International Red Cross via Rahim family/AP

Stuck in Gitmo, torture victim weighs in on LeBron, ‘Gangnam Style’

In letters to lawyer, detainee Muhammad Rahim al-Afghani weighs in on pop culture, from LeBron James to Fox News

“Dear Mr. Warner:  I like this new song Gangnham-style,” Muhammad Rahim al-Afghani wrote in imperfect English to his lawyer in November 2012. “I want to do the dance for you but canot because of my shakles. please ask to have this changed.”

Rahim is one of 16 high-value detainees still held by the U.S. at the Guantánamo Bay prison, with no current prospect of being released or being put on trial.

A citizen of Afghanistan, he was seized in Pakistan on June 25, 2007, held by the CIA and then sent to Guantánamo on March 14, 2008 — the last known prisoner to arrive at the base and, according the Senate torture report released on Tuesday, the last to enter the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.

The U.S. military describes Rahim as a high-ranking member of Al-Qaeda and a close associate of Osama bin Laden.

In 2008 then–CIA Director Michael Hayden reportedly said Rahim was being held because of “his past and the continuing threat he presented to American interests.”

But Rahim has never been charged with any crime. When WikiLeaks released its trove of documents about prisoners in Guantánamo, there were none about him.

He is, however, mentioned in the summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report released Tuesday. On page 164, for example, the report notes that Hayden sent a letter requesting that President George W. Bush issue an executive order interpreting the Geneva Conventions in a manner that would allow Rahim to be questioned using the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques. It also notes that four CIA interrogators began applying those techniques to Rahim on July 21, 2007.


“During sleep deprivation sessions, Rahim was usually shackled in a standing position, wearing a diaper and a pair of shorts,” the report continues. “Rahim’s diet was almost entirely limited to water and liquid Ensure meal.”

The report cites a sleep-deprivation session lasting 138.5 hours, from Nov. 2 to Nov. 8, 2007. It also notes that “the CIA's detention and interrogation of Mohammad Rahim resulted in no disseminated intelligence report” reveals the CIA’s own conclusion after a review of Rahim’s interrogation: “Calls for study of effectiveness of interrogation techniques and recommends greater use of rapport-building techniques in future CIA interrogations.”

Rahim’s lawyer, federal public defender Carlos Warner, told Al Jazeera via email that he is not permitted to comment on the Senate report’s descriptions of his client’s experiences. “Due to draconian security restrictions that subject me to prosecution, I cannot confirm or deny what was released in the torture report,” he said. “I believe it's ironic that the report graphically details the perjury of former CIA Director Michael Hayden, yet if I were to confirm or deny the veracity of the report, I would be subject to prosecution by the Department of Justice.”

Rahim “is a man who has endured great hardship yet finds a way to make the best of a situation that would drive most others to a hopeless place,” Warner told Al Jazeera, citing letters from the detainee that display a wry sense of humor and remarkable awareness of American pop culture. 

A note on the Fox News channel, for example, questions one of that network’s key branding slogans. “If they were ‘fair and balanced,’” Rahim wrote, “They would not have to say it every 5 minutes.” He encourages Warner to play basketball with President Barack Obama and “take him straight to the post,” confident that his attorney is “bigger, stronger and younger.” He also aligns himself with Cavaliers fans by calling Lebron James “a very bad man,” demanding that the NBA star “apologize to the city of Cleveland.”

“He loves life and looks forward to living his,” wrote Warner. “His letters are a great demonstration of who he is and his desire to live free.”

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