On 11 January, the world solemnly marked twenty-one years of America’s torturous extrajudicial prison site in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Fast-forward to this past Friday, two of the very first to step through its gates were released.  Ahmed and Abdul Rabbani, Pakistani nationals of Rohingya heritage – and nephews of the late Masjid al-Nabawi imam, Shaykh Muhammad Ayub (raḥimahu Allah) – touched down in Karachi at midday. They were immediately welcomed by family and legal representatives.
The veteran rights lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, who has represented approximately 80 men unjustly held in Guantanamo Bay, took to social media platforms to express the “magic moment” he was able to sit and speak with the Rabbani brothers outside of the prison’s confines.
In addition, the oldest prisoner to have been incarcerated at the notorious prison site, the Pakistani-American US citizen, Saifullah Paracha, joined the newly released Rabbani brothers in a deeply moving reunion that marked the beginning of a new chapter in their lives – rebuilding and finding their feet after decades of isolation and torture.
Guantanamo detention a “tragedy”
As reported by the Middle East Eye, a statement issued by the rights organisation, Reprieve, described the detention of Ahmed Rabbani as a “tragedy”.
Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve US, said,
“The tragedy of Ahmed Rabbani’s two decades of unjust imprisonment exemplifies how far the USA strayed from its founding principles during the ‘war on terror’ era.
“His interrogators knew they had the wrong man, but tortured him anyway, and then built a case against him using the false testimony of other torture victims to justify his indefinite detention.”
Donations pour in
Smith described how the release of the brothers is a watershed moment, and one in which people urgently need to donate to help rebuild 53-year-old Ahmed and 55-year-old Abdul’s lives.
Incredibly, a crowdfunding initiative launched by the Dorset-based 3D Centre – at which Smith is the founder and director – has already received donations of £14,229, with a target set for £15,000.
“It is a long walk up from the depths of Guantanamo and one thing I will be doing in Karachi is getting them therapy…
“In terms of the future, I will sue for them, but their chance of compensation is slim. Neither will they get a simple apology.”
Meeting the son he never knew
For Ahmed Rabbani, whose wife was four months pregnant at the time of his 2002 capture, prior to this past weekend, he had never met his son.
Jawad Rabbani, now 20-years-old, bears a strong likeness of his father, although Ahmed appears frail and a shadow of the man who entered the prison on 19 September 2004.
An expert artist and chef
It can be easy to subconsciously dehumanise names and the people behind ‘mug shots’, particularly when some media outlets deliberately limit the human aspects of individuals such as Ahmed and Abdul Rabbani.
But Ahmed Rabbani is a person who, despite enduring a staggering seven years on hunger strike, took the time to cook for fellow prisoners, and became famous within the prison for his artistic skills.
Indeed, in a 3D Centre statement, Clive Stafford Smith described Ahmed in the following words,
“[He] complied with his abusers for several years before losing patience. In 2013, he went on a hunger strike which lasted a world-record 7 years, and he was force fed to keep him alive. He lost half his body weight, reduced at one point to 84 lbs (6 stone).
“His Anglo-American lawyer Clive Stafford Smith got art supplies to divert him, and he became one of the prison’s celebrated artists. Indeed, on May 2 2023, there will be a show of his work in Karachi.
“He is also a skilled chef, and cooked for other prisoners even while he starved himself. Some of his recipes cleared the U.S. military censors and Yorkshire chef Damon Wright is working with him to produce the ‘Guantánamo Cook Book’.”