CAGE interviews the brother of Muhammad Rahim al Afghani, the detainee who ended the CIA torture program and the last to be taken to Guantanamo in 2008. Classified as a “high-value” detainee, Muhammad Rahim recently appeared in front of a Parole Review Board (PRB), seeking release from Guantanamo.
Through the story of Muhammad Rahim, the tale of Afghanistan can be told. It is a tale of resilience despite nearly four decades of war.
His brother tells us how his family was made refugee by the Russian invasion, how two of his brothers took part in the struggle and were killed, how their life was once again turned upside down after the US intervention and how Guantanamo has impacted them.
CAGE: Please tell us a bit about your background. When and where were you born? How many siblings have you got?
I was born in the Jalalabad province of Afghanistan in the village of Chaparhar. I was one of 5 brothers and 3 sisters. I am currently 35 years of age.
CAGE: What was your relationship like with Muhammad Rahim as a child?
Extremely close. He was like a father figure to me. He is my brother, he is my friend, he is my teacher.
CAGE: Tell us about the period of the Soviet invasion and occupation – how did it affect your family and your region?
My family participated in the struggle against the Soviet invaders. We evacuated to Pakistan and lived as refugees. My father fought the Russians. My elder brothers, Abdul Aziz and Zalmay were both martyred fighting the Soviets.
In 1983 or 1984, my brother Abdul Aziz was captured by the Russians. He was detained and tortured. He was killed but the body was never returned to us. We don’t know what they did to him or what they did with the body.
My other brother Zalmay, must have been 16 or 17 at the time. The Russians killed him on the road. He was ran over by a Russian tank. His crushed body was never returned to us either.
CAGE: What did Muhammad Rahim do during this time?
He was very young when my two brothers were killed.
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.
When Muhammad Rahim was about 15, he left school to join the armed resistance against the Russians. He fought the Russians because he wanted to be free and our nation to be free.
When the mujahideen took over Afghanistan, he left his gun. He never got involved in the in-fighting between political parties and groups.
CAGE: Tell us about his family.
He is married with 5 sons and 2 daughters.
CAGE: What happened to your family after the American invasion and overthrow of the Taliban?
In the aftermath of the American invasion and occupation, Muhammad Rahim was approached by important personalities in our home region in order to effectively become an agent of the Americans. When he refused my family’s political enemies started to cause trouble for us and started spreading rumours and misinformation about Muhammad Rahim. He fled in late 2001 to Pakistan. Prior to the American intervention, he had worked for a period for the United Nations drug eradication programme. After quitting this post, he involved himself in tribal matters as well as in trading.
CAGE: When did you last see or hear from your brother?
I last saw him in person in late 2001. In 2009, whilst a prisoner at Bagram, I heard from guards that he had been captured in Pakistan.
Letters take months to arrive to and from Guantanamo.The US authorities will still not allow me to have calls with him even after my release. Our mother and his family are permitted to have monthly Skype conversations with him through the International Committee of the Red Cross. They have to travel hundreds of kilometres to attend the sessions. They must record a 30-minute message which is viewed and cleared. The process can take hours before Muhammad is permitted to see it. His response likewise must pass the censors before being sent back.
CAGE: How has he coped with his incarceration? What abuses has he been subjected to? How has it affected his family?
Although he is a tough man and on the exterior he seems to be holding up, there is no doubt his experiences will have affected him mentally. I was subjected to far less torture and abuse than him and to this day I still am suffering the effects of it.
The bone of his wrist remains deformed due to being hanged to the ceiling for hours. He developed an ulcer and stomach conditions, which they are not treating properly, due to the starvation he was put through. Despite all this, he has managed to memorise the Qur’an and over a thousand hadiths. Mentally he is managing to cope day by day. His children have had to grow up without their father and this has affected them too.
CAGE: If he is released what do you think he will do?
There are one of two scenarios:
(i) Return to Afghanistan and resume his life there. His presence will prove a good for the peace and stability efforts. He is widely respected in his home province and can help mediate.
(ii) He can settle in a third country with his family. He will get on with a peaceful life, just like I did. He can trade in order to support his family.
CAGE: Do you think he harbours any desires of revenge against the United States?
No. Just as I have made a new life for myself he will seek to do the same.
CAGE: What is the opinion of the people in his home province of Afghanistan about him?
He is hugely popular, widely known and respected. Even today, I receive enquires from Afghans about Muhammad; people want to know when he is coming home.
CAGE: What do you want to say to the United States government and specifically to the Parole Review Board?
No evidence has been produced against Muhammad Rahim, so why then has he been held for more than 9 years?
Is not you holding him without trial or charge and employing torture techniques (so-called “enhanced interrogation”) on him demonstration enough of your power and might? Enough now!
I told you the story of my brother who was detained and killed by the Soviets. Please, return Muhammad Rahim to his family. Save his life and the lives of his family members – do not be like the Soviets.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)