Terror suspect challenges detention

October 05, 2006|By Siobhan Gorman | Siobhan Gorman,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON -- A terrorism suspect who lived in Catonsville has challenged his detention in federal court, making him the first of 14 "high-value" detainees transferred from secret CIA prisons to Guantanamo Bay to argue he is being wrongfully held.

It is also the first case to contest the legality of the CIA's secret prisons program, said lawyers for the suspect, Majid Khan.

Khan asserts in papers filed in federal District Court in Washington that he is far from the terrorist the government alleges him to be and confining him to a cell without providing an opportunity to contest his detention violates the Constitution and international law. He describes teaching basic computer skills to children in Baltimore and working for the Maryland state government, and denies membership in al-Qaida or ever being "a combatant of any kind."

Lawyers with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, a civil liberties group that is challenging several administration anti-terrorism policies, filed Khan's challenge Friday - hours before Congress passed President Bush's detainee law that prohibits an unlawful combatant from challenging his detention. It could become a high-profile test of the law, which applies retroactively, and of the secret CIA prisons.

"This is a case that will squarely challenge the legality of the CIA's secret prisons," said Wells Dixon, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights. "We intend to put the United States and the CIA on trial with respect to the use of torture and other forms of abuse."

The Justice Department just received the petition, said spokesman Brian Roehrkasse, and based on an initial review plans to oppose it.

Khan, 26, was arrested in Pakistan in March 2003 and detained in a CIA prison - where he was interrogated and, according to Bush, provided intelligence that led to the capture of another alleged al-Qaida operative, known as Zubair. In 1996, Khan moved from Pakistan to Catonsville, where he attended Owings Mills High School, and upon graduation in 1999, he worked in the area until 2002.

While that basic timeline is not in dispute, a one-page U.S. intelligence document released last month and Khan's 36-page petition describe two different people.

The government depicts a young Pakistani who never obtained U.S. citizenship, got caught up in a local Islamic organization and returned to Pakistan, where an uncle and cousin introduced him to Khalid Sheik Muhammad, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and enlisted in al-Qaida's cause.

Khan researched the feasibility of blowing up gas stations and poisoning reservoirs in the United States, the government asserts in a biography provided by the director of national intelligence. Khan took an explosives training course and passed a test, "which showed that Khan was committed to being a suicide operative," the biography says. He also delivered $50,000 to Zubair and concocted a plan to re-enter the country illegally, the document says.

Randall A. Blake, a top al-Qaida analyst at the National Counterterrorism Center, recently told Congress that Khan's "parents have said that after 9/11 a relative in Pakistan led him to al-Qaida and to 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Muhammad."

Khan's petition makes no mention of Muhammad or Zubair, or plots to blow up gas stations. Instead, it describes a "good, quiet student" at Owings Mills High School who graduated in 1999 and became a database administrator with the Maryland Office of Planning.

Khan said he also taught children computer skills at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, which according to the petition, began as a small group based at the Johns Hopkins University in 1968, and "provides a wide array of service to local Muslim families" and "promotes allegiance to democracy," it says.

While he was not a U.S. citizen, Khan said that he applied for and was granted asylum in 1998 and that he applied for permanent resident status in 1999, according to the petition.

In 2002, Khan returned to Pakistan with one of his brothers to get married, but after the wedding on Feb. 26, 2002, Khan moved back to the United States the next month "to continue working and to provide financial support for his wife," according to the petition. He went back to Pakistan at the end of that year to be with his wife, the petition states.

Khan contends that at the time he was captured he was "not a member of the Taliban government's armed forces or Al Qaeda."

siobhan.gorman@baltsun.com

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