As “The Report,” About the CIA Torture Program, Is Released Online, Guantánamo Prisoner Ahmed Rabbani Urges People to Watch It

26.11.19

The poster for “The Report,” about the CIA torture program, and Guantánamo prisoner and former CIA “black site” prisoner Ahmed Rabbani.

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Two weeks ago I published an article about the new movie “The Report” — which looks at the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program — entitled, CIA Torture Report Author Says More Than 119 Prisoners Were Held in “Black Sites” and More Than Three Were Waterboarded, in which I drew on a Vice News interview with former Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones, the lead author of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the torture program, on which the film is based.

Jones — and his team — are true American heroes, having, despite considerable opposition, trawled through six million CIA documents to produce a 6,700-page report that, via its 500-page executive summary, which is all that has been publicly released, is unstinting in its denunciation of the brutality and pointlessness of the torture program. I made his comments available — and focused in particular on the troubling statistics in the article’s title — because I thought it was extremely significant that Jones concluded that there were clearly more than the 119 prisoners included in the report, because the CIA “had no idea how many people they detained,” and that more than three prisoners were subjected to waterboarding, because, as he says, “We found a picture of a waterboard at a detention site where there were no records of any waterboarding taking place, but it had clearly been used.”

“The Report” had its theatrical release on November 15, to generally enthusiastic reviews — an 83% approval rating on the movie aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes,  based on 178 reviews, with 83% approval from audiences too. Last week, I spoke about it on a US radio show, and in just three days’ time, on November 29, it will be released on Amazon Prime.

To take advantage of the increased interest in the torture program because of the film’s release, the lawyers for one of the acknowledged 119 torture victims — Ahmed Rabbani, one of around 40 “black site” prisoners to end up at Guantánamo, where he has now been held for 15 years — secured an op-ed for Rabbani in USA Today, which I’m cross-posting below, because of the uniqueness of having a “black site” prisoner’s response to the film. 

Rabbani, of course, doesn’t expect to be allowed to see it, but he urges all US citizens to do so, to help to understand what happened to him and all the other men held in the US’s disgraceful global network of torture prisons in the years after 9/11. 

With reference to his own case, I knew that he was seized in Karachi on September 10, 2002, and that he has always claimed that he was a case of mistaken identity — a taxi driver rather than who the US authorities thought he was: the Al-Qaeda operative Hassan Ghul. What I had missed in my reading of the unclassified summary, however, is that, just the day after his capture, the authorities realized their mistake. As a footnote in the report explained, by Sept. 11, 2002, “it was determined that an individual named Muhammad Ahmad Ghulam Rabbani, aka Abu Badr, and his driver were arrested, not Hassan Ghul.”

What I also hadn’t realized is that Rabbani knew this because, as he describes it, he “was one of the few detainees allowed to receive a copy of the heavily redacted executive summary of the report, under the rule that says a prisoner can see such unclassified material if it pertains to him.”

The US authorities later captured the real Hassan Ghul, only to spare him the kinds of torture visited on Rabbani because he was “cooperative,” and he was later released, eventually to be killed in a drone attack. Reflecting on how an Al-Qaeda operative could be released after being “cooperative,” while Rabbani himself, a nobody, is still held, he was able only to conclude, with some justification, “This is not ineptitude — it is insanity.”

Rabbani also explained how the unclassified summary revealed to him that, of the 119 men acknowledged to have been held in “black sites,” he was “one of 17 prisoners whose torture happened ‘without the approval’ of the CIA,” an admission that led him to ask, “Is it a better, or uglier, reflection on the CIA if torture was authorized? And was the CIA officer who tortured me without permission punished for it, or was he possibly promoted for his patriotic labors?”

The only point at which I think Rabbani’s criticism is misguided is when he chastises Jones and his team for not having spoken to him and other “black site” prisoners. “There is no explanation why Daniel Jones only reviewed CIA documents and never spoke to us, the victims of torture,” Rabbani states, but the truth is that the report’s remit only involved CIA documents, and, in any case, even if Jones had tried to interview Rabbani, he would have been forbidden to do so. In the nearly 18 years of Guantánamo’s existence, access to the prisoners has been so severely restricted that, outside of the ICRC, the men’s lawyers and, on a handful of occasions, independent US mental health and medical experts, no one has been allowed to talk to them except the US military and representatives of the intelligence services. Several United Nations Rapporteurs on Torture, for example, have persistently asked to be allowed to visit the prison and to talk to prisoners in an unsupervised manner, but these requests have always been turned down. 

Ahmed Rabbani’s article is below. I hope you have time to read it, and that you’ll share via if you find it useful. And don’t forget to watch “The Report”!

Guantánamo Bay detainee: I lived through CIA torture. Everyone else can catch the movie.
By Ahmed Rabbani, USA Today, November 19, 2019

I will likely never be allowed to see “The Report.” In the movie, Adam Driver plays Daniel J. Jones, the staffer for Sen. Dianne Feinstein who spent several years putting together a 6,700 page Senate committee report on the CIA’s use of torture in the wake of 9/11. 

The censors will not likely let the movie reach my detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

My lawyers have told me about it. As it happens, I was one of the few detainees allowed to receive a copy of the heavily redacted executive summary of the report, under the rule that says a prisoner can see such unclassified material if it pertains to him. My name appears multiple times in the report. For a nobody taxi driver from Karachi, Pakistan, that is a regrettable claim to fame.

It is interesting to hear about the film, and I am glad Amazon had the courage to make it [actually, Amazon is the distributor; the film was made by VICE Studios and three partners]. On the other hand, there are some omissions that make me sad. There is no explanation why Daniel Jones only reviewed CIA documents and never spoke to us, the victims of torture. I cannot think of another inquiry like it. Imagine that inquests into genocide in Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia took place hearing only from the murderers but not from those who suffered, or their families?

Enhanced interrogation is torture

If Jones had asked, I would have told him that his footnote 595 — where the CIA asserts that I only suffered “forced standing, attention grasps and cold temperatures” in the dark prison in Afghanistan — was a cruel joke.

I would have described the week I spent in a dark pit hanging by my wrists, forever on tiptoes, while my shoulders gradually dislocated — what the Spanish Inquisition used to call “strappado.” I would have mentioned the ear-splitting noise blasted at me round the clock and the beatings every time I began to sleep.

My name appears in a table of 119 people subjected to the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Does anyone believe that these “EITs” were not torture? If so, they should try it sometime.

I am also one of 17 prisoners whose torture happened “without the approval” of the CIA. Is it a better, or uglier, reflection on the CIA if torture was authorized? And was the CIA officer who tortured me without permission punished for it, or was he possibly promoted for his patriotic labors?

Some elements of my torture I have long known — I was there — but I did learn some important facts from the executive summary. The Pakistani authorities arrested me and turned me over to the United States, saying I was terrorist Hassan Ghul. I denied this from day one of my detention, Sept. 10, 2002.

At the time, the CIA officers seemed sure I was Ghul — they interrogated me about it endlessly. Apparently, they were less credulous than I thought. On page 325, I read that by Sept. 11, 2002, “it was determined that an individual named Muhammad Ahmad Ghulam Rabbani, aka Abu Badr, and his driver were arrested, not Hassan Ghul.”

In other words, they knew they had made a mistake within a day. More than 6,200 days later, they still keep me detained. 

Showing a taste of the truth

At one point, they actually captured Hassan Ghul. In January 2004, after I had spent over a year in detention, he was brought to the dark prison called Detention Site Cobalt, but he was found to be “cooperative” and so was there for only two days and was initially not subjected to any EITs. 

Ghul was later released back to Pakistan, free to resume his wicked ways, but a U.S. drone finally killed him in 2012. 

I, meanwhile, was sent to Guantánamo Bay in September 2004 to become a forever prisoner — held without trial for 17 years and counting.

The cynic in me wonders how Ghul could be seen as “cooperative” while I was not. This is not ineptitude — it is insanity.

My lawyers tell me that I only appear in the film as a picture on the wall of the secure facility in the CIA basement where Jones toiled for so long. I am sorry that I am unlikely to see it for myself, but I would like to thank those who made it, as well as the real Daniel Jones.

Nothing can change what happened to me, as that is in the past. I do want the world to know about the torture we suffered at the hands of CIA officers, though, because if we do not learn from history we will be doomed to repeat our mistakes — and I would hate for anyone else to endure what I have had to endure. For now, I encourage everyone to watch “The Report,” to get just a taste of the truth.

* * * * *

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 music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in 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, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.55), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from seven years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

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20 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    As “The Report,” the new movie about the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the CIA torture program, is about to be released on Amazon Prime (on Nov. 29), here’s a cross-post, with my own commentary, of an op-ed in USA Today by Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed Rabbani, who is one of the 119 acknowledged CIA “black site” prisoners.

    I thought it was significant to hear from one of the prisoners themselves. I knew that Ahmed Rabbani, represented by Reprieve, has always maintained that he is a case of mistaken identity, but I didn’t know that everyone mentioned in the torture report received a copy of the unclassified summary, or that Rabbani discovered from his copy that the CIA knew that he wasn’t who they thought he was the day after he was seized in Pakistan – over 17 long years ago.

    Ahmed Rabbani doesn’t expect to be allowed to see “The Report,” but he urges everyone who can to do so. As he says, “Nothing can change what happened to me, as that is in the past. I do want the world to know about the torture we suffered at the hands of CIA officers, though, because if we do not learn from history we will be doomed to repeat our mistakes — and I would hate for anyone else to endure what I have had to endure.”

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone liking and sharing this. I have no love for Amazon, because of their tax avoidance and appalling working conditions, but, as I note in the article, the only way to see the film, outside of its theatrical release, is via Amazon Prime, where it will be available in two days’ time: https://www.amazon.com/Report-Adam-Driver/dp/B07YVLC8R2
    I wish Vice News, the main producer of the film, had their own way of making the film available online.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia R Scott wrote:

    Andy I feel the same, supposedly Amazon gives ICE information on immigrants but I look forward to watching the film.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, there’s such a huge number of problems with Amazon, Natalia, but what can we do?
    Wikipedia article here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Amazon

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Dorrine Marshall wrote:

    Will see it on the 29th. Best to do before dinner though….

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I rather think so, Dorrine 😉

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    When my friend Jan Strain shared this, she wrote:

    Seriously, folks….This is a movie to watch. It may not be “entertaining” and, yes, we know it will be skewed BUT … If we don’t know the history, how can we stop it from happening again?

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for sharing, Jan. Let’s hope it gets a good audience via Amazon Prime. Wikipedia notes that, two weeks ago, it only opened in 84 theaters, and was only showing in 60 last weekend. When ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ came out, in contrast, with its enthusiastic and misguided support of torture, it was shown everywhere.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    I have it ready to go here….
    As for ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ – that was a CIA “guided” movie … ‘Nuff said

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, there’s quite a history of military and CIA involvement in Hollywood, isn’t there, Jan? The most recent analysis was “National Security Cinema” by Tom Secker and Matthew Alford, who wrote about it here: https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/exclusive-documents-expose-direct-us-military-intelligence-influence-on-1-800-movies-and-tv-shows-36433107c307
    For “Zero Dark Thirty”, however, I think screenwriter Mark Boal indicted himself when he told Entertainment Weekly, uncritically, that “the years I had spent talking to military and intelligence operators involved in counter-terrorism was helpful” to the creation of the script for the film. Like a true servile “patriot”, he evidently didn’t think it necessary to have spent time talking to people who disagreed with the military and intelligence services’ own assessment of themselves – and as we know so resoundingly from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report, and from the little-known Armed Services Committee report on detention policies in the “war on terror”, the stories the military and the CIA told themselves were far from the brutal, pointless and counter-productive truth.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Hanann Abu Brase wrote:

    At least these people are showing the CIA torture chambers instead of CIA heroes like Hollywood which is also full of bastards mistreating staff I’m sure.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    That sounds about right, Hanann. Good to hear from you.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Asiya Muhammad wrote:

    I saw a clip from the trailer and was in tears, it is utterly harrowing. I don’t know how people who went through these horrors are still sane 😑 how are there still people held in Guantanamo !! how is there still no justice with so much blatant evidence available !! It’s heartbreaking.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I agree, Asiya. It’s genuinely shocking that there is so much indifference to these men’s suffering, and to the criminal responsibility of those who implemented and undertook their torture.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Asiya Muhammad wrote:

    Andy, yes and on every level, everyone’s gotten away with it.
    In the UK people were forced to sign documents to prevent anyone being prosecuted, given promises and assurances on that signing that were not fulfilled by the government responsible.
    The cases and evidences against the rendition flight carriers thrown out of court, even the torture enquiry was shut down 😑 It’s not like people haven’t tried to get justice. They’re simply denied it at every level. Its just so very wrong, it’s hard for people to heal and move on.
    Without justice there is no acknowledgement of wrong doing and the fear that this could happen to them again is always hanging there.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    I absolutely agree, Asiya. It is a culture of impunity – and, as you say, without accountability there is no reason for victims to assume that, in any meaningful way, they are safe. It’s an absolute disgrace.

  17. Anna says...

    !7 years and counting of terrible suffering, because some $#&$^#% cowards would not admit they had made a mistake, apologise for the ‘inconvenience caused’ and immediately release him. Instead release someone who might be a true security threat. Insane indeed !
    US tax payers should know about this and realize in addition to the immorality of it, how much keeping him unnecessarily in Guantanamo, has cost them.

    A small mercy, the Australian who had been held by the taliban for three years and was recently freed, in spite of the ordeal as such, does not demonise them. Hope he’ll use this no doubt life-changing experience to advocate for a more nuanced assessment of the taliban and other muslims, based on his own nuanced experience:
    https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/12/australian-freed-taliban-recounts-rescue-attempts-forces-191201085232188.html

    As for all the Seals’ failed attempts to rescue him, he should be grateful they never got anywhere near him, as he might have gotten killed in the process. They have a sad record of killing not only the kidnappers, but also the victim…

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, the whole mistaken identity scenario is a shameful situation, Anna – although the US authorities maintain that he was an Al-Qaeda facilitator “who had the full trust and confidence of al-Qaida leadership”: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/guantanamo/detainees/1461-mohammed-ahmad-ghulam-rabbani
    If that’s the case, though, we have to ask why he has never been charged in the military commissions. As ever, the whole thing stinks of injustice. We know Rabbani was tortured, and yet, objectively, even if the US’s information about him (not about him being Hassan Ghul) is accurate, it appears to be yet another example of someone abandoned in Guantanamo when he should have been tried in federal court for providing material support for terrorism. It happened with Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the Tanzanian who is the only prisoner transferred to the US mainland to face a trial, and who was successfully convicted (albeit only on one count) and given a life sentence, even though he was also tortured in “black sites.” However, the Republicans shut down the option of transfer to the US mainland to face trials, and now we never hear anything more about it, even though, as a result, Guantanamo, at $14m a year per prisoner, is simply a dumping ground for people the US no longer even wants to try to prosecute, and appears to be content with leaving them at Guantanamo until they die of old age, which is surely unacceptable from any legal point of view.
    As for Timothy Weeks and Kevin King, “both professors at the American University in Kabul”, thanks for letting me know about their story, which I had missed. Weeks’ assessment of his captors is important – soldiers obeying commands, as they are required to, and yet amongst them were some “lovely people.” I don’t imagine that point of view will be particularly amplified in the US media.

  19. Anna says...

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I saw that, Anna. Obviously, millions – billions? – of items are sold via Amazon on an ongoing basis, but I’m sure they also employ people to monitor what’s being sold, and I’m somewhat surprised that it slipped through the net. As with so much of the new online capitalism, it strikes me that we’re largely in the dark when it comes to how companies like Amazon operate. Facebook, for example, has unaccountable police bots, which ban people on all kinds of bases – often unfair – without any way of them challenging it. There’s no dedicated phone line staffed by thousands of people, which there should be, and we don’t know who programs the police bots, or on what basis decisions are taken, although it’s pretty clear that there’s a regular ban on groups criticising the behaviour of the Israeli state, for example.

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Andy Worthington

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 (The State of London).
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