On December 1, 2015, thirteen years too late, the US finally admitted that Mustafa al-Aziz Al Shamiri was not the man they thought he was. Al Shamiri, a Yemeni, was 24 when he was rendered half way round the world to Guantánamo Bay. The US military thought he was a big-time terrorist, Abdul Qadus, an ‘Emir’ of a terrorist training camp. He was classified among the ‘forever’ prisoners who would never be tried, but could be held in Guantánamo until the end of time. After 13 years, though, at a Periodic Review Board (PRB) convened to evaluate his continued detention, the US military finally admitted they misidentified him. He is now 37, and the best years of his life have been thrown away.
Ahmed Rabbani’s life has run parallel to Al Shamiri’s for many years, although his plight has been – if possible – far worse. Rabbani is a Pakistani citizen, formerly a taxi driver from Karachi. For several years the Anglo-American British Human Rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith has been representing Rabbani – or perhaps it might be more accurate to say ‘trying to’, it being hard to locate the law anywhere in Guantánamo Bay. From the start, Rabbani insisted that the US military had mistaken him for another, seemingly important man called Hassan Ghul.
Finally, earlier this year, the US Senate released the foreword of its CIA torture report. Even though this was just the summary, and the 6,000 pages of the actual report remain classified, everything Ahmed had said – and more – was set out in stark relief on page 325.
The US had enlisted the help of the Musharraf government in staking out Hassan Ghul’s residence, and “on September 10, 2002, Pakistani authorities arrested two individuals believed to be Hassan Ghul and his driver outside of the apartment complex.” When this man ‘Ghul’ returned to his apartment, the CIA gloated that he “got more than he bargained for.”
In truth, it seems, the CIA got less than they bargained for. On that very day, 13 years ago, another declassified CIA cable reports: “Interestingly, he denies being Hassan Ghul… While [the Pakistani authorities are] fairly certain we do in fact have Hassan Ghul in custody, we would like to make every effort to verify.” Just one day later there were suggestions that he was “an individual named Muhammad Ahmad Ghulam Rabbani … not Hassan Ghul.”
So they had made a mistake: the Musharraf government had made a mistake. And yet Rabbani remained in custody. On page 458 of the Senate Report, his name is mentioned again. This time, the Senate concludes that he was held in secret detention for over 540 days and tortured in medieval ways. The fact that his name is in bold on the CIA list indicates an admission that Rabbani “was subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques” – the quaint euphemism for torture. Indeed, Rabbani was taken from his country (Pakistan) to the ‘Dark Prison’ in Afghanistan where he was subjected to beatings, threatened execution, and a range of ghoulish psychological techniques.
There are two differences between Rabbani and the Yemeni, Mustafa al Shamiri: one, Rabbani was turned over to the US by his own government. Indeed, former President Musharraf boasts on page 237 of his autobiography, ‘In the Line of Fire’, that fully half of the prisoners in Guantánamo (including Rabbani) were sold to the US for bounties. In other words, some Musharraf official pocketed $5,000 in cash to send Rabbani to this purgatory.
Second, while the US military recently admitted its mistake at Al Shamiri’s PRB hearing, the US military has refused even to allow Rabbani a hearing at which he could prove his innocence.
Rabbani has done what he can for himself: he has been on a hunger strike for justice for more than two years now, force fed every day in a way that is gratuitously painful – he routinely vomits blood.
The writer is the chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf