My sister was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Laura was an actor and a singer who performed off-Broadway and with touring theatre companies, but on Sep. 11, 2001, she had a lucrative freelance job stage managing and emceeing a two-day conference for financial investment executives. When the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, Laura was on the 106th floor.
Our father died in 2003, while the five men who today stand accused of planning and supporting the 9/11 attacks were being tortured at CIA black sites. Our mother died in 2013, a year after the 9/11 defendants were arraigned, for the second time, in a military commission at Guantánamo. Our parents never saw justice for Laura’s death. Frankly, until very recently, I had come to believe that there would not be any justice for 9/11 in my lifetime, either.
As I discuss below, the case of Majid Khan – who was tortured by the CIA, pleaded guilty in the military commissions, and finished serving his sentence on Mar. 1, 2022 – gave me renewed hope that it wasn’t too late for the other military commission cases to be resolved, however imperfectly. But four months later, Mr. Khan remains exactly where he’s been for the last 16 years. Every additional day that he languishes at Guantánamo – that the U.S. government fails to follow through on the promise it made to him – further jeopardizes what I firmly believe is my last chance, and that of other victim family members, to ever see any justice for the death of our loved ones.
Mr. Khan’s sentencing, which I attended, occurred 10 years after the acceptance of his plea agreement, in 2012. At the sentencing hearing, I and the other spectators in the courtroom gallery heard Mr. Khan’s confession and apology, followed by grueling testimony about his torture by CIA operatives. Days later, we learned of the jury’s unqualified condemnation of that torture and their outrage at Mr. Khan’s being held “without the basic due process under the U.S. Constitution.”
As a member of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows (Peaceful Tomorrows), I have pursued accountability, justice, and judicial finality for the crimes of 9/11. Peaceful Tomorrows, all of the members of which lost a family member in the 9/11 attacks, was founded in 2002. Among its earliest goals was to “encourage a multilateral, collaborative effort to bring those responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks to justice in accordance with the principles of international law.” By 2017, however, Peaceful Tomorrows’ members had grown convinced that the 9/11 military commission would never progress beyond a pre-trial phase. They began advocating for plea agreements to end the hopelessly stalled proceedings, but still the 9/11 pre-trial hearings ground on for another five and a half years.
Then, Mr. Khan’s sentencing produced a sea change in the Guantánamo military commissions. In March 2022, the prosecution and defense entered into negotiations to reach plea agreements in the 9/11 case. Earlier this month, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, who led insurgents against allied forces in Afghanistan, pleaded guilty to war crimes. These men and their attorneys are all closely watching what happens to Mr. Khan, who until now, despite the fact that his sentence ended on Mar. 1 of this year, remains detained at Guantánamo, with no foreseeable prospect of release.
On June 7, Mr. Khan petitioned the U.S. District Court of D.C. for a writ of habeas corpus, maintaining that his continued detention violates U.S. and international law. Peaceful Tomorrows subsequently filed an amicus brief supporting Mr. Khan. As Peaceful Tomorrows’ brief explains, 9/11 families have great interest in his petition:
Because of its interminable delay, the 9/11 military commission has not achieved justice for the victims of September 11, for the members of Peaceful Tomorrows, for the public as a whole, or for the 9/11 Defendants themselves.
Because of the failure of the 9/11 military commission to prosecute the 9/11 Defendants, Peaceful Tomorrows now believes that the only realistic mechanism for securing justice under the rule of law for the September 11 attacks—including the conviction of the 9/11 Defendants, their legal punishment, and the disclosure of information about their appalling crimes—is through plea agreements.
The brief lays out the importance of Mr. Khan’s timely release, in order to end other military commission cases—most crucially the 9/11 case.
The government’s failure . . . to transfer [Mr. Khan] and abide by the terms of its plea bargain with [him]—in a case likely to be closely watched by the 9/11 Defendants, their defense counsel and prosecutors—may dissuade the 9/11 Defendants from pleading guilty . . .
For members of Peaceful Tomorrows, ending the Guantánamo military commissions through plea agreements advances another of their organization’s long-term goals: the ultimate closure of the detention facilities at Guantánamo, and an end to the illegal use of torture and the misguided policy of pursuing justice through an offshore, extrajudicial system that has been plagued by legal and procedural uncertainties.
After more than 11 years, Peaceful Tomorrows has come to view the 9/11 military commissions at Guantánamo as more committed to preventing disclosure of the details about the 9/11 defendants’ torture than presenting information about how and why the 9/11 attacks were planned, financed, and carried out. Plea agreements could offer 9/11 families answers and provide judicial finality, while paving the way to meet the Biden administration’s avowed goal of closing Guantánamo once and for all.
As Peaceful Tomorrows’ brief concludes:
For two decades Peaceful Tomorrows’ families have waited for answers, information, acceptance of responsibility, and reliable, final convictions pursuant to the rule of law. In that time, many of Peaceful Tomorrows’ members, and other victims’ family members, have passed away never having seen a measure of justice served for the crimes that occurred on September 11, 2001. The government now has a chance—perhaps its last—to resolve the case against the 9/11 Defendants and provide these victims with the justice, finality and information they deserve. The success of that effort depends to a large degree on whether the government will follow through on its commitments and legal obligations.
The members of Peaceful Tomorrows are united in their agreement: the Biden administration must ensure that Mr. Khan is transferred to a country, other than Pakistan, where he can be reunited with his wife and daughter and begin to build a life after Guantánamo.