Apparently the Administration is leveraging torture victims into plea bargained fact witnesses. This article reveals some of the details (I know it is from February, but I somehow missed it. And the fact that it hasn't been all over the news suggests that worrying about it hasn't gained much traction).
When a suburban Baltimore high school graduate steps out of the shadows of CIA detention this week to admit to serving the senior leadership of al Qaida, the Obama administration will be unveiling its latest strategy toward an endgame.
Majid Khan has agreed to be a government witness at future military commissions, sources say, in exchange for Wednesday’s guilty plea and the possibility of return to his native Pakistan in four years. It’s part of an evolving effort to quell criticism that confessions were extracted through torture by offering live testimony from willing captive witnesses.
“It’s like organized crime,” said retired Air Force Col. Morris Davis, a Bush-era Pentagon war crimes prosecutor. “Sometimes you pick the lesser of the two evils and bargain with who you can.”
Federal prosecutors describe Khan, who turns 32 Tuesday, as a one-time willing foot soldier for radical Islam. He allegedly recorded a martyr’s message and donned a fake bomb vest in 2003 in a test to see whether he was willing to kill then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. He allegedly delivered $50,000 from Pakistan to Thailand, money used to fund an al Qaida affiliate’s August 2003 suicide attack on a Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia. Eleven people died, and more than 80 others were wounded.
The attack’s alleged architect, Riduan Bin Ismouddin, an Indonesian man known as Hambali, and two reputed Malaysian deputies were, like Khan, subjected to years of secret CIA interrogations — never charged but still at Guantánamo and, according to a Malaysian newspaper’s report, in the queue to face military trials.
Khan has always been a bit of an anomaly among the CIA’s so-called “ghost prisoners” who were subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques.” His parents live in suburban Baltimore, where they moved the family in the ’90s and became legal residents. Khan graduated from Owings Mills High School in 1999 and went back to Pakistan after the 9/11 attacks over the objections of his parents, who hid his passport.
Pakistani security forces arrested him in 2003. FBI agents searched the family’s Baltimore house and trailed them for a time. The family heard no news of their son until September 2006 when President George W. Bush announced that “a terrorist named Majid Khan” was in custody and had confessed under interrogation to delivering “$50,000 to individuals working for a suspected terrorist leader named Hambali, the leader of al Qaeda’s Southeast Asian affiliate.”
A year later, defense attorneys filed a brief in federal court declaring him a torture victim of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program. “Khan admitted anything his interrogators demanded of him,” his lawyers wrote, “regardless of the truth, in order to end his suffering.”
According to transcripts, Khan told a military board in April 2007 that he emerged from CIA custody so despairing of his isolation that he tried to kill himself by chewing through an artery in his arm.
So this is the person who is going to give useful factual testimony as part of his plea bargain? This is the person whose testimony will be used to create the factual underpinnings for other convictions? The practice of leveraging a plea bargain into flipping you for testimony against people 'higher up the chain' has serious reliability problems built in, even as currently practiced. It seems like a great way to have the prosecution encourage perjury. But linking it with torture makes it even more obvious: torturing someone so much that they want to kill themselves, and then offering to free them if they give the 'right' testimony is almost guaranteed to get false testimony.
As John Quiggin wrote at Crooked Timber: "The idea that the state can torture someone, imprison them indefinitely, and then use their “voluntary” testimony (given in the hope of release) against another, then claim that this is an improvement on using confessions extracted by torture of the accused is more reminiscent of the legalisms of a totalitarian state than of anything that could be described as the rule of law."