The US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released its CIA torture report recently, detailing the CIA practices of torture and inhuman treatment of its prisoners since 9/11. The report has some shocking details of CIA torture techniques of ‘enhanced interrogation’, their inefficacy in fighting terrorism and how the CIA and the White House have lied to Congress and policymakers since 9/11. The report details some disturbing torture techniques that were used on prisoners kept in black sites by the CIA; however, at the same time, the report failed to mention that most such prisoners were captured illegally or rendered from totalitarian regimes. The CIA still likes to think that its techniques saved lives; the US Senate thinks otherwise. In this regard, the story below requires Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s attention.
Ahmed Rabbani was born in Saudi Arabia to Pakistani parents, who had migrated to Pakistan after Partition and made Karachi their home. Later, the family moved to Saudi Arabia in search of a livelihood. Rabbani naturally learnt Arabic while growing up in Saudi Arabia. Our prime minister, more than anyone else, would understand from his exile years in Saroor Palace that among other things, one of the “perils” of living in Saudi Arabia is learning Arabic as many people in his family speak it fluently. Rabbani did not settle in Saudi Arabia and eventually moved back to Pakistan. He started his life as a taxi driver in Karachi in the 1990s, taking advantage of the prime minister’s yellow cab scheme and soon his clientele included Arab visitors to Karachi. They found a guide and driver speaking their language in a foreign land helpful and started referring him to others coming this way. Rabbani got married in Karachi in 2001. Then the horrible day of 9/11 arrived and with it, the despicable things that happened thousands of miles away in the US sealed Rabbani’s fate. Little did he know that speaking Arabic, which was an asset on his CV till then, would become the reason for his torment.
In December 2001, he was picked up in Karachi and kept in a detention centre, where he was tortured by Pakistanis in the presence of American agents. Then in January 2002, he was shifted to Islamabad where he was rendered to the Americans without any due process. If you are looking for proof of this, I must refer you to Pervez Musharraf’s own confession in his book, In the Line of Fire, where he admits “handing over hundreds of Pakistanis in return for bounties in millions”. Rabbani’s real ordeal actually began now. Here are some details narrated by him to his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, who has filed an affidavit before the Islamabad High Court (IHC) in litigation filed by Rabbani’s family.
Rabbani told Clive that at times guards in Guantanamo Bay would enter his cell and tie his hands behind his back. One of the heavier guards would sit on his back. One would forcefully pull his nose to the right while the other would forcefully pull his mouth to the left. One guard would violently pull down Rabbani’s genitals to the point that he almost fainted. One applied great pressure on his eyes with Rabbani believing he would go blind. One guard would choke him with great violence. The guards would then tape his mouth, put a hood over his face and tape the hood tightly around his neck. He had great difficulty breathing. His hands were often shackled to a wall at a distance of approximately one metre from the ground. At this distance, he could neither lie down to sleep nor stand up without bending over. His feet were also shackled and in this position he was forced to sleep while seated. He was, in fact, deliberately deprived of sleep. Guards would bang at his door to wake him up, or put extremely loud music in his cell. He was kept in this position for at least a month. He was often burnt with cigarettes, threatened him with sodomy and even buried alive. He was sprayed with cold water during freezing winters, placed in a small box with his face covered in a mask and tape, and forced to sit on a frozen block of ice until his legs and feet would turn blue or green.
All this is not part of fiction but are hard facts coming out of the CIA’s dark prisons for a while, and now confirmed by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. What is more troubling is the confirmation through the intelligence committee report that Rabbani turned out to be the wrong guy nabbed by the CIA.
Rabbani has been in America’s illegal detention for the last 14 years. His only child is 13 and was born months after his capture and rendition to the US. His son has never seen his father, and Rabbani didn’t know about his existence till he was almost six years old. Such a fate should not be the lot of any human being, let alone of an innocent man held without charge or due process for so many years. Hundreds of other prisoners from Guantanamo, who belonged to countries which demanded their release and were held illegally by the US, have been released. Our prime minister, who has personally seen prison and suffered through exile, should understand Rabbani’s plight. It is his duty to demand his release and of all other such prisoners, who are being held without due process by other states. Real democracy gives its citizens protection from tyranny, torture and excesses of the powerful. If making roads, metro buses, bridges and motorways is real democracy, then our military dictators have done a much better job. Rabbani’s family has filed a constitutional petition with the IHC seeking his return and accountability of those who rendered him to the US without any due process, but it remains ultimately our prime minister’s duty to bring such prisoners home.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 17th, 2015.