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The United States has reportedly offered a plea deal to Majid Khan — a hardened al-Qaeda terrorist and close associate of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — that could see him released from Guantanamo Bay within a few years.
Giving this killer a reduced sentence is outrageous. Khan is no run-of-the-mill terrorist. He was directly subordinate to KSM and was selected by the 9/11 mastermind to conduct terrorist operations inside the United States. Khan even passed a test KSM orchestrated, which showed Khan was committed to being a suicide operative. Khan agreed to help KSM set up a front business to smuggle explosives into the United States for use against economic targets and to lead a KSM plot to blow up gas stations along the East Coast, but he was captured before he had the chance to enter the United States. He had been charged with war crimes, including murder, attempted murder, spying and providing material support for terrorism — all of which could have earned him a life sentence. Instead, he might now be released.
“Giving this killer a reduced sentence is outrageous.” — Marc Thiessen
For what? Under the reported deal, Khan has agreed to testify against his fellow terrorists during the next four years at Guantanamo, after which he would then be eligible to be transferred to Pakistan. Khan knows a great deal about KSM and the core 9/11 conspirators — but it is hard to believe that his cooperation and testimony are really necessary to convict those terrorists. KSM has openly admitted — even boasted — of his role in 9/11 and dozens of other plots and attacks. There should be plenty of evidence against him and his principal collaborators.
Khan would be the first terrorist once held in CIA custody to be released from Guantanamo Bay. His CIA questioning was critical to protecting this country and demonstrates just how deeply embedded he was in al-Qaeda’s operations. It was Khan who provided the CIA with the critical intelligence that helped break up a network of Southeast Asian terrorists that KSM had recruited to carry out the “second wave” of attacks in the United States — including hijacking an airplane and flying it into the tallest building on the West Coast, the Library Tower in Los Angeles.
After Khan was captured, KSM told his CIA debriefers that he had assigned Khan to deliver $50,000 to an individual working for a leader of al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian affiliate Jemmaah Islamiyah (or “JI”) — money that was used to finance JI’s 2003 bombing of the Marriott hotel in Jakarta. CIA officials went to Khan’s cell and confronted him with this information from KSM. Khan confirmed KSM’s account and provided additional information — telling them that he had delivered the money to a JI operative named Zubair and providing a physical description of and a contact number for Zubair. This not only gave officials the ability to track down and capture Zubair — it gave the National Security Agency the opportunity to begin using signals intelligence to track the entire JI network.
Thanks to the information Khan provided, Zubair was captured in June 2003 and taken into CIA custody. Under questioning, Zubair revealed that he worked directly for a JI leader named Hambali, KSM’s partner in the West Coast plot. He provided information that was used to track down and capture Hambali as well as another key player in the JI plot — a terrorist named Bashir bin Lap (a.k.a. “Lillie”) who, according to the office of the director of national intelligence, “was slated to be a suicide operative for an al-Qaeda ‘second wave’ attack targeting Los Angeles.”
Agency officials informed KSM that both Lillie and Hambali has been captured and confronted him with detailed questions from their debriefings. When presented with this information, KSM finally provided more specific information on al-Qaeda’s operational plans with JI and the identities of JI operatives. KSM also provided information that helped lead to the capture of Hambali’s younger brother, Rusman Gunawan, whom KSM identified as the leader of the JI cell that was to carry out the West Coast plot. Once in custody, the brother identified a previously unknown cell of JI operatives — the Ghuraba Cell — that was hiding out in Karachi, Pakistan, awaiting orders. When confronted with his brother’s revelations, Hambali gave U.S. officials information that, together with intelligence from his brother, led to the capture of more than a dozen members of this cell.
The disruption of the Hambali network shows both the effectiveness and the unique value of the CIA detention and interrogation program. It was only because Majid Khan, KSM and other captured terrorists were held together in secret prisons that CIA officials were able to “triangulate” the detainees — using information from one to elicit more information from others and ultimately to track down and unravel the Hambali network.
The story also shows that Majid Khan was at the center of some of al-Qaeda’s most dangerous post-9/11 plotting. Khan worked side-by-side with KSM, vetted terrorist operatives for the 9/11 mastermind, delivered funds for a deadly terrorist attack in Indonesia and volunteered to be a suicide operative and to personally conduct terrorist attacks in the United States. The idea that the Obama administration would release this murderous man from Guantanamo Bay is astounding.
Marc A. Thiessen is a visiting fellow at AEI.
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