In trying to catch up on a few stories I’ve missed out on reporting about recently, I’d like to draw readers’ attention to a petition submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Mohammad Rahim, a CIA torture victim held at Guantánamo, who was, in fact, the last prisoner to arrive at the prison in March 2008.
The petition was submitted by Major James Valentine, Rahim’s military defence attorney, and the researcher Arnaud Mafille, and it follows previous submissions to the IACHR on behalf of Djamal Ameziane, whose release was requested in April 2012 (and who was eventually released, but not as a direct result of the IACHR ruling), and Moath al-Alwi, whose lawyers submitted a petition on his behalf in February 2015, which led to the IACHR issuing a resolution on March 31, 2015 calling for the US to undertake “the necessary precautionary measures in order to protect the life and personal integrity of Mr. al-Alwi,” on the basis that, “After analyzing the factual and legal arguments put forth by the parties, the Commission considers that the information presented shows prima facie that Mr. Moath al-Alwi faces a serious and urgent situation, as his life and personal integrity are threatened due to the alleged detention conditions.”
Al-Alwi was, at the time, a hunger striker, and in the petition his lawyers stated that, “During his detainment at Guantánamo, Mr. al-Alwi has been systematically tortured and isolated. He has been denied contact with his family, slandered and stigmatized around the globe. He has been denied an opportunity to develop a trade or skill, to meet a partner or start a family. He has been physically abused, only to have medical treatment withheld.”
Unfortunately, although the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is a key part of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mission is “to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere,” and whose resolutions are supposed to be binding on the US, which is a member state, the US failed to act on the resolution regarding Moath al-Alwi, who remains held at Guantánamo, with no sign that there has been any improvement in his treatment. In September 2015, when he weighed just 97 pounds, he had a review at Guantánamo — a Periodic Review Board, a high-level parole-type process involving the main government departments and the intelligence agencies — which recommended his ongoing imprisonment, and last November, after he had given up his hunger strike, he had a second review, but was again recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, on the basis that, as the board members described it, they were “unable to determine” whether he had “had a change in his extremist mindset.”
The Periodic Review Boards, which began in November 2013, were convened to review the cases of 64 prisoners who had been determined, by a previous review process, 2009’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, as being either “too dangerous to release” (despite a lack of evidence) or as suitable candidates for prosecution (until the trial system at Guantánamo largely fell apart under judicial scrutiny).
As another of the prisoners facing Periodic Review Boards, Mohammad Rahim (aka Muhammad Rahim) had his case reviewed on August 4, 2016 and was approved for ongoing detention on September 19, 2016.
As I explained at the time of his PRB:
Muhammad Rahim, who was born in November or December 1965, was the last prisoner to arrive at Guantánamo, in March 2008, when he was described as “a close associate” of Osama bin Laden. He has been described as a “high-value detainee” — one of only 16 held at the prison — but if this was the case he would surely have been put forward for prosecution, suggesting that, as with so many of the prisoners held at Guantánamo, his significance has been exaggerated.
Little was subsequently heard of Rahim, but at the end of 2012 his attorney, Carlos Warner, a federal public defender for the Northern District of Ohio, released letters that showed a different side to his client than the associate of bin Laden described by the US authorities. In one letter, Rahim wrote, “I like this new song Gangnam Style. I want to do the dance for you but cannot because of my shackles.”
Nevertheless, despite the many examples of Rahim’s sense of humor and his fascination with US culture, as well as supportive testimony from his brother, an asylum seeker in the UK, the board members ended up concluding that he “was a trusted member of al-Qa’ida who worked directly for senior members of al-Qa’ida, including Usama Bin Laden [sic], serving as a translator, courier, facilitator, and operative.” They also claimed that he “had advanced knowledge of many al-Qa’ida attacks, to include 9/11, and progressed to paying for, planning, and participating in the attacks in Afghanistan against US and Coalition targets.”
As I explained at the time, “I must note, in passing, that I find it highly unlikely that an Afghan, however trusted, would have been privy to advance discussions about the 9/11 attacks, which would have required considerable secrecy to ensure their success,” and, as his civilian lawyer, Carlos Warner, explained to the Miami Herald, the board “didn’t get the full picture” because he — Warner — “wasn’t allowed” to participate in his client’s hearing.” Warner said, “He had no knowledge about 9/11 in advance. He is being held because he was in a black site, not because of what he did. if he did those things, why didn’t they charge him?” — all valid comments and questions, with which I concur.
Although an administrative review of Rahim’s case took place last month, it is not expected that he will be approved for release as a result of it. These file reviews take place every six months, and eventually — within three years at the most — he will get another full review, at which he will be able to speak directly, via video link, to the officials who make the decisions about whether or not to approve him for release.
This, however, is a considerable wait for another review in which he can participate, and consequently I find it entirely appropriate that he is appealing to the IACHR to try to put pressure on the US to acknowledge that the circumstances of his imprisonment are not, in any way, in accordance with internationally recognized standards, and to publicize the ongoing limbo in which he finds himself.
Below I’m posting excerpts from the submission, which tell Rahim’s story from his own point of view and that of his lawyers. I hope you have time to read the excerpts, and to share this article if you find them useful.
Sadly, no media outlet whatsoever has deigned to publish anything about Rahim’s petition, despite the fact that his lawyers claim that he “was placed among the ‘high value detainees’ (HVD) at Guantánamo Bay” solely “to conceal the history of his torture by the CIA,” and this sorry situation is made all the more alarming because, on March 21, Donald Trump showed his administration’s disdain for the IACHR by refusing to appear at hearings scheduled to discuss US activities that are of ongoing concern to the IACHR.
The United States has never released credible evidence that Mohammad Rahim was a combatant, a terrorist or an important member of Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. By all accounts, he was merely a local Afghan whose ancestral village was located near the mountainous areas in Nangarhar province where Al-Qaeda was operating before December 2001. The worst allegation against Mohammad Rahim is that he served as a Pashto translator, “facilitator,” and guide to the Arabs who belonged to Al-Qaeda. All of the evidence against him is highly secretive, contradictory, lacking in credibility and inherently unreliable as it was coerced during detainee interrogations. It is unknown how much of it was derived from torture.
Mohammad Rahim never belonged to either Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. On the contrary, he was politically loyal to Hezb-I-Islami, whose leader, Hekmaytar, recently signed peace agreements with the government of Afghanistan and has agreed to share in the peaceful governance of the nation.
Mohammad Rahim was the son of a tribal chief in Chaparhar district, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. Chaprahar district lies between the Tora Bora mountains, which serve as the frontier to Pakistan and contain numerous points of passage between the two countries, and the city of Jalalabad. His family fled to Pakistan as refugees from the Soviets during the 1980s. Two of his older brothers were killed by the Soviets during the occupation.
Mohammad Rahim was raised in Peshawar … where he became a school teacher for the children of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. He taught at both primary school and middle school and the subject he taught included geography, mathematics, languages and religion. In 1984, he was reimbursed five rupees per day from the school and two rupees per day from the International Red Cross.
By 1992, Mohammad Rahim was engaged in traveling back and forth between Jalalabad and Peshawar buying and selling wheat. At some point in 1994, the United Nations and the government in Jalalabad agreed to prohibit the cultivation of poppy. This led to the placement of a U.N. drug control office in Jalalabad. Mohammad Rahim earned a position in the drug control office as a finance officer where he earned approximately 600 rupees per month.
During this time, many Arabs remained in the area outside of Jalalabad following their participation in the U.S. backed defeat of the Soviet occupation. Because of his language skills and intelligence, Mohammad Rahim provided a variety of services to the Arabs including mostly serving as a translator.
When some of the Arabs from Jalalabad moved to Tarnak Farms, the Al-Qaeda compound near Qandahar, Mohammad Rahim accompanied them and continued to serve as a translator and facilitator for the group but he is not alleged to have undergone or administered any type of training at the compound.
After 1998, Mohammad Rahim returned to Chaprahar district where he continued to serve as a translator for the Arabs in Jalalabad. In October of 1999, he moved to Peshawar after learning that his father had developed cancer. He stayed there until his father died in June of 2001. Afterwards, he moved to Kabul where he operated a taxi to earn a living. It was during this time that the attacks of September 11 occurred.
Mohammad Rahim learned of the September 11th attacks over the radio listening to the BBC. After the attacks, the United States began bombing Kabul and, later, Jalalabad. Mohammad Rahim returned to Chaprahar where he anticipated the arrival of United States ground troops but witnessed only relentless aerial bombing. On or about November, 2001, Arab Al-Qaeda members came to Mohammad Rahim’s ancestral home and requested assistance in guiding the Arabs through the Tora Bora mountain regions. For approximately the following month, Mohammad Rahim assisted in guiding the Arabs to and through the Tora Bora. His primary motive was money and he was paid approximately 25,000 rupees as a result.
One of the Arabs who escaped through the Tora Bora was, allegedly, Osama bin Laden. As a result, the United States intelligence services began an intense effort to capture Mohammad Rahim and anyone who could provide information related to the movements of Osama bin Laden and the other Arabs from Tora Bora.
For the next seven years, Mohammad Rahim lived peacefully in Pakistan with his two wives and children. On or about June 25, 2007, he was captured while walking in an open market with his family. Within days, he was taken to an undisclosed secret detention facility where he was subject to “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs) inflicted by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for approximately nine months in violation of U.S. and international law, specifically in violation of the 1984 United Nations Convention against Torture.
Mohammad Rahim was the final detainee admitted into the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program. At the time of his arrest, no reliable intelligence sources indicated that he was an important member of Al-Qaeda or any international terrorist organization.
In March 2002, CIA Headquarters had expanded its scope of detention operations and instructed CIA personnel that it would be appropriate to detain individuals who might not be high-value targets in their own right, but could provide information on high-value targets. Mohammad Rahim was never a target in his own right, but was detained for information he might have.
Accordingly, in order to torture Mohammad Rahim, the interrogators sought specific permission to do so. On July 20, 2007, the Office of Legal Counsel approved his torture. The next day, the CIA initiated the employment of six specifically approved methods of enhanced interrogation: sleep deprivation, dietary manipulation, facial grasp, facial slap, abdominal slap, and the attention grab. The torture continued for approximately nine months. The method of sleep deprivation was executed by shackling Mohammad Rahim in a standing position for extended periods of time. According to the SSCI, the longest period of sleep deprivation was 138.5 hours.
The CIA’s detention and interrogation of Mohammad Rahim resulted in no disseminated intelligence reports. On April 21, 2008, and April 22, 2008, the CIA conducted an internal investigation to learn why, despite months of torture, Mohammad Rahim provided no intelligence – overlooking the obvious conclusion that he did not know what he was alleged to have known.
Following the United States’ failed attempt to extract intelligence from Mohammad Rahim by torture, he was flown to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba where he was placed among the “high value detainees” (HVD) at Guantánamo Bay. The only reason he is kept there is to conceal the history of his torture by the CIA. His character and personality are anomalous compared to the other Camp 7 detainees and he is very much out-of-place there. No reliable evidence has ever indicated that Mohammad Rahim was a fighter or an important member of Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. He was merely a local Afghan whose ancestral village was located near the mountainous areas in Nangarhar province where Al-Qaeda was operating before December 2001. The worst allegation against Mohammad Rahim is that he served as a translator, “facilitator,” and guide to the Arabs in Al-Qaeda. Therefore, his detention in Camp 7 serves only to hide the evidence of the failed torture interrogation methods that were employed against him.
His continued detention at Camp 7 has been secretive and indefinite. He has not been provided a meaningful basis to challenge his detention. On February 9, 2009, his detention was reviewed by a Combatant Status Review Board (CSRB) which recommended that he not be released. Nearly seven years later, on September 16, 2016, a Periodic Review Board (PRB) conducted a second secret hearing which also recommend that he not be released. In both cases, Mohammad Rahim and his assigned counsel were not permitted to know what the evidence or the allegations against him were. On the contrary, the United States government has maintained that a detainee at Guantánamo Bay has “no right to discovery.”
Mohammad Rahim was beaten, hanged for days at a time, deprived of sleep and starved in a fruitless attempt to gain intelligence related to the activities of people who were far above him in positions of social and organizational authority. A common torture method that was implemented during this time consisted of the interrogator crushing Mohammad Rahim’s testicles while asking questions. For the entire nine month period he was kept in a small, windowless cell where he was chained to either the wall or the ceiling and subject to deafening, ambient noise that masked the sounds of his screams even to his own ears. Except for the torturers and interrogators, his existence was entirely solitary.
Furthermore, the solitary confinement and forced isolation of Mohammad Rahim did not end with his transfer to Guantánamo Bay. Since his arrival at Guantánamo Bay, Mohammad Rahim has been kept in near seclusion within the notorious “Camp 7” at Guantánamo Bay, with fourteen other prisoners who have been characterized as “high value.” The location and conditions of his confinement as well as the rules and the identity of the authorities who control his prison remain highly classified. To date he does not know where his initial nine months of confinement and torture occurred.
Finally, as a direct result of the torture inflicted on Mohammad Rahim by the CIA, he continues to suffer from numerous medical problems for which that the United States refuses to provide treatment or to allow him to seek his own treatment.
Mohammad Rahim’s wrists are visibly mangled from being hanged for long periods of time and he is forced to wear protective sleeves over both wrists to ameliorate the pain.
Mohammad Rahim suffers from serious and painful nerve damage in his back from being hanged for long and repeated periods of time, some exceeding one hundred thirty four hours.
Mohammad Rahim’s ankles are permanently damaged from being shackled and hanged for long and repeated periods of time and swelling to the size of elephant feet, approximately twelve inches in diameter.
Mohammad Rahim cannot eat and digest most types of food due to severe corruption of his digestive faculties as a direct result of the CIA’s implementation of starvation methods, otherwise referred to as “food manipulation,” during his interrogation. He also cannot sleep uninterrupted without the constant discharge of acidic bile directly resulting the periods of starvation and the corruption of his digestive system.
Mohammad Rahim lives in pain as the result of his torture and the United States government refuses to provide him medical treatment. In fact, the United States refuses to even release his own medical records to him and his assigned counsel.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:
Here’s my latest article, about a recent submission to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (which monitors the US’s observance of human rights) on behalf of Mohammad Rahim, an alleged “high-value detainee” who was the last prisoner to be brought to Guantanamo in March 2008, after torture in CIA “black sites.” Sadly, no other media outlet has seen fit to report this story, a situation made all the more alarming by the fact that, just two weeks ago, representatives of the Trump administration refused to attend scheduled hearings of the IACHR to discuss outstanding issues of concern. Please like and share if you find it useful.
Apologies for posting so late. It’s been a busy few days – first my band The Four Fathers‘ gig as part of the Telegraph Hill Festival, then my son’s performance at part of the BAC Beatbox Academy, and then, today, the hottest day of the year, demanding some rest and recreation. However, I don’t generally like to leave more than two days between articles, and today marked three days since my last posting, hence the late publication of this article.
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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