Guantanamo: An enduring symbol of the savagery unleashed upon innocent Muslims

Peter Oborne 10 January 2022 15:22 UTC | Last update: 7 hours 51 mins agoThe West’s ‘war on terror’ has been framed as a mortal struggle against a barbarous, irrational Islam hell-bent on the destruction of freedom. Guantanamo inverts this story

Protesters gather in front of the US Supreme Court to call for the closure of the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on 11 January 2017 (AFP)

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Twenty years ago, a Pakistani taxi driver called Ahmed Rabbani was kidnapped by Pakistan state authorities from his home in Karachi and taken to the country’s capital Islamabad.

From there he was transferred to Cobalt, the notorious “dark prison” near Kabul in Afghanistan, where he was held in CIA custody. The Senate select committee report on torture, published 10 years ago, has documented what Rabbani and many others experienced. Family torn apart by Guantanamo: ‘I have never seen my dad’Read More »

Cobalt’s blacked-out windows left prisoners isolated in total darkness – and often without heat in Afghanistan’s freezing winters. They were shackled to bars with their hands forced above their heads, meaning they could never rest.

Loud music was played constantly, denying sleep. Some detainees were subjected to cigarette burns. Others were stripped naked, hosed down with water and placed in cold cells.

Rabbani, 52, said that for days on end he was “hung by the hand to an iron shackle where my toes hardly touched the ground”. This torture, known as strappado, was favoured by the Spanish Inquisition.

After 540 days in Cobalt, Rabbani was rendered to Guantanamo Bay, the offshore military prison where US law does not apply, meaning that the US government was able to hold detainees indefinitely without charge as enemy combatants.  

Mistaken identity

Rabbani is innocent. As the Senate report recorded in 2012, he had been mistaken for an al-Qaeda operative called Hassan Ghul. The United States has known this for a decade, probably much longer. He is still in Guantanamo today.

Many have suffered in the same way. In total, almost 800 men have been imprisoned during its 20-year history.

‘Just imagine your life without your father for 18 years. What would you be? If he didn’t touch you or care for you or provide you his love, his money, everything? Where would you be?

– Jawad Rabbani, son of Ahmed Rabbani

Rabbani, a Rohingya Pakistani, weighed around 73kg at the time of his arrest. Emaciated from a hunger strike, today he weighs just 30kg, meaning – he likes to joke – that 57 percent of him “escaped” from Guantanamo. He suffers mentally and finds it hard to remember things.

His family have been tortured, too, but in a different way. In Islamabad last autumn, I met his 18-year-old son Jawad. Jawad has never met his father, who was seized a few months before he was born.

He told me how as a child his mother explained his father’s absence by saying that Rabbani was away working in Saudi Arabia. He first spoke to him when he was six years old, in a 15-minute telephone call arranged by the Red Cross. 

His father told him he was in jail. “I asked him why are you in jail? The jail is supposed to be for bad people. He laughed and didn’t reply,” said Jawad. Jawad said this knowledge started to “affect me a lot” when he became a teenager. “I went to the dark web when I was 13 or 14 years old. So, I looked for the videos, those people who tortured and how they torture and all the things you get on the dark web,” he said.

“I was in those groups where they used to share those videos where they tortured people and all those things. So, I do have an idea of how they tortured him and all the things, waterboarding to kicking him or playing music that will torture my dad. How they will make miserable his brain and all the things. I knew it. 

“There was a time that I used to believe my father had committed a crime. That’s why he’s been tortured, because you don’t torture a person for no reason. I used to cry, you know, at night in my room. “Just imagine your life without your father for 18 years. What would you be? If he didn’t touch you or care for you or provide you his love, his money, everything? Where would you be?” 

'I used to cry at night in my room,' says Jawad Rabbani (Photo: Huthifa Fayyad/MEE)
‘I used to cry in my room,’ says Jawad Rabbani (Photo: Huthifa Fayyad/MEE)

Rule of law abandoned

Jawad became introverted and tormented. He could never make friends because he felt unable to talk about his family circumstances.

Jawad says the turning point came when he met Clive Stafford Smith, the British lawyer who has represented more than 80 of the Guantanamo detainees. “I learned after that meeting that my father is innocent,” Jawad said. “The second thing is that I shouldn’t be ashamed of my father because he’s in jail.” 

It’s a repellent story.

The United States completely abandoned the rule of law and any pretence of due process with its practice of arbitrary detention and torture – or “enhanced interrogation”. Britain complied meekly, with the US imprisoning and torturing British citizens without charge. British intelligence was involved in interrogations.

Habeas corpus, that famed ancient liberty, which ensures that no one can be imprisoned unlawfully, has been completely disregarded in the “war on terror”. 

In the jingoistic post-9/11 atmosphere, Muslims were deemed by many in the West to be undeserving of basic human rights. It is inconceivable that the British government would have stood by as a white Christian Briton was tortured and imprisoned in Cuba; in the case of British Muslims, however, they considered it unproblematic.

Barbarism and savagery

Every prisoner has been Muslim. The first 20 detainees arrived there 20 years ago, on 11 January 2002. Guantanamo constructs terrorism as a Muslim crime, requiring an alternative legal structure to cope with what was seen as the exceptional horror of Muslim crimes.

Guantanamo constructs terrorism as a Muslim crime, requiring an alternative legal structure to cope with what was seen as the exceptional horror of Muslim crimes

The prison remains open today. Innocent men are sitting in their cells there at this very moment. The prison stands as a reminder of the enduring barbarism and savagery unleashed upon innocent Muslims by the Islamophobia generated in the West after 9/11. 

The war on terror has been framed in the West as a mortal struggle against a barbarous, irrational Islam hell-bent on the destruction of freedom and human life. Guantanamo inverts this story.

By coincidence, on the evening I interviewed Jawad, the news came through that, after two decades of incarceration, the US authorities had scheduled Ahmed Rabbani for release. He shouldn’t be too hopeful. There are Guantanamo detainees who have been scheduled for release for a decade and have still not been freed. There has never been a satisfactory explanation from the US government. 

As for Jawad, he yearns for his father’s freedom, and told me his dream was that the two could open a restaurant together in their native Karachi. Let’s pray they are not kept waiting for too much longer. 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.Peter ObornePeter Oborne won best commentary/blogging in 2017 and was named freelancer of the year in 2016 at the Online Media Awards for articles he wrote for Middle East Eye. He was also named as British Press Awards Columnist of the Year in 2013. He resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph in 2015. His latest book, The Assault on Truth, was published in February 2021. His previous books include The Triumph of the Political Class, The Rise of Political Lying, and Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran.


3 replies

  1. The west, especially USA and UK talk a lot about Justice, etc., but never apply it to themselves, do they?

    They are hell-bent on practising injustices with anybody they believe to be against or outspoken about what they actually do. E.g. is the Guantanamo unjust prison where no law applies and the latest with Julian Assange and his extradition.

    These people are some of the most unjust on the face of the earth!

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