Long-Term Hunger Striking Pakistani Seeks Release from Guantánamo Via Periodic Review Board


Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed Rabbani in a photo made available by his lawyers at the legal action charity Reprieve.

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On September 1, Ahmed Rabbani (ISN 1461), a Pakistani prisoner at Guantánamo (also identified as Ahmad Rabbani, and known to the the US authorities as Mohammed Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani), became the 63rd — and penultimate — prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board. A long-term hunger striker, he was described as looking “frail” by Courthouse News, which also noted that he “has a long, thick black beard and wore a white covering on his head,”, and that, “Leaning forward with his arms folded on the table in front of him during the hearing, [he] seemed slight, especially when he raised his arm and the sleeve of the loose, white shirt he wore slid down his thin bicep.”

Seized in Karachi, Pakistan on September 9, 2002, with his brother Abdul Rahim, whose PRB took place on July 7, he was regarded as an al-Qaeda facilitator, and was held and tortured in CIA “black sites” for two years, before arriving at Guantánamo with nine other allegedly “medium-value detainees” in September 2004. The US still regards him as an al-Qaeda supporter, although his lawyers argue that he is a case of mistaken identity, and that he wishes only to be reunited with his family and live in peace.

The Periodic Review Boards, as I explained at the time of Abdul Rahim’s review, “were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the men not already approved for release or facing trials. These men were described by the government task force that reviewed their cases in 2009 as ‘too dangerous to release,’ despite a lack of evidence against them, or were recommended for prosecution, until the basis for prosecution largely collapsed. The PRBs have been functioning like parole boards, with the men in question — 64 in total — having to establish, to the satisfaction of the board members, made up of representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that they show remorse for their previous actions, that they bear no ill-will towards the US, that they have no associations with anyone regarded as being involved in terrorism, and that they have plans in place for their life after Guantánamo, preferably with the support of family members.”

Of the 64 men who have had their cases reviewed, 52 decisions have so far been taken. 33 men have been approved for release, while 19 have had their ongoing imprisonment upheld. However, a separate analysis of the results in the cases for those regarded as “too dangerous to release” and those initially recommended for prosecution reveals noticeable differences.

Rabbani is one of 23 prisoners facing PRBs who were initially recommended for prosecution but then moved to the PRB system, and, of the 23, just six have so far been recommended for release, while nine have had their ongoing imprisonment upheld. Eight decisions have not yet been taken.

In contrast, of the men deemed “too dangerous to release” (41 in total), 27 have been recommended for release, ten have had their ongoing imprisonment upheld, and four are awaiting decisions. See my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website for further details.

In Ahmed Rabbani’s case, the US authorities, in their unclassified summary for his PRB, noted that the 46-year old, born in October 1969 and also identified as Abu Badr, “was a financial and travel facilitator for prominent al-Qa’ida leaders Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KU-10024) and USS Cole mastermind Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri from 1997 until his arrest in September 2002,” adding, “His primary jobs were to run al-Qa’ida safehouses in Karachi, Pakistan, help facilitate the travel of mujahideen and their families to and from Afghanistan, and acquire and drive vehicles.”

It was also claimed that “[h]is access to several key al-Qa’ida figures positioned [him] to play a support role in al- Qa’ida operations, including the planning for an attack in the Strait of Hormuz and possibly the al-Qa’ida anthrax program,” although these allegations are significantly less trustworthy than those describing him as, essentially, a travel facilitator, as the use of the word “possibly” in connection with al-Qaeda’s proposed anthrax program indicates, and I believe there is no justification for claiming that Rabbani had any involvement with it.

Discussing how he became involved with al-Qaeda, the summary claimed that Rabbani’s “extremist activity began around 1994, when he joined an ethnic Burmese jihadist group in Pakistan after having been expelled from Saudi Arabia for three alcohol-related incarcerations and having failed to earn a living as a hired driver in the United Arab Emirates.” The summary added, “In 1997, he began working for al-Qa’ida in Kandahar, where he met Usama Bin Ladin [sic]. In 1998, he recruited his brother Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani (PK-1460) to join him in running guest houses and serving as a facilitator for al-Qa’ida.”

Turning to his behavior in Guantánamo, the summary noted that he “has been relatively non-compliant with the guard force compared to other detainees,” although it was conceded that “[m]ost of his infractions occurred between 2013 and 2015, probably in part to protest his separation from his brother.” It was also confirmed that he “has been on hunger strike for an extended period of time,” and, regarding intelligence, it was noted that he “has provided little information of value and has recanted several of his earlier statements about his support to al-Qa’ida.”

Regarding his proposals for his life if he should be released, the summary stated that he “has indicated that he would like to be transferred to Malaysia because he is ethnically Burmese,” and that he “has marketable job skills, having been a former sweets maker and a professional driver.” It was also claimed that, “according to a source with first hand access,” he “remains steadfast in his support for extremist causes and groups, praising acts of terrorism and expressing disdain for Americans,” and “has maintained contact with former detainees, one of whom is confirmed of having reengaged in terrorist activities with ISIL, and who could provide him] with a clear avenue to reengage after his release if he chose to do so.”

These latter points are disputed by Rabbani’s lawyers, at Reprieve, and by his personal representatives (military personnel appointed to help the prisoners prepare for their PRBs) in their opening statements to the board. The representatives noted that he has was only ever motivated by money (as they put it, he “was a shrewd and cunning businessman and chased after the almighty dollar”), and they also explained how he has “never expressed any anti-American sentiments” to them, and “has repeatedly affirmed that he has no desire to harm anyone upon his release from detention.” They added, “His desire is to get back with his family and become a contributing member of society. He wants the board to know that he is not a continuing threat to the safety and security of Americans, America or its allies.”

In addition, Rabbani’s lawyer, Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, provided the board with detailed information about her client’s family, and the many ways in which they will be able to “provide him a home and find him a job so that he may start his life anew,” and the support that will also be offered by Reprieve, via its UN-backed “Life After Guantánamo” project, and its affiliate organization in Pakistan, the Foundation for Fundamental Rights.

Despite the positive aspects of the statements above, I expect that the board members will have problems with the lack of remorse expressed, beyond the comments reported by the personal representatives. Reprieve’s focus in particular on the fact that Rabbani was not Hassan Ghul may not impress the board members, who may want to have heard remorse from Rabbani for what he did, regardless of whether or not he was mistaken for another man.

Time will tell. A decision can take anything from one to two months to be announced. In the meantime, please find below the opening statements in support of Ahmed Rabbani’s release.

Periodic Review Board Initial Hearing, 01 Sep 2016
Mohammed Ahmed Rabbani, ISN 1461
Personal Representative Opening Statement

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the board. We are the Personal Representatives for Mr. Ahmed Rabbani (ISN 1461). Mr. Rabbani has been a willing participant in this process and has remained quite flexible to the changes in meetings and Board dates, as well as the changes in Personal Representatives and Private Counsel, which have happened along the way.

While Mr. Rabbani longs to return to his wife and children, he knows that there are several things that have to happen first. Mr. Rabbani is here today and eager to answer your questions in a bid to gain your recommendation for transfer to Pakistan, although he will go anywhere the Board recommends. He has also expressed his willingness to participate in any rehabilitation program.

Earlier in his life, Mr. Rabbani managed hotels with his father, and later, he managed them on his own. Mr. Rabbani was a shrewd and cunning businessman and chased after the almighty dollar; he did not really care to find out who he was working with, but he stresses that he was working for money, not for a religious cause or any agenda.

While he is still a hunger striker, Mr. Rabbani eats at our meetings and now goes willingly to his feedings to consume his liquid meals. Hunger striking is a peaceful way of protesting his situation and one of the few choices or decisions that Mr. Rabbani feels he can make while in detainment.

Mr. Rabbani has started to eat regular food but after years of hunger striking, his body now rejects the food and causes him severe nausea. Mr. Rabbani is now working with the medical staff in an effort to get back on solid food.

Mr. Rabbani has focused on his artistic skills while here in Guantánamo; he has painted hundreds of pieces of art, some of which have been submitted for the board to see. Additionally, an art dealer in New York is interested in showing some of Mr. Rabbani’s art, which could potentially lead to an income source in the future.

While not happy with his detainment, Mr. Rabbani has never expressed any anti-American sentiments to us, and has repeatedly affirmed that he has no desire to harm anyone upon his release from detention. His desire is to get back with his family and become a contributing member of society. He wants the board to know that he is not a continuing threat to the safety and security of Americans, America or its allies.

When asked about his plans for the future, Mr. Rabbani thought his work ethic, language skills (he is conversant in 4 languages) and prior work in the hospitality industry would serve him well. He could also work as a taxi driver, shop keeper or cook.

We feel that Mr. Rabbani has grown in maturity; and he now understands the consequences and importance of knowing who you are working with. These changes, along with the dedicated support and committed resources from Reprieve will greatly assist in his transition upon transfer.

Statement by Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, Private Counsel for Ahmed Rabbani (ISN 1461)
Periodic Review Board Bearing Scheduled September 01, 2016

August 22, 2016

Esteemed Periodic Review Board Members,

My name is Shelby Sullivan-Bennis. It is my privilege to represent Ahmed Rabbani and to appear before this board today. I do so on behalf of all those at Reprieve, who have been his counsel for the duration of his time in Guantánamo.

Ahmed Rabbani appears before this board today after a harrowing fourteen years in detention which began, as we now know, as a case of mistaken identity. The Executive Summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Study of the ClA’s Detention and Interrogation Program (“SSCI Report”) confirms what Ahmed knew from the start: “[b]y September 11, 2002, it was determined that an individual named Muhammad Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani, aka Abu Badr, and his driver were arrested, not Hassan Ghul.” [SSCI Report at 325].

Thus, Ahmed was indeed not a senior al Qaeda leader, a concession that did not arrive until after he had suffered dreadfully in a black site (the Senate report reflects that he was one of the few subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques” without authorization). He has remained in detention at Guantánamo Bay and appears before this board today to tell his story.

In an effort to pave the way for Ahmed’s release from Guantánamo Bay, we at Reprieve, as well as those at our affiliate organization in Pakistan, the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, have been in close contact with Ahmed’s family over the years. We stay in regular contact with his wife, brother-in-law, and other members of his family in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Ahmed has a warm and close family who miss him greatly. He has two children who were young when Ahmed was first detained, and a third who was born after he was taken from Pakistan who has never met his father. His youngest child is now a teenager whose only connection with his father over the years has been through ICRC arranged monthly calls. Suffice it to say that Ahmed’s family is eager to have him back.

Ahmed’s wife and youngest son live in a 4-bedroom house in the Korangi region of Karachi, owned by his mother-in-law. When Ahmed is released, he will join them there and will have ready access to several local service providers, including medical and psychological health facilities based in Karachi with whom my office has existing relationships. Ahmed’s family is ready, willing and able to provide him a home and find him a job so that he may start his life anew. In the time between release and acquisition of gainful employment. Ahmed’s family, both in Pakistan as well as his family in Saudi Arabia, have offered to financially support him until he gets back on his feet. Indeed, the amount of support Ahmed has waiting for him is considerable.

Additionally, Reprieve has a program set up to help our clients reintegrate into society called “Life After Guantánamo,” which is partially funded by the United Nations. This is a program that serves the interests of each relevant stakeholder — the client needs the help, and we (the United States) want the client to do well. For several clients who were resettled and repatriated by both Administrations, we worked with the State Department and host governments on transition plans for clients; we have visited clients multiple times after release; we have served as an ongoing point of contact for local authorities; we have facilitated financial support and referrals for needs ranging from job placement to mental health care. We were a trusted and experienced resource in facilitating a successful transition for these clients, who are now rebuilding their lives. Finally, as mentioned, we have specific experience working with groups on the ground in Pakistan. We would of course offer the same assistance to Ahmed.

Thank you for taking into consideration the information we have provided. We respectfully submit that Ahmed Rabbani should be approved for transfer from Guantánamo consistent with the President’s mandate to close the prison. I remain at your disposal to assist with any questions you may have regarding Mr. Rabbani.

Very Truly Yours,

Shelby Sullivan-Bennis
Reprieve US

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.

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8 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, a report on the penultimate Guantanamo prisoner (the 63rd) to face a Periodic Review Board. Ahmed Rabbani, held and tortured in CIA “black sites” for two years before arriving at Guantanamo in September 2004, where he has since been held without charge or trial, was reportedly an al-Qaeda facilitator, although the US initially had him confused with another man, Hassan Ghul. Rabbani has been a long-term hunger striker, but he says he wants only to be returned to his family and to live in peace. Will the board members believe him?

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    I must also mention, my friends, that, as a reader-funded journalist and activist, I’m currently trying to raise $3000 (£2250) to support my work on Guantanamo over the next three months, and that this article is an example of that work. No one paid me to write it, and I need your support to be able to continue to work like this: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2016/09/14/quarterly-fundraiser-day-3-3300-2400-still-urgently-needed-to-support-my-guantanamo-work/

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Pauline Kieran wrote:

    Thank you Andy. Sharing.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, Pauline. Good to hear from you.

  5. Tobias Spears says...

    Rabbani has been denied transfer. No surprise there. The Rabbanis present a quandary. They are too dangerous yet have not been prosecuted.


  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, like all the “medium-” and “high-value detainees,” Tobias, what would be most appropriate for all of them would be trials. I hope officials are genuinely considering it.

  7. arcticredriver says...

    You probably saw this — the Washington Post published an op-ed about Ahmed Rabbani, entitled A Pakistani man is starving to death in Guantanamo. We have a duty to stop it. The author, a guy named Imran Khan, says Ahmed is “a Pakistani citizen of Burmese Rohingya origin”.

    Wouldn’t that make his brother also of Burmese Rohingya origin?

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, arcticredriver. Imran Khan is a prominent Pakistani politician – and a former cricketing legend – so his intervention on Ahmed’s part carries some weight.
    The Rabbanis do indeed both seem to be of Rohingya origin, although both were born in Saudi Arabia, and their family had apparently fled India for Karachi during partition in 1947. Ahmed had an op-ed published in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn on October 17, which begins, “I am a Pakistani citizen. My family is originally Rohingya, from Burma. I watch the genocide being committed against Muslims there with horror. Unfortunately, it is not only the Burmese government that persecutes Muslims. As I am dictating this to my lawyer, I am being held forever in Guantanamo Bay, without charges or a trial, on the orders of President Donald Trump.”
    See: https://www.dawn.com/news/1364407
    I would think his lawyers might try to make more of his Rohingya origins in the west, as well as in the Pakistani media, as the world watches the horrors of what the Burmese establishment is doing to them. Like the Kurds and the Palestinians, they seem to be amongst the planet’s most persecuted people, deprived of, but desperately in need of a homeland of their own.

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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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