What could a US military officer, a former Taliban ambassador, an Afghan Member of Parliament and village elders ever agree on? Not much, some might say. Yet, they all concur on the future of one man: Muhammad Rahim, the last Afghan taken to Guantanamo in 2008, should be released.
Born in the Chaparhar district, in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan, his upbringing resembles that of many Afghans of his age.
His family found refuge in Pakistan when he was just 12. At the age of 16 years old, he joined the mujahideen, like many other Afghans, to fight for their land against the Soviets.
“At that time, Afghans were told it was a religious duty to defend their religion, their land and their honour. Everyone, especially the international community, encouraged and praised the Afghan jihad,” said his brother Abdul Basit.
After the Soviet withdrawal, the country descended into civil war. Muhammad Rahim did not take part and returned to his civilian life.
“When the mujahideen took over Afghanistan, he left his gun. He never got involved in the in-fighting between political parties and groups,” his brother emphasised.
He worked as a school teacher, and a trader. Notably, he became the financial officer for the Nangarhar Drug Control and Development Office, a UN agency dedicated to eradicating opium in the province, between 1994 to 1995. He also tended to tribal matters as a respected personality in his district.
His life took a dramatic turn in 2007 when he was kidnapped in front of his wife and children by the CIA in Lahore, Pakistan.
He was bundled into a jeep, and for eight months, he disappeared into the network of CIA secret prisons where he was subjected to human experimentation, beaten and starved.
According to the US Senate “torture report”, his torture produced no intelligence.
In 2008, the US announced he had been transferred to Guantanamo Bay, and placed in the secretive “camp 7”.
“Muhammad Rahim’s legal status is truly unfortunate. I often describe Guantanamo as an upside-down and backward world, where the guilty have more rights than the innocent,” said his former military lawyer, Lt. Commander Kevin Bogucki.
“Since he is not guilty of any war crime, the United States will never take him to trial. And, if he never goes to trial, he will never have an opportunity to prove his innocence,” he added.
The US military man speaks fondly of his former client. “Muhammad Rahim is one of the most intelligent and personable men I have ever met. He is genuinely friendly and has a rare sense of humour that keeps me smiling throughout our meetings. In fact, I am consistently impressed by Muhammad Rahim’s ability to maintain a positive attitude in such a hostile and uncomfortable environment. It is a testament to his faith and his strength of character.”
Now in his mid-fifties, and having spent 13 years detained without charge, the ageing man’s health has become a matter of concern, as he suffers from numerous ailments as a result of his torture.
More worryingly, a medical examination has found several nodules on his liver, kidney, lung and rib, which a specialist has revealed could be indicative of cancer.
But in Guantanamo, even prisoners’ health is shrouded in secrecy.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported that “the Government of the United States is intentionally hindering the access to his medical records, it is impossible to determine with precision how much his condition has deteriorated.”
Yet, the evidence available to the Commission in 2017 was sufficient to issue “precautionary measures” as the Commission considered “that the rights to life and personal integrity of Mr. Muhammad Rahim are at serious risk as a result of the alleged detention conditions and his current health situation.”
This still did not lead the US administration to consider his release.
Relief for the father of seven might come from somewhere else though. There seems to be a growing demand for his liberation coming from his homeland, Afghanistan.
In 2016 already, tribal elders from 36 villages gathered in a traditional jirga to demand his repatriation:
“All of us of Chaparhar are witnesses that he is a respectable and honourable man from an educated family. His family is well known to us and he has often worked for the benefit of the community and the elders.
It is a grave injustice that he has been sent to Guantanamo.”
His name has also been mentioned several times during the Afghan peacebuilding process currently taking place in Doha, Qatar.
According to Suhail Shaheen, a spokesperson for the Taliban delegation, Mullah Baradar called directly on the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to release the remaining two Afghan detainees at Guantanamo Bay, one of them being Muhammad Rahim.
Rahim also benefits from the support of members of the officially recognised Kabul administration, such as Maulvi Shahzada Shahid, Member of Parliament and Spokesperson for High Peace Council.
“We would like to demand for the release of Muhammad Rahim, son of Mohammad Jamal, keeping in mind the human sympathy and human rights. We sincerely hope that the demand of his family, our guarantees and declarations will be enough for his urgent release,” he wrote in a letter to the Parole Board Review.
The latest prominent voice to call for the return of Muhammad Rahim was none other than Mullah Abdulsalam Zaeef, former Ambassador to Pakistan for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
“For all Afghans, it’s a very painful story, and more importantly, rather shameful one. How can we, as responsible people, ignore this suffering and this dire situation?
I am calling on the authorities in the United States to end the suffering of these individuals”, he said referring to both Muhammad Rahim and Asadullah Haroon.
Meanwhile, a petition has been launched by the London-based advocacy group CAGE, to call for his release.
“After 13 years in Guantanamo, the US has not found a single crime to charge Muhammad Rahim with. It is outrageous that he is still detained, especially as former Guantanamo detainees played a central role in negotiating the peace agreement with the US. Muhammad Rahim must be released.”
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Author: Arnaud Mafille @ArnaudMafille
Arnaud Mafille is the Director of Education and training for CAGE, a UK-based organisation that advocates for due process, the rule of law and conflict resolution in the War on Terror. He has interviewed and assisted over 300 survivors of state-abuse.