“The World Has Forgotten Me” Says Ahmed Rabbani, 95-Pound Hunger Striker in Guantánamo


Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed Rabbani in a photo made available by his lawyers at Reprieve, and taken before his weight dropped to under 100 pounds as a hunger striker.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.


Over 16 and a half years since the ill-conceived prison at Guantánamo Bay opened, and over two and a half years into the presidency of Donald Trump, the terrible injustice of Guantánamo has, sadly, largely slipped off the radar.

The reasons are many — and none reflect well on the US, its institutions and its people. The American people have never cared sufficiently about what is being done in their name at Guantánamo, where the fundamental right not to be imprisoned without due process has been done away with since the prison opened, a product of the country’s all-consuming vengeance after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Few people, it seems, either know or care that very few people accused of terrorism have actually been held at Guantánamo, and that most of those held were foot soldiers in an inter-Muslim civil war in Afghanistan, or civilians swept up in incompetent dragnets, and that the majority — whether soldiers or civilians — were not “captured on the battlefield,” but were sold to the US by their Afghan and Pakistani allies.

When it comes to America’s institutions, everyone has failed to live up to their responsibilities — President Obama, for example, who took eight years to fail to close the prison, despite promising to do so on his second day in office; Congress, where lawmakers generally take little interest in anything other than appeasing big business; and the courts, who have failed to fundamentally challenge the lawlessness of Guantánamo.

In addition, the liberal media have failed to sufficiently challenge the ongoing existence of Guantánamo because they are generally reactive, rather than pro-active (unlike the right-wing media, whose interest in any kind of “balanced” reporting is non-existent). So although Trump is a vile racist with a contempt for due process, and wants to keep Guantánamo open, and not to release anyone under any circumstances, and although he also supports the use of torture, and would send new prisoners to Guantánamo if the opportunity arose, so long as he doesn’t do anything specific, the persistent and glaring injustice of the prison’s daily existence is invisible to the mainstream liberal media, and the men languishing there are essentially forgotten.

In the absence of any kind of continuum of outrage, advocates for the prison’s closure have to work harder than ever to get media coverage, and to find new angles to entice the jaded and/or indifferent mainstream media to remember their responsibilities.

One angle that has often worked over the years is to get a prisoner to speak directly to the American people, as, of course, the prisoners have always, as a general rule, been shrouded in secrecy, and remain so under Donald Trump. And one recent success was an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times by Ahmed Rabbani, a Pakistani taxi driver represented by the lawyer-led human rights organization Reprieve.

Of the 40 men still held at Guantánamo, Rabbani is one of 26 accurately described by the media under President Obama as “forever prisoners” — men neither approved for release nor put forward for prosecution, but held without charge or trial on the basis that they are allegedly too dangerous to release, but that insufficient evidence exists to put them on trial.

These men are eligible for parole-style reviews, known as the Periodic Review Boards, which President Obama established to mitigate the legal and ethical horror of his decision to hold a certain number of prisoners indefinitely without charge or trial. In his last three years in office, the PRBs led to 64 prisoners having their cases reviewed, and 38 men being approved for release. All but two of the men were freed before Obama left the White House, but while the greatest injustice of the Trump years regarding Guantánamo is his refusal to even contemplate honoring the decisions to release these other two men (and three others approved for release under Obama’s first review process back in 2009), the reality of the PRBs under Trump is that they too seem to have become meaningless, the limits of their ability to recommend prisoners for release reached under Obama, based purely on perceptions of contrition and the presentation of convincing post-prison plans for a peaceful life, and their remit also presumably revised under Trump to try and ensure that no more prisoners end up being approved for release.

As a result, Rabbani, a former CIA “black site” prisoner subjected to torture, who has always maintained that he is a taxi driver seized by mistake, is one of the 26 “forever prisoners” who remains imprisoned — and generally silenced — unless his lawyers can find an outlet for his voice.

Last year, some of his paintings were included in a powerful exhibition of paintings by prisoners and ex-prisoners in New York that briefly attracted worldwide attention after the Pentagon responded to it in a heavy-handed manner, and he is also one of the plaintiffs in the only high-profile court case that is currently taxing the pro-Guantánamo lawyers that Trump inherited from George W. Bush and Barack Obama in the Justice Department. He has now found another outlet, via the op-ed in the Los Angeles Times that I mentioned above, which I’m cross-posting below. Because of new rules regarding internet access, readers outside the US cannot currently read the article online, but Reprieve made it available on their website, which is where I took it from.

It’s an important reminder of how the default position for the Guantánamo prisoners is voicelessness, and yet, at the same time, how important it is to hear from them so they can attest to the ongoing dehumanization that the prison inflicts on the men still held there — for the most part, like Rabbani, “forever prisoners” stranded beyond any recognizable form of due process, and dealt with on a daily basis in a manner that, at best, is opaque, and, at worst, still veiled in horrendous and unjustifiable secrecy.

Far too few Americans even know that only the prisoners’ lawyers are potentially able to bring messages about them to the outside world, and, in addition, that this is entirely subject to their notes being cleared by the Pentagon’s censorship review process. What happens is that every word that is uttered between prisoners and their lawyers, as written down by the lawyers in attorney-client meetings, is presumptively classified, and remains so unless military officials deign to mark it as unclassified.

In Rabbani’s op-ed, he not only points out how he is still, essentially, arbitrarily detained, but also reminds the world of the plight of hunger strikers at Guantánamo like himself, telling us that he currently weighs just 95 pounds, and reflecting on the torture to which he was subjected by the CIA, and which haunts him still.

It is a grim and bleak story, and yet a hugely important one, which shames America, and which deserves to be far more widely reported until the day finally comes when the disgusting and disgraceful prison at Guantánamo Bay is finally closed for good.

I’m stuck in Guantánamo and the world has forgotten about me
By Ahmed Rabbani

Ahmed is a taxi driver from Karachi, Pakistan, who has been detained without trial at Guantánamo Bay for almost 14 years. He is represented by Reprieve.

The world has forgotten me.

Though I once had friends, now I have nobody. Though I once had a government, Pakistan has turned its back on me. Though I once was a human being, I have been reduced to a number (1461) and abandoned in a dark hole: the military prison at Guantánamo Bay.

I am officially a prisoner of war, though the only battle I ever fought back home, as a taxi driver in Karachi, was the rush hour traffic. I was mistaken for an extremist, captured by Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s government and sold to the CIA for a bounty. I’ve now been detained at Guantánamo, without trial, for nearly 14 years.

President Trump’s lawyers argued in court last week that I and other Guantánamo prisoners who have filed habeas corpus petitions could be held by the U.S. government for a hundred years, if that is how long the “conflict” lasts.

We are said to be the most dangerous prisoners in the world. Yet in the years since this prison was opened, there have been no murders here, no escape attempts, no drugs. The only deaths have been those of the nine men ho succumbed to health problems or took their own lives. The only alleged sexual abuse has been at the hands of American interrogators.

The Miami Herald reports that, to operate Guantánamo Bay prison, it costs $11 million per prisoner per year. That would be more than $30,000 a day just for me.

I have gone on hunger strikes many times to peacefully protest my imprisonment. I am back to not eating, but this time it’s not a strike. I have chronic stomach problems so acute that I cannot consume hard food without vomiting blood. I am slowly disappearing, dropping a pound a week. I currently weigh 95 pounds.

I have asked for papaya and figs, as well as lamb, the only meat soft enough for my stomach to digest. Although a previous commander said I could have what I needed, I am not getting it.

For a while we had a physician whom we called Dr. Unfortunately. “Unfortunately you can’t have this,” he would say. “Unfortunately you can’t have that.”

Now we have Dr. Surprise. “They have approved your food, except the lamb,” he said recently. “I am surprised you are not getting it.”

Instead of giving me papaya and figs and lamb, the guards force-feed me cans of nutritional formula. They used to let us receive liquid food while watching television. Now they strap my hands and legs down in a restraint chair. (We call it the “torture chair.”)

I have withstood a lot of torture. Before they brought me to Guantánamo, the Americans took me to a black site in Kabul known as the Dark Prison, where my hands were shackled overhead for days on end. Do you have any idea how painful that is, with your shoulders gradually dislocating? Maybe you read in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report about the prisoner who tried to cut off his own hand to end the pain. That was me.

Torture makes you go mad. Sometimes I catch myself going mad again now. Every time I am force-fed, every time I meet with my lawyer, every time I see a doctor, they use some kind of metal detector device to do a cavity search. They have never found anything in all these years. What I am meant to be hiding, I have no idea. It is pointless. But I have to wonder if the radiation it emits isn’t my own private Hiroshima or Nagasaki — four, six, eight times a day. Maybe I am paranoid, but I feel that something bad is happening to me, deep inside.

When someone says, “Good morning,” I do not respond anymore. There is no morning and no evening. There is only despair.

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), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six 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 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.

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, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

34 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my first new article about Guantanamo since returning from my recent holiday – a cross-post, with my own introduction, of a Los Angeles Times op-ed by Ahmed Rabbani, a Pakistani citizen, held and tortured in CIA “black sites,” who has always maintained that he was seized by mistake, but who, like 25 of the other men still held (out of 40 in total) is regarded by the authorities as a “forever prisoner”, too dangerous to release, but with insufficient evidence against him for a trial. As Rabbani also gets the opportunity to explain, he is also a long-term hunger striker, who currently weighs just 95 pounds. I’m pleased that Rabbani’s lawyers found an opportunity for him to tell the world about his plight, because unfortunately, in general, there is far too much indifference to Guantanamo under Donald Trump.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    Many of us haven’t forgotten you, Ahmed

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jan. And it’s good to know that Ahmed will be kept informed about people’s interest by Shelby Sullivan-Bennis and others at Reprieve.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Betty Molchany wrote:

    We feel helpless. Yes, many have forgotten. I’m so sorry but that is not enough. Somehow, we need to convince others that you are wrongfully imprisoned.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks so much for commenting, Betty. Yes, creating a sense of helplessness is actually one of Donald Trump’s most powerful weapons when it comes to demoralizing Americans who didn’t vote for him, and others around the world who oppose him, but we mustn’t give up!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Betty Molchany wrote:

    Andy, and you certainly haven’t given up. Thank you 10,000 times.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks again, Betty!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Neil McKenna wrote:

    This is guttting. Man’s inhumanity to man.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, absolutely, Neil. The US pretends everything is above board at Guantanamo. They used to call it “Safe Humane Legal Transparent” under Obama, but it’s no such thing. It’s essentially indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia R Scott wrote:

    Thank you, Andy
    You are on our minds, Ahmed. You’re not forgotten.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Natalia, for your constant concern for the men still held.

  12. june cutright says...

    the apathy is viscerally disturbing to me. i’m ashamed. & i’m emotionally attached to ahmed thru his beautiful art. & who can resist that face. thnx andy

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, June, and thanks for your empathy.
    Ahmed’s art is certainly an insight into who he is, and although there’s that popular saying that looks are deceiving, I find that generally to be untrue, and that much can be gleaned about a person from their face!

  14. june cutright says...

    i think oscar wilde said: only shallow people don’t judge by looks. honestly what guff we’re lead to believe

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Although often with Oscar Wilde there’s a question of other he was being profound, or just provocative, June, but yes, generally we are fed acres of guff designed to keep us obedient.
    I think on balance that we could do with a lot more bad behavior when it comes to raising awareness of chronic long-standing problems like the existence of Guantanamo, especially on the day when the wretched Trump has just signed a $717bn bill for next year’s military spending.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia R Scott wrote:

    Andy I have a question. Are there updates on all the forever prisoners and/or hunger strikers?

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    There’s no official record of who’s on hunger strike, Natalia, and only two prisoner lists that I know of, mine and the Miami Herald’s, and I confess I haven’t updated mine lately: http://www.closeguantanamo.org/Prisoners

  18. Andy Worthington says...

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia R Scott wrote:

    Andy, that’s an old update

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    I think sadly that any transparency that might have existed under Obama, Natalia, has evaporated under Trump.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Betty Molchany wrote:

    Andy, you write that the authorities regard Mr. Rabbani as too dangerous to release. Years ago, in an ACLU meeting, I heard a government lawyer say they can’t return these prisoners for fear they will return to the Battlefield. But, as I understand, less than 10% of the original number of prisoners were found on the battlefield. Would you address this issue?

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, the Bush administration didn’t really care where they were caught, Betty. They did away with necessary safeguards against wrongful impriosnment, in particular the battlefield tribunals, under Article 5 of the Geneva Conventions, designed to review, close to the time and place of capture, prisoners not in military uniforms who claim to be civilians seized by mistake. The US had honored these tribunals for decades, but they were scrapped post-9/11.
    The Bush administration decided that everyone they captured was guilty of being an “enemy combatant,” who could be held without rights, and all the problems since have stemmed from this lawlessness and arrogance. The official analysis of the prisoners has generally been one involving extreme caution, because no one quite knew what the truth was about them, and therefore no one in a position of power or authority wanted to be responsible for making a mistake and letting go one of the few genuine “bad guys.” And in addition, of course, lawyers were telling the government not to concede that they had made any kind of a mistake, because otherwise prisoners could sue for wrongful arrest.
    It’s an absolute mess, and yet those who are paying are the men held year after year, while those responsible have all safely retired.

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Aleksey Penskiy wrote:

    It’s horrible. Freedom for the prisoners of Guantanamo!

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes indeed, Aleksey. Thank you for caring!

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    At least you haven’t forgotten them Andy.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Nor you and other supporters of my website and of Close Guantanamo, Tashi – plus of course Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald and those other mainstream media outlets who continue sporadically to report on the prison. But overall, the scale of the indignation just doesn’t match the scale of the injustice. How can someone like Ahmed be held forever, when no one in the US government has provided any kind of objective, analyzable evidence that he actually did anything wrong?

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Geraldine Grunow wrote:

    Thank you, Andy, for keeping these victims’ plight from being forgotten….

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    And thank you, Geraldine, for your concern and your support!

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    Toia Tutta Jung wrote:

    Thank you for drawing our attention to this disgraceful lack of justice and moral values, Andy. The same values those supporting these despicable policies claim to have.

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, there is an astonishingly stark hypocrisy regarding Guantanamo, Toia, hidden behind a veil of amnesia. Thanks for your comments.

  31. Steve Lane says...

    My letter to The Washington Post:

    The otherwise excellent editorial “The Wrong Call on Guantanamo,” 2 February, omitted a vital point. The Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees that “the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy trial,” prohibiting a tyrant from arbitrarily imprisoning citizens for his own convenience. However, most Guantanamo prisoners have never had any trial at all, much less a speedy one.

    Americans fought the Revolutionary War to establish that right, among others, for citizens. If it is important enough to fight and die for, why don’t we extend it to everyone, including our prisoners at Guantanamo?

  32. Steve Lane says...

    I am fasting today, Friday, in solidarity with our prisoners at Guantanamo Bay Concentration Camp. It is VERY uncomfortable. I cannot imagine how horrible it must be for hunger strikers there.

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    I am moved by your act of solidarity, and I’m sure the prisoners would be too, Steve, if they heard about it. I did it for one day for Shaker Aamer back in October 2015, and found it very difficult. I only fasted until midnight, when I ate a big bowl of pasta, but all day I was thinking about food. I couldn’t imagine continuing the fast into a second day.

  34. Andy Worthington says...

    That was a great letter, Steve! Thanks for your constant support of the prisoners’ right not to be arbitrarily imprisoned forever by the United States of Hypocrisy.

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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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