Hunger Striker Lobbies Gitmo Board for Release

     WASHINGTON (CN) – A Pakistani man who is in his 11th year of a hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay, and his 12th year of imprisonment at the camp without a charge, appeared frail Thursday at a hearing on whether he can be freed.
     Representatives for the detainee told the parole-style Periodic Review Board that any work Mohammed Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani did for al-Qaida was not motivated by extremism.
     “Mr. Rabbani was a shrewd and cunning businessman and chased after the almighty dollar,” his unnamed personal representative said, reading from a prepared statement in proceedings broadcast via closed-circuit from Cuba to the Pentagon.
     “He did not really care to find out who he was working with, but he stresses that he was working for money, not for a religious cause or an agenda,” the statement continues.
     Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, Rabbani’s private counsel, went even farther, saying the CIA arrested her client thinking he was Hassan Ghul, an alleged al-Qaida top lieutenant, but continued to hold Rabbani even after finding out his true identity.
     The unclassified portion of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s 2014 report on the CIA torture program backs up Sullivan-Bennis’ claim.
     According to the report, the CIA knew Rabbani was not Ghul the day after it arrested him and his driver outside of an apartment complex in September 2002.
     “By September 11, 2002, it was determined that an individual named Muhammad Ahmad Ghulam Rabbani, aka Abu Badr, and his driver were arrested, not Hassan Ghul,” the report says.
     Claims by the driver that Rabbani was an al-Qaida facilitator led the CIA to haul Rabbani to a secret CIA black site, where he was one of the 17 detainees who were tortured without the approval of CIA headquarters, according to the report.
     Now nearly 12 years into his detention without charge at Guantanamo, Rabbani is still participating in a hunger strike that began in August 2005.
     The U.S. government began force-feeding hunger strikers years ago, however, and a representative for the detainee told the review board Thursday that Rabbani has started eating solid food. Specifics about the nature of Rabbani’s strike are unclear, but a representative said Rabbani eats at his meetings with his representatives.
     “Hunger striking is a peaceful way of protesting his situation and one of the few choices or decisions that Mr. Rabbani feels he can make while in detention,” the representative said.
     Years of eating strictly liquid supplements has left Rabbani’s body unable to process solid food, causing the detainee to suffer “severe nausea” when he does, the representative added.
     Rabbani is working with doctors at Guantanamo to get back to eating solid food and now goes willingly to his feedings, his personal representative said.
     Leaning forward with his arms folded on the table in front of him during the hearing, Rabbani seemed slight, especially when he raised his arm and the sleeve of the loose, white shirt he wore slide down his thin bicep. Rabbani has a long, thick black beard and wore a white covering on his head, sitting with what appeared to be a pen in his right hand, poised to write on pieces of paper placed in front of him.
     The government says Rabbani was a financial and travel facilitator for alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and alleged USS Cole blombing plotter Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri from 1997 to 2002. It also claims in Rabbani’s detainee profile that he helped run a safe house for al-Qaida in Pakistan and helped plan an attack in the Strait of Hormuz.
     But Rabbani’s personal representative insisted her client was purely business-minded and not working toward a particular cause.
     Though a detainee profile describes Rabbani as “relatively noncompliant,” and “steadfast” in his support of extremism, representatives for the man said Rabbani is a peaceful man who has been a prolific artist during his time in the military prison.
     A personal representative for Rabbani told the board the Pakistani has painted “hundreds” of pieces of art during his time in Guantanamo and has even drawn the interest of a dealer in New York.
     Some of the paintings were submitted to the board, though they were not visible during the public portion of the hearing or made a part of the public record.
     “While not happy with his detainment, Mr. Rabbani has never expressed any anti-American sentiments to us and has repeatedly affirmed that he has no desire to harm anyone upon his release from detention,” his personal representative said at the hearing.
     The government says most of Rabbani’s infractions happened between 2013 and 2015, likely because he and his brother were separated at the prison.
     There appeared to be some disagreement at the hearing over where Rabbani would go should the board find he does not pose a threat to the United States. While his detainee profile says Rabbani would like to go to Malaysia because he is ethnically Burmese, Sullivan-Bennis said he would like to join his wife and youngest son in their four-bedroom house in Karachi, Pakistan.
     Sullivan-Bennis called Rabbani’s family “warm and close,” and noted that his youngest son was born after his father was detained and has never actually met him.
     “His youngest child is now a teenager whose only connection with his father over the years has been through [International Committee of the Red Cross] arranged monthly calls,” Sullivan-Bennis said. “Suffice it to say that Ahmed’s family is eager to have him back.”
     Should he be released from Guantanamo, Rabbani would be able to leverage his ability to speak four languages and experience in the hospitality industry into a job, his personal representative said.

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