly 2003 bombing of a Marriott hotel in Southeast Asia.

Majid Khan, 32, was sporting a neat goatee, black suit and pink tie as he waived the right to a translator in flawless English. “Sure thing, your honor,” he said, declining a court-appointed linguist. “Appreciate it, thanks.”

Khan told his case judge that he would like a Pakistani lawyer provided through the Embassy of Pakistan “down the road,” before his sentencing hearing. Meanwhile, he identified his lead lawyer as Army Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, assigned to the job by the Pentagon.

Eleven people were killed and dozens were wounded in the 2003 terror attack in Jakarta, Indonesia. Khan admitted to moving $50,000 from his native Pakistan to Thailand that helped fund the attack. Khan’s charge sheet also said he conspired with the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2011 attack, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, to blow up fuel tanks in the United States and to assassinate former Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Neither plot was realized.

Khan, a one-time U.S. resident who graduated from a suburban Baltimore high school in 1999, pleaded guilty to charges that included terrorism and murder in violation of the law of war as part of a secret deal that postpones his sentence while he serves as a government witness at other war crimes trials.

The trial judge, Army Col. James Pohl, was expected to go over the charges in greater detail later in the day and to question Khan on whether he made the plea voluntarily.

Under a portion of the deal released Tuesday, a military jury will hear the case and sentence Khan in 2016. The jury can order him to serve up to 40 years, after which a military judge would reduce it to at most 25 years. A senior Pentagon official would then have the authority to suspend any or all of it.

Khan’s defense lawyers asked that additional details of the deal be sealed from public view because of “concern about the welfare of Mr. Khan’s family and perhaps friends in the United States,” said Pohl, the trial judge. Khan’s civilian lawyer, Wells Dixon of the New York Center for Constitutional Rights, said there was a real threat and asked to elaborate on the request in a closed session of court.

The Pentagon’s prosecutor, Courtney Sullivan of the Department of Justice, argued there was “an overwhelming public interest” that the world should see the deal.

Khan becomes the seventh of the 779 captives who have been held at Guantánamo since 2002 to be convicted of war crimes, and the fifth through guilty plea as a means of release. Khan was held for three years in the CIA’s secret prison network before his arrival at Guantánamo in 2006. Dixon argued in federal court filings that his client was tortured.

He also becomes the first former CIA “high-value detainee” to be convicted at a military commission. Two other so-called high-value cases are in the war court pipeline.

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