Ahmad Rabbani, a taxi driver from Karachi, has been cleared for released from the infamous U.S. prison Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, after spending 17 years behind bars without charge or trial.
Rabbani was cleared for release by a Periodic Review Board (PRB), made up of senior officials from six U.S. agencies including the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Departments of Defence, Homeland Security, Justice and State.
Rabbani’s release was announced by Reprieve, a British-based NGO which takes up cases of torture, human rights violations and illegal confinement.
Reprieve said: “He (Ahmed Rabbani) has been detained without charge or trial by the U.S. for 19 years, the last 17 of them at Guantánamo. He has never met his son, Jawad, who was born after he was taken into U.S. custody.”
According to Reprieve, Rabbani was abducted in Karachi along with his brother on the September 10, 2002 by Pakistan’s secret service, the ISI, and handed over to U.S. officials. He was then taken to Kabul before he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay.
The ISI believed he was the Al-Qaeda militant Hassan Gul, a Pakistani national who was eventually arrested and subsequently released. Gul later re-joined Al-Qaeda and was killed in a drone strike.
According to Reprieve: “They soon realised they had the wrong man, they took him to Afghanistan and tortured him in black sites for 545 days. The abuse he was subjected to is documented in the U.S. Senate torture report.”
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Reprieve’s Guantánamo attorney Mark Maher said: “Ahmad’s clearance is long overdue. For those of us who have supported him, the feeling is one of relief, tempered with sadness for all he has lost. 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.”
In an op-ed for the LA Times Rabbani said: “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 who succumbed to health problems or took their own lives. The only alleged sexual abuse has been at the hands of American interrogators.”
He added: “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.”
However, despite being cleared for release it could take months, or even years, before he is repatriated to a country that will accept him.
According to The New York Times, since 2002 when the U.S. military prison was opened in Cuba, 780 people have been detained and only two have been convicted. Currently, there are 39 detainees and most of them are neither facing tribunal charges nor being recommended for release. Nine have died in the custody.
U.S. President Joe Biden has promised to close the notorious prison, as did his former boss Barak Obama. However, due to opposition from both Congress and his White House team, he couldn’t fulfil the commitment.