CAGE reveals exclusive details about the life, kidnap and conditions of Muhammad Rahim, the last person placed in the CIA torture programme and last transferred to Guantanamo.
On 4 August, Muhammad Rahim appeared in front a Parole Board Review at Guantanamo Bay prison, seeking release. The 51-year-old man, who disappeared for 8 months in a network of CIA black sites and the rest of the time at Guantanamo Bay for almost ten years without charge, is the last prisoner in the CIA’s torture programme.
Rahim has the dubious honour of being the individual that compelled the CIA to re-evaluate its ‘enhanced interrogation’ methods, and essentially shut down its torture programme, simply because, after facing this brutality, Rahim yielded no useful information.
According to the Senate Torture Report, “the CIA’s RDG convened an after-action review of the CIA’s interrogation of Muhammad Rahim. (…),the CIA review panel attempted to determine why the CIA had been unsuccessful in acquiring useful information from Rahim.”
The summary document emphasised that the decision to use coercive techniques immediately was a primary factor. It recommended that the CIA conduct a survey of interrogation techniques used by other U.S. government agencies and other countries in an effort to develop effective interrogation methods.
No one was put through the CIA’s detention and interrogation programme after this review.
Rahim’s “interrogations” comprised of brutal methods which included attention grasps, facial holds, abdominal slaps, and dietary manipulation – euphemisms for hanging, starving, beating and crushing of organs. He also suffered eight extensive sleep deprivation sessions – where he was shackled in a standing position, wearing virtually nothing, in one session for as long as 138.5 hours.
Despite his treatment at the hands of the CIA, Muhammad Rahim seems to have kept unique traits of character. Former military lawyer Lieutenant Commander Kevin Bogucki said of him:
“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.”
Release him, say elders
Tribal leaders from the Chaparhar district from where Rahim hails, have called for his release , with members claiming that he was merely sold by the Pakistani intelligence service to the United States, in its bounty-based dragnet post 9/11.
At a recent traditional Jirga, elders and community representatives called for his return to Afghanistan:
“In the case of Muhammad Raheem – 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.. Afghans don’t (seem to) have the same human rights. If they had the same human rights, then his wife, sister, brothers, daughter, relatives would be able to see him. Instead human rights have been trampled all over.”
These testimonies should be taken seriously. Former military lawyer Lieutenant Commander Kevin Bogucki wrote of his meeting with the tribal elders:
“When I visited Jalalabad, Afghanistan, I met with more than thirty elders of the Nangarhar province, each of whom had clear memories of Muhammad Rahim. They described him as a peaceful, caring teacher, who would go out of his way to help people. Each elder provided a letter, attesting to Muhammad Rahim’s peaceful nature and personally guaranteeing his good conduct if he were returned to Afghanistan”.
From school teacher to Pashto translator
Muhammad Rahim Al Afghani was born in the Chaparhar district, in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan. His family found refuge in Pakistan when he was just 12, where he started and graduated school in the early 80s. At the age of 16/17 years old, he joined the mujahideen, like most other Afghans, to fight for their land – answering the call of political and religious institutions which presented it as a religious duty – a call supported, at that time, by the United States.
When the Soviets were defeated, Rahim returned to his civilian life and worked as a school teacher, and a trader. Notably, he became the financial officer Nangarhar Drug Control and Development Office, a UN agency dedicated to eradicate opium in the province, between 1994 to 1995.
According to his former military defense counsel Kevin Bogucki: “The United States claims Muhammed Rahim, who speaks both Arabic and Pashto, was an interpreter for the senior-most members of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. But, even if this were true, it does not constitute a war crime. At most, it would amount to “material support for terrorism,” something the United States Federal Courts have said is not a crime that can be tried at a military commission (the only court system available to try Guantanamo detainees). Thus, the United States cannot possibly convict Muhammad Rahim of a crime and will not take him to trial. Instead, the United States will continue to hold Muhammed Rahim at Guantanamo, without a trial of any kind. This is contrary to any notion of due process or fundamental fairness”
Sold to the United States by Pakistan to face torture
The US government has shrouded Rahim’s story in secrecy.
In 2007, Rahim was captured in Lahore, Pakistan, while on a bus with his family. Several jeeps surrounded the bus and security personnel forced them into a car. They were taken to a possibly ISI site and separated. Rahim was then brought back to his family, shackled with his hands behind his back and gave them a parting advice:
“I am innocent, everything will be fine. Seek a good education”, said Rahim before he was taken out.
Hours later the family, which included 6 children was dropped in the middle of nowhere and released. Muhammad Rahim disappeared and was taken to different black sites to be tortured.
In 2008, the White House suddenly announced he was in Guantanamo, alleging he had been a translator and aid to Bin Laden. Classified as a high value detainee, it later transpired that Rahim’s torture was requested by the then head of the CIA Michael Hayden and allowed directly by US President George Bush.
Since then, while in custody, he has memorised the Qur’an, more than 1,000 hadith and studied French, and later on became well known for his witty letters to his lawyer, his wry sense of humour despite his circumstances and his stoic faith, testified in a letter to his lawyer in which he wrote:
“I have dignity. Those who humiliated me and hurt me do not. I pray for them now”.
Rahim has not been charged with any crime, but he will not be released, and is classified as a “forever prisoner”. It is suspected that this is due to the fact that he holds key knowledge about the CIA’s torture programme. His revelations would surely cause great embarrassment for the US administration.
Since his arrival, he has been detained in camp 7, the most secretive site in Guantanamo, alongside 14 other “high-value detainees”.
“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”, Kevin Bogucki said.
Perhaps Rahim’s words are the most telling. In a letter to his lawyer, he said: “How do I get out of here? I am innocent and I was tortured, hung from the ceiling until I was dead. I am not high-value. They call me high value because they tortured me. How do we undo this injustice?”
The Parole Board Review is due to give its decision within weeks.
Write to Muhammad Rahim. Send your letters to: firstname.lastname@example.org
(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.)