The US has released Majid Khan, an al-Qaida courier turned informant who was tortured in secret CIA prisons and held in custody for nearly 20 years, marking the first time a “high-value detainee” has been freed from Guantánamo Bay.
Khan, a 42-year-old Pakistani born in Saudi Arabia, completed his jail term last March and landed in Belize on Thursday, where he is to be permanently resettled.
“Today, I feel like I am reborn. I have re-entered the world. I am a free man,” Khan said in a written statement. “I am beginning a new life in a new country and a new culture. I’m in a little bit of shock because I have been waiting so long to be free, and I can hardly believe it has finally happened.”
He added that he expected to be reunited with his wife after 20 years apart, and to meet his daughter for the first time.
“He arrived today to start anew as a free man,” the Belize foreign ministry said on Twitter. One of his lawyers, Wells Dixon, said: “My understanding is that Majid Khan is a completely free individual.”
Khan’s release is the first time the US has released a “high-value detainee”, an official term used to refer to Guantánamo inmates who have been subjected to torture at CIA “black sites”.
Over three years in CIA custody, he was suspended naked from a ceiling beam for long periods and doused repeatedly with ice water to keep him awake, subjected to waterboarding (water poured over a cloth placed over the mouth and nose to give the sensation of drowning), forced “rectal feeding” when he went on hunger strike, beatings and sexual assault.
Khan pleaded guilty in 2012 and agreed to cooperate in the prosecutions of other suspects. He confessed to being an al-Qaida courier and delivering $50,000 from Pakistan to one of the terror organisation’s affiliates in Indonesia, where the money was used to fund the bombing of a hotel in Jakarta in 2003.
He also admitted to plotting a suicide bomb attack against Pakistan’s former president, Pervez Musharraf, an attack which never took place.
“I have been given a second chance in life and I intend to make the most of it,” Khan said in his statement on Thursday.
“I deeply regret the things that I did many years ago, and I have taken responsibility and tried to make up for them. I continue to ask for forgiveness from God and those I have hurt. I am truly sorry.
“I promise all of you, especially the people of Belize that I will be a productive, law-abiding member of society,” Khan said.
After they heard his confession and his torture at the hands of the CIA, several jurors at his military trial in 2021 urged leniency, saying his treatment was “a stain on the moral fibre of America”.
His sentence was reduced from 26 years to 10, to start from his guilty plea in 2012. When his sentence was completed in March 2022, the US government said it had not been able to find a country willing to host him, noting that it had been in discussion with 11 different governments.
Eamon Courtenay, Belize’s foreign minister, visited Khan in Guantánamo in October, to discuss his resettlement.
Courtenay told journalists on Thursday: “He is being resettled on humanitarian grounds, just as our country has done for thousands of migrants and refugees throughout the years.”
With Khan’s release, there are now 34 prisoners still in Guantánamo Bay, of whom only 11 have been charged in the military tribunals.