Ahmed Rabbani is a Pakistani Rohingya and is currently being held at Guantanamo Bay. After his divorce in 2002, he had recently remarried and – unknown to him at the time – his wife was pregnant when he was arrested in Karachi on September 10, 2002. His youngest son was born a few months later. They have never met.
He was picked up by Pakistani authorities and handed over to the US, then taken to the Dark Prison in Kabul where he says he was tortured for 540 days. It is believed he has been misidentified as Hassan Ghul, a member of al-Qaeda in Pakistan.
Later, it was reported (in US Senate Report on CIA Interrogations, 2014) that the US had arrested Ghul and even briefly held him in the Dark Prison – but then let him return to Pakistan. He was killed in a drone strike in 2012. Ahmed, meanwhile, was taken to Guantanamo Bay.
Since 2013, Ahmed has been on a hunger strike in peaceful protest against his detention. She was force-fed every day. He has a son and an older daughter from a previous marriage who are now in their early 20s. This is her description of the impact of detention without trial on her children (whose names have been removed for privacy). It was dictated to his human rights lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith:
I spoke with my youngest son on a Skype call arranged by the Red Cross and I asked him, “You live an isolated life, and you don’t have a normal time for a 17 year old. You are depressed and your mindset is chaotic and closed off. Why are you doing this to yourself and what can I do to help you? “
She told me, crying as she spoke, “Dad, as I grew up, I was afraid and scared. When I was young, my mother and grandmother didn’t allow me to leave the house at all except to walk to school. They were so afraid of losing me to losing you: that someone would come, arrest me, and give me to the Americans. They are also afraid that local officials will ask us for money.
“They didn’t even let me go to the shop across the street, because they thought I was going to talk innocently to the people there and bring us more trouble, so it’s safer to keep me locked up in a house, like a prison.
“My mother doesn’t want me to ask anything from anyone, not even her uncles or aunts. We were so poor, we never saw fish and chicken, except in the market. I know you’ve been on a hunger strike for eight years now, and you cook for other people but can’t eat – it’s like that, I guess, living across the market and never getting to taste the good food they sell there. I do slip out of the way from time to time, because shop owners throw away damaged items, and I creep up when they go to pick them up.
“Now, I’m almost 18 years old but I still can’t go out freely, and it’s all because of what happened to you.” She cries when she says it, and I cry every time I think about it.
I also talked to my eldest son. “You do karate and other martial arts. Why are you so afraid of life? Why don’t you live freely? “
He replied, “Dad, when I was very young – about seven years – my mother, grandmother and grandfather lied to me and told me that you worked in Saudi Arabia. They are using the same lies as my sister. We always told our friends that our father worked in Saudi, so we were taught to cheat too. When we found out that you were in prison rather than working in Saudi, we were very young and it made us hate you and our grandparents because our lives had been lying for years.
“Still, I felt like I was lying to other people. I know you have been tortured and treated very badly. But I’m too embarrassed to tell my friends about you. I cannot prove your innocence if anyone challenges me, even though I believe in my soul. This makes me double guilty, because now I fear that I committed a crime against you.
“When I understood what happened on 9/11, and its aftermath, I began to understand the fear that gripped everyone. I also understand the oppression and injustice that Muslims experience, some driven by the torture you have endured. Also, I understand the horror of your long incarceration.
“But now it seems there is another lie. You kept telling us that you were going to be released, and it never happened. This means I keep growing for fear that terrible injustice could happen to me, too, at any time. It had a big impact on my faith. I have memorized the entire Koran. Then, I find it hard to be religious when such injustice befalls you. I began to forget even what I had memorized. I think I’m doing this because, I think psychologically, I don’t want to suffer the way you do because of your religious beliefs. “
My daughter had memorized 15 chapters of the Koran, but then stopped. I asked him, “Why did you stop? You’ve come this far, why not memorize the rest? “
He replied, “If someone jokes or makes fun of me that my father is in prison, I will be silenced, so I can’t even speak. Once on a phone call with you, my aunt was with me, and she joked, ‘Your father is in prison and it looks like he will never be released.’
“I was so shocked by that simple statement that I could not speak to the call, not even to greet you. This is what happens to me whenever someone jokes or makes a small comment at me – I am dumbfounded, mute and unable to say a word.
“So my aunt asked you, my father, ‘If you give me permission, we’ll pull her out of school because she can’t talk to people, sitting in a corner very quietly.’ As my father, you gave permission for this in the end, because there was no point in subjecting me to torture at school. “
I asked my daughter recently if she had any plans to get married. She said, “Who will agree to marry me when she finds out that my father is imprisoned at Guantanamo? Who would ruin his reputation and character like that? Whoever marries me, one day he will use your situation at Guantanamo against me. My silence and anger are still there. I am afraid that this will contaminate whoever will marry me. I was worried that he would divorce me, and that would put me in an even worse situation. So, I will marry only if you are released. “
She said it clearly and frankly to me. It surprised me inwardly.
This is the situation of my children. I cried thinking about the terror that filled them because of my existence. Every time I say I will be released, now that more than 18 years have passed, they think it’s wrong. They said: “This is what you believe, but American authorities will never set you free.” They said that they would only meet their father in the coffin. It will be covered in flowers, but my body will rot as it travels half the world to Karachi. They described how even the flowers in the casket would have been picked in 2002, when I was taken, and they are dead now.
Who will take care of the psychological pain my children are experiencing? Who will agree to marry them? Which commercial company will agree to employ my child after they finish their studies? I am forgotten here, and my future is completely lost. But much more important to me is the future of my children, who have been stolen by this terrible prison.