"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."
These are the words of Mohammed Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani from an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times.
Rabbani is a Pakistani citizen who has been imprisoned by the United States military since 2004 in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Rabbani was abducted in Karachi by the Pakistani secret service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) on the 10th of September 2002. It was later revealed that his was a case of mistaken identity, with the ISI believing that he was Hassan Ghul, a Pakistani Al-Qaeda terrorist who himself was eventually handed over to US intelligence in 2004 by the Kurdish branch of the Iraqi military in Southern Kurdistan.
Rabbani was unanimously cleared for release by the Periodic Review Board (PRB) of Guantánamo on Friday, 22 October, according to a press release by Reprieve, which is a London based non-profit organisation of lawyers and investigators who represent victims of human rights violations.
Mark Maher, who works for Reprieve, said that "Ahmed’s clearance was [is] long overdue", as quoted in the press release.
"The PRB result is a positive step, but we won’t celebrate until he is back with his family in Pakistan and able to hug his 19-year-old son for the first time”, Maher added.
The Infamous Guantánamo Bay
Officially known as the Guantánamo Bay detention camp which lies on the coast of Guantánamo Province in Southeastern Cuba , it was initially opened in 2002 to "detain extraordinarily dangerous people", according to government transcripts quoting the then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Many stories of torture and wrongful detention have emerged from the detention centre established by the George W Bush administration as a part of his Global War on Terror initiative in response to 9/11.
The official numbers tracked and published by The New York Times show that since 2002, 780 people had been detained in the camp of which only 39 remain today.
Of those 39, only two have been convicted, and a number of them are "neither facing tribunal charges nor being recommended for release", added NYT.
Bush's successor, Barack Obama, vowed on his second day in office to shut down the prison, but failed to do so due to opposition from both the US Congress and his White House team, as reported by The New Yorker in a detailed report.
Donald Trump, on 30 January 2018, signed an executive order that would extend the functioning of Guantánamo Bay detention camp indefinitely, The Guardian reported.
In February 2021, however, President Biden initiated a review of the prison, with the White House stating that his administration wants to shut it down once and for all, according to Reuters.
Whether Biden will manage to succeed or not will become known to us in the near future, but Guantánamo Bay's atrocious past, as illustrated by Rabbani's case, is unlikely to be forgotten.
The Case of Mohammed Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani
Rabbani was born in Saudi Arabia. He then migrated to Karachi where he drove a taxi to earn a living during the 1990s, The Express Tribune reported.
It was eventually revealed that his fluency in Arabic, a product of being raised in Saudi Arabia, was a key factor that made him a prime suspect for having terrorist affiliations.
In 2002, Rabbani became the unfortunate victim of a case of mistaken identity.
The Americans were looking for Hassan Ghul, but caught Rabbani instead, who was sold to US intelligence by Pakistani intelligence.
Rabbani later wrote in his op-ed for the LA Times, "though I once had a government, Pakistan has turned its back on me."
Eventually, the US realised that they had taken custody of the wrong man, especially because Hassan Ghul was caught in 2004. Regardless of this fact, Rabbani was taken to Afghanistan where the Taliban had been recently overthrown, and tortured at an isolated CIA black site called the 'Salt Pit' for more than 500 days, according to Reprieve's press release.
After being held in Afghanistan for a duration that is unclear to both lawyers and investigative journalists, Rabbani was transferred to Guantánamo Bay, where he remains to this day.
The Horrors He Faced
Rabbani has not shied away from exposing the barbaric treatment he was subjected to during his time at Guantánamo.
In his op-ed, he wrote about how his "hands were shackled overhead for days on end", and how the consistent torture drove him mad.
"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."
The report that he is talking about was one prepared in 2016 by the Senate Intelligence Committee that investigated the usage of torture by the CIA.
Some of the damning findings of the report were that the CIA used force more brutally and extensively than it had conveyed to the public, lied about the effectiveness of torture as a strategy to gain information, and even lied about the number of people it had detained for interrogation, The New York Times reported.
Other reports exposing humans rights violations by the CIA have led to resistance by organisations such as The Rendition Project and Reprieve.
While the former claim to be at the "forefront of efforts to investigate and understand the use of rendition, secret detention and torture by the CIA and its allies in the 'war on terror'", Reprieve claims that it "defend[s] marginalised people who are facing human rights abuses, often at the hands of powerful governments."
While Reprieve has done a remarkable job in securing the release of a man who was held without charge or trial for 19 years, 17 of them in Guantánamo Bay, the physical and psychological damage that Rabbani suffered at the hand of the CIA cannot be undone.
"The world has forgotten me. Though I once had friends, now I have nobody."
Rabbani's case exemplifies the need for stronger regulations on the US military's liberty to implement such extra-judicial measures, and its impunity from punishment that encourages such arbitrary detentions in the first place.
He was not the only one who was a victim of Guantánamo, and if Biden doesn't shut it down, he will most certainly not be the last.
(With inputs from Reuters, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, The Express Tribune, The Guardian, Reprieve, The Rendition Project, and Twitter.)