Last week, the jury foreman said, was his closest encounter with a terrorist. They sat about 15 feet apart inside the courtroom at Guantánamo Bay, with the prisoner’s father and youngest sister watching at the back of the court.
Mr. Khan’s description of his torture were reminiscent of portrayals in the movie “Zero Dark Thirty” and “snippets of things” Captain Curtis had heard about torture. “What surprised me was that I had someone in front of me that it happened to,” he said.
Captain Curtis has had experience in irregular warfare. In 2010, while he commanded the U.S.S. Ashland, Somali pirates mistook his amphibious dock landing ship for a cargo ship and attacked it in the Gulf of Aden. “We blew them out of the water,” he said. At least five were captured and brought to the United States for trial. One got a 33-year sentence for cooperating with the government. The rest are serving life in federal prison.
In the case of Mr. Khan, his 26-year sentence was largely symbolic. When he pleaded guilty in 2012, he became a government cooperator and the parties agreed to delay sentencing so that Mr. Khan could demonstrate that cooperation as part of a deal that would, in exchange, reduce his eventual jury sentence.
But the jury was not told about the deal.
Captain Curtis said he had taught R.O.T.C. units in recent years and was keenly aware of “what 21-year-olds are capable of.” Mr. Khan, while in his 20s, “did some terrible things,” among them delivering $50,000 that was used to finance the 2003 bombing of a Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, that killed 11 people. “The 41-year-old man in front of us truly regretted what he had done.”
The captain said his letter intentionally “didn’t accuse anybody of illegal acts” and that he was familiar with what was authorized under Enhanced Interrogation. “But slamming his head against the wall every time they moved him and beating him while he was hooded, I don’t think those are legal acts. I think that falls into the category of torture.”
The letter asking a senior Pentagon official to grant mercy, or clemency, to Mr. Khan was not read aloud in court. The foreman gave it to the bailiff, a soldier in battle dress, who delivered it to Maj. Michael J. Lyness, Mr. Khan’s military defense attorney.