90-Pound Guantánamo Hunger Striker Appeals in Court for Assistance from Pakistani Government


Guantanamo prisoner Ahmad Rabbani in a photo made available by his lawyers at the legal action charity Reprieve.On April 14, lawyers for Ahmad Rabbani (aka Mohammed Ahmad Ghulam Rabbani), one of the last few Pakistani prisoners in Guantánamo, “filed an emergency application with the Islamabad High Court, demanding that the Pakistani government intervene immediately in his case,” as the legal action charity Reprieve (which represents Mr. Rabbani) explained in a press release.

The filing notes that Mr. Rabbani “has been unlawfully captured and later on illegally detained, without a charge or notification of any pending or contemplated charges against him since 2001,” and that he “has been repeatedly tortured and subjected to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment as a result of gross and flagrant violation of national and international law.” The lawyers added that his  “unfortunate torture … still continues.”

In addition, the lawyers stated that Mr. Rabbani’s case “involves a matter of urgency, as the fundamental rights, life, health, liberty and dignity of a man, who has been unlawfully detained, admittedly on mistaken identity, without a due process of law or fair trial guarantees, is at stake.” They added, “The ongoing torture, humiliation and deterioration of health of a Pakistani citizen, who has a right over the state institutions to protection of his life, dignity and liberty requires this case to be heard on an urgent basis.”

As Reprieve explained in their press release, Ahmad Rabbani “has been on hunger strike for more than two years in protest at his detention without charge or trial in Guantánamo” for eleven years.

As I explained last year, when Mr. Rabbani submitted a motion to the District Court in Washington D.C. asking a judge to order videotapes of his force-feeding to be preserved, the father-of-three “was held in CIA ‘black sites’ (aka torture prisons) prior to his transfer to Guantánamo, with nine other men held in secret prisons, in September 2004.”

When Mr. Rabbani began his hunger strike, during a prison-wide hunger strike in 2013, he said that he had lost 60 pounds since the hunger strike began, and weighed just 107 pounds. “I vomit and cough blood,” he said, adding, “I have often thought of smashing my head against the wall and cracking it because of [severe pain].”

Now, however, Mr. Rabbani weighs even less. An affidavit submitted to the Pakistani court by Reprieve, whose lawyers recently visited Mr. Rabbani, “describes the damaging effect on his health of his brutal treatment at the prison –including daily force-feedings and ‘forced cell extractions’ (FCEs),” as Repreive’s press release explains. Moreover, the lawyers described him as looking “emaciated” during their latest visit.

Reprieve also explained that, according to Mr. Rabbani, “his weight has dropped to approximately 40kg” (90 pounds, or six stone and six pounds), and that he “regularly vomits and experiences numbness in his limbs, dizziness and fainting.” He also “described how his thigh has wasted away to the width of his calf.”

As with all my reports on prisoners wasting away as a result of hunger strikes, I lament as ever that no photos are available to show the world how some of the long-term hunger strikers in Guantánamo look like the survivors of the Nazis’ death camps in World War II, as I’m sure that a single released photograph would precipitate global outrage and calls for the prison’s swift closure.

Importantly, Mr. Rabbani’s lawyers submitted to the court a copy of the executive summary of the US Senate Intelligence Committee’s recent report on the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program, which reveals, as Reprieve put it, that “his 2002 arrest was a case of mistaken identity.” The report also “confirms that Mr. Rabbani was initially detained for 540 days in secret CIA jails before his transfer to Guantánamo, and was subjected to a number of violent interrogation methods that have been condemned as torture.”

Despite this, Mr. Rabbani has not been approved for release from Guantánamo, where 122 men are still held, 57 of whom have been approved for release. Disturbingly, he was recommended for prosecution by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, although in April 2013 the Defense Department determined that he was eligible for a Periodic Review Board, a process established in 2013 to review the cases of 71 men — 46 who had been designated for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial by the task force, and 25 others who had been recommended for prosecution.

However, just 13 reviews have taken place to date, and although nine men have been recommended for release, there is no sign of when the majority of the men — including Mr. Rabbani — who were deemed to be eligible for PRBs will have their cases reviewed. The appeal to the Pakistani court is, therefore, entirely appropriate given Mr. Rabbani’s serious health issues as a result of his hunger strike and the brutal treatment to which he has been subjected over the last 13 years.

Commenting on Mr. Rabbani’s case, Alka Pradhan, his lawyer at Reprieve’s US branch, said, “The US Senate report confirmed that Ahmed Rabbani was the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time 13 years ago — and that he was horribly tortured in US secret prisons. But he remains in Guantánamo — and after years of abuse, he is now dangerously ill. Ahmad’s hunger strike is a last desperate cry for help from the Pakistani government. They must now intervene in his case and bring him home.”

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, the co-director of “We Stand With Shaker,” calling for the immediate release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, 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.

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11 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, looking at the news that Ahmad Rabbani, a Pakistani prisoner and hunger striker in ‪‎Guantanamo‬, who weighs just 90 pounds, and was held in CIA torture prisons, despite being seized by mistake, has asked a judge in a court in Islamabad to demand that the Pakistani government calls for his release.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Carol Anne Grayson wrote:

    poor man… he must hardly have any hope left

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, once you step back from it and look at it objectively, the ongoing justice appears unfathomable, doesn’t it, Carol? He spent two years in “black sites,” even though, as the Senate report showed, he was a case of mistaken identity, and yet, at Guantanamo, he was first recommended for prosecution by Obama’s task force in 2010, and only recommended for a Periodic review Board in 2013, something that still hasn’t happened. And so, understandably, what does he do? Embarks on a hunger strike that must be endangering his life. Poor man. American justice is broken.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    When my friend Jan Strain shared his, she wrote:

    FFS ‪#‎CloseGuantanamo‬ already!

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jan. How I share your sentiments!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Carol Anne Grayson wrote:

    Its so sad… can’t imagine the level of despair feeling nothing will ever change… its incredibly cruel… Am so glad you are drawing attention to these cases, thanks Andy… you give these men a glimmer of hope in a dark world

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    I try my best, Carol. I don’t think I thought we’d still be having to deal with this sort of injustice nine years down the line when I first began researching and writing about the men’s stories back in 2006 based on the Pentagon’s own documents and the lies and distortions of Guantanamo and the “war on terror” that they revealed.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    After so many years, one would think we would get a clue and close the damn thing

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Not with the likes of Sen. Tom Cotton and all his equally twisted colleagues and predecessors, Jan – and the unwillingness of President Obama to spend political capital doing what is right and necessary. A sure sign of why the rules shouldn’t be broken in the first place, and why Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and co. still need to be held accountable for their hubris and contempt for the law.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Reprieve provided an update on June 17:

    Family of Guantanamo Pakistani demand justice in Islamabad court

    The family of a Pakistani man detained without trial for over a decade in Guantanamo Bay will demand tomorrow (Thursday) in the Islamabad High Court that the Pakistani government intervene urgently in his case.

    Ahmad Rabbani has been on hunger strike for nearly two years in peaceful protest against his ongoing detention at the American prison camp. The hunger strike is taking a serious toll on his health, and his family will ask the Islamabad High Court to intervene in his case because they fear for his life. The case will be heard by Justice Athar Minallah in the morning.

    In a series of letters recently received by his lawyers, Mr Rabbani has explained how his twice-daily force feeding – which defies all international norms on the treatment of hunger-striking prisoners – is causing uncontrolled vomiting, fainting fits, and fluctuating weight changes.

    Lawyers for Mr Rabbani will ask the court tomorrow to order the Pakistani government to secure his release from Guantanamo, citing a range of constitutional protections which have been flouted by the US government in his case.
    As part of their evidence, Mr Rabbani’s lawyers will present extracts from the US Senate’s own report into the CIA rendition and interrogation programme in which Mr Rabbani is mentioned by name. The report shows how Mr Rabbani’s original kidnap was a case of mistaken identity, and how he was then subjected to the full range of “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” over nearly two years in secret prisons. Those techniques have been openly described as torture by President Obama himself.

    Mr Rabbani’s lawyer and director of human rights organisation Reprieve, Clive Stafford Smith said: “In numerous visits to Ahmad over the last two years, we have watched with increasing upset the damage that the torturous force-feeding regime in Guantanamo is causing to his health and spirits. The Pakistani government can no longer sit silently by, and allow a major ally to do this to a citizen of theirs. I hope the Islamabad High Court will give them the boot that they need, before that damage becomes irreparable.”

    See: http://www.reprieve.org.uk/press/family-of-guantanamo-pakistani-demand-justice-in-islamabad-court/

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Another update from September, via Pakistan’s The Nation newspaper:

    IHC serves notice on govt in Gitmo prisoner case

    Islamabad – A division bench of Islamabad High Court (IHC) Monday issued notices to the government in a Guantanamo Bay prisoner’s case.

    The dual bench comprising Justice Noor-ul-Haq N Qureshi and Justice Aamer Farooq conducted the hearing of a petition related to Ahmad Rabbani, a taxi driver from Karachi who was picked up by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and handed over to US authorities in 2001.

    Talking to The Nation, Mirza Shahzad Akbar, the counsel for the petitioner, informed that his client remained incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay for over 14 years now and a US Senate standing committee report has recently confirmed that Pakistan authorities in Karachi picked up Rabbani which later turned to be a mistake as he was confused to be Hassan Gul, a wanted member of al Qaeda.

    Mirza told that it also confirmed that, while at Guantanamo, Rabbani was subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques, which is a euphemism for torture.

    “Rabbani is, reportedly, one of those citizens whom General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf admitted in his book ‘In the Line of Fire’ to have handed over the United States in return for bounties worth hundreds of millions of dollars,” maintained the counsel.

    In 2014, Rabbani’s family approached the Islamabad High Court through their counsel Barrister Shahzad Akbar seeking three reliefs: directions to the Foreign Ministry for vigilantly pursuing Rabbani’s case with the US authorities; directions to the Interior Ministry for initiating criminal proceedings against the persons responsible for Rabbani’s abduction; and access to documents which may help Rabbani’s lawyers in defending him.

    In response to Barrister Shahzad’s petition, the federal government admitted before the court that Rabbani was, indeed, in Guantanamo Bay.

    The government also claims to have set up an inter-ministerial committee to make efforts to seek Rabbani’s retrieval.

    Earlier in 2015, a bench of the Islamabad High Court dismissed the petition on the grounds that the inter-ministerial committee provided an adequate forum to the petitioner to pursue this matter and also because the petitioner had allegedly raised disputed questions of fact.

    Then, an appeal was filed on Rabbani’s behalf in the same high court against the dismissal of his writ petition.

    On Monday, Rabbani’s lawyer contended that the learned single-member bench had failed to fully discharge the high court’s mandate under article 199(c) to enforce the fundamental rights of citizens.

    He argued once the government has admitted that one of its citizens is in Guantanamo and that he had been sent there without proper extradition under the law, a prima facie illegality stands established.

    Mirza continued that as a result, the high court was duty-bound to pursue the matter seriously so that a citizen of Pakistan may be brought back to his motherland and be provided the due process of law.

    After hearing the arguments presented by Barrister Shahzad, the court admitted the case for hearing and issued notices to the federal government to explain to the court whatever efforts are being taken for Rabbani’s return.

    The case will again come up for hearing sometimes next week.

    See: http://nation.com.pk/editors-picks/15-Sep-2015/ihc-serves-notice-on-govt-in-gitmo-prisoner-case

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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