Terrorism Trials & Investigations

Majid Khan Arraignment #5: Prosecution Remarks to the Press

By Benjamin Wittes, Lawfare Staff
Wednesday, February 29, 2012, 1:30 PM

Here is Chief Prosecutor Mark Martins's remarks to the press, which are being delivered at this hour:

Chief Prosecutor Mark Martins

Remarks at Guantanamo Bay on 29 February 2012

Good afternoon. Today, following his initial appearance and arraignment, a military commission accepted the voluntary guilty plea of Májid Shoukat Khan to serious violations of the law of armed conflict.  Mr. Khan’s conviction, based upon irrefutable and lawfully obtained evidence, means that he will likely spend between 19 and 25 years in confinement measured from this day forward as punishment for his crimes.  Because the supporting evidence also establishes, unassailably, that he joined with and materially supported al Qaeda, Mr. Khan’s conviction affirms that his years of detention to date have been grounded in strong legal authority.

Even for those who have long been familiar with Mr. Khan’s detention and unlawful belligerent status in connection with al Qaeda, and even for all of you who observed the proceedings today, it is instructive to examine the offenses of which Mr. Khan has now been convicted and to review the supporting evidence now on the record.  Májid Shoukat Khan is a Pakistani national who lived in the United States from 1996 to early 2002 before returning to Pakistan. The commission has now established to the highest standard of proof in our legal system that Mr. Khan joined with members of al Qaeda in Pakistan to plan and prepare attacks against diverse targets in the United States, Indonesia, and elsewhere after Sept. 11, 2001.

Specifically, Mr. Khan admits that on September 11th, 2001, he was working as a database administrator high in an office building in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, when members of al Qaeda hijacked four commercial airliners, three of which were deliberately crashed into the two World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon.  Having seen the smoke rising from the Pentagon through the window of his office, he soon became radicalized and interested in traveling to Pakistan.  By falsely claiming that he intended to visit Dubai and Saudi Arabia, Mr. Khan obtained a travel document to travel from his residence in Baltimore, Maryland, to Karachi, Pakistan, in January of 2002.  Mr. Khan states that upon arrival in Pakistan he conspired with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed regarding plots to blow-up underground gasoline storage tanks and to poison water reservoirs in the United States.  Mr. Khan further states that at Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s direction, he recorded a “martyr video,” donned an explosive vest, and sat in a mosque waiting for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to arrive so that Khan could assassinate him, an attempt that did not succeed because Musharraf never arrived.  

In March of 2002, Mr. Khan states that he traveled from Karachi back to Baltimore, where he performed tasks for al Qaeda and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, including purchasing a laptop computer for al Qaeda and contacting a military recruiter to obtain materials regarding the United States military, which he intended to give to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.  Then, upon returning to Pakistan in August 2002, he states that he worked directly for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and other al Qaeda associates, all of whom were evading capture by United States and Pakistani authorities.  Mr. Khan states that at the direction of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, he traveled with his wife in December of 2002 from Pakistan to Bangkok, Thailand.  There, he evaded notice by posing as a tourist.

In Bangkok, Mr. Khan delivered $50,000 in al Qaeda funds to a southeast Asia-based al Qaeda affiliate, which in turn delivered the money to the allied terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, which used the funding to detonate a bomb in August of 2003 at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, killing eleven people, wounding at least eighty others, and severely damaging the hotel.  Our hearts go out to the surviving victims and to the family members of those who did not survive the Marriott Hotel bombing.  Be confident that the United States is committed to accountability under law for those who have plotted to attack peace-loving people.

For Mr. Khan was today convicted of conspiracy, murder and attempted murder in violation of the law of war, providing material support for terrorism, and spying.  All of these are offenses accepted by the judge to have been triable by military commission and as having been committed in the context of and associated with hostilities.

Let me make clear that other than Mr. Khan, who today has now been found guilty, those I have mentioned as members of al Qaeda and as alleged co-conspirators are presumed innocent unless and until they themselves are proven guilty.  We are committed to ensuring that those who are accused before military commissions receive all of the fundamental protections of a fair and just trial that are demanded by our values.  Among these are protection against use of statements obtained through torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; the right to present evidence, cross-examine witnesses, and compel attendance of witnesses in their defense; the right to exculpatory evidence that the prosecution may have as to guilt, sentencing, and the credibility of adverse witnesses; and many other protections.

Mr. Khan has, importantly and commendably, accepted responsibility and expressed remorse for his actions.  He has been represented by a highly competent team of defense counsel.  He has pledged to be a law-abiding person and to cooperate with authorities as law-abiding people do.

I note that the prosecution of this case combines dedicated trial counsel from the Justice and Defense Departments.   I recognize today outstanding investigative work by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and in particular the agents in the Baltimore Field Office who have pursued the evidence in this case since 2002.  I also recognize the Defense Department’s Criminal Investigative Task Force, many other components of the federal government, and the daily professionalism of the Coastguardsmen, Sailors, Soldiers, Marines, and Airmen of Joint Task Force Guantanamo.  We must reject the false choice presented by those who say that only law enforcement, or only the military, may be used to take down vicious organizations that attack out of the shadows and hide among civilians. Instead, we must use all of the lawful instruments of our national power and authority to do so.  And now, I’ll be happy to take questions.

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In conclusion, I will note that astute observers familiar with international terrorism prosecutions in the federal courts have predicted that military commissions would need to decrease the level of legal uncertainty in order to develop into a more effective part of our national security and justice institutions.  I submit that what you have seen today is just that.  Today, you saw in open court an intelligent defendant accused of serious violations of the law of war.  He has been well-advised by a zealous and competent team of three defense counsel, having regular access to that defense team.  He faced overwhelming and admissible evidence of guilt, resulting from thorough criminal investigation and prosecution work.  And he decided to plead guilty to his crimes, to accept responsibility for his actions, to face up to a long sentence of confinement, and to fully acknowledge the lawfulness of his detention to date as a belligerent despite previous denials.  Experienced criminal justice practitioners will tell you that this requires predictability in outcomes, both as to what the system will determine with regard guilt or innocence and on what charges, and as to what the system will adjudge as a sentence on those charges.  Such predictability was achieved here, and the agreed-upon outcome upholds the interests of the people of the United States, the security interests of our nation and other nations, and the interests of justice.

The reforms incorporated into the 2009 Military Commissions Act, resulting from action by all three branches of our government and review by our federal courts, have reduced the legal uncertainty of the system and made it more predictable in its outcomes.  While appreciating the criticisms leveled by concerned Americans and international partners, we believe that these reformed military commissions are fair and that they serve an important role in the armed conflict against al Qaeda and associated forces.  There is increasing evidence that the American people support this view, and we aim to be worthy of their trust. Your military exists to fight our nation’s wars, not to police its streets.  We do not lobby for missions, and we did not lobby for this one.  But we will carry out this assignment, as customary with other assignments, with integrity, dedication, and skill, and availing ourselves of expertise from across the federal government. When called upon to try those within our jurisdiction who have violated the laws of armed conflict, we will do so faithfully, transparently, respectful of the various roles within an adversarial system, and in accordance with the rule of law.  Thank you.