SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – A former Maryland resident who is detained at Guantanamo Bay seems to have acquired a cat at the isolated prison on a U.S. base in Cuba, a fellow prisoner says in a letter released Friday.
Majid Khan has not been seen in public since he pleaded guilty in February to aiding al-Qaida in a deal that requires him to testify against others at Guantanamo. Details of his confinement are shrouded in secrecy as he is one of about a dozen men the Pentagon calls "high-value detainees," who are kept apart from others.
The letter from prisoner Rahim al-Afghani has one intriguing bit of information and little else: "Majid Khan has a cat," he writes to his lawyer, Carlos Warner, a federal public defender in Cleveland, Ohio.
Warner, who released the letter after it had undergone a required government security review, said he suspects Khan may have gotten a pet as a reward for agreeing to cooperate. He can't disclose anything else the prisoner has said about this or any other subject because al-Afghani is also a high-value detainee and everything he says, even to his lawyer, is considered classified.
"I can't confirm or deny whether he wants an adorable kitten," Warner said in a phone interview.
Khan's lawyer, Wells Dixon, declined comment and a Pentagon spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Joseph Todd Breasseale, said he is prohibited from discussing any details about Khan's confinement.
Prisoners are not allowed to have pets but Breasseale said there are stray cats, as well as banana rats and iguanas, that roam the base and prisoners have been known to feed them, though prison officials discourage the practice. "It's possible he's befriended one," the spokesman said.
Khan moved with his family from Pakistan to the U.S. in 1996 and graduated from a high school in suburban Baltimore. He returned to his native country in 2002 and authorities say began plotting attacks with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has been charged with four other Guantanamo prisoners with orchestrating and aiding the Sept. 11 attacks. Khan's lawyers had wanted the terms of his plea deal kept secret to protect him and his family.
The 32-year-old Khan is expected to provide assistance to prosecutors in that case and perhaps even testify in the Sept. 11 trial. A pretrial hearing in the case is scheduled to be held at Guantanamo next week but the trial itself is likely at least a year off.
Al-Afghani's lawyer, meanwhile, complained that the chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo tribunal, Gen. Mark Martins, has been unwilling to hold discussions with attorneys for other prisoners unless their clients agree to cooperate with the government.
In his case, that might seem unlikely considering a second letter he released which references a famous side-switcher, Lebron James, the NBA superstar known for ditching the Cleveland Cavaliers for the championship-winning Miami Heat.
"Lebron James is very bad man," the prisoner wrote. "He should apologize to the city of Cleveland."
The contents of both letters were first published Friday in The Washington Post.
Little is publicly known about al-Afghani. The Pentagon said when he was transferred to Guantanamo in March 2008 that he was a high-level member of al-Qaida and a close associate of Osama bin Laden. The Associated Press previously reported that al-Afghani was subjected to severe sleep deprivation tactics, kept awake for six straight days with the use of chains that would automatically jerk his arms, while in CIA custody in 2007.
Al-Afghani has not been charged and the government has not said whether it will prosecute him, leaving him in limbo like many others held at the U.S. base in Cuba. Breasseale denied his lawyer's contention that the chief prosecutor is unwilling to discuss cases. "The prosecutor is willing to discuss every reasonable matter that has been brought to him by attorneys arguing relevant issues," he said.