Guantánamo

Guantánamo parole board upholds detention of Afghan intrigued by pop culture

Muhammed Rahim al-Afghani poses for the International Committee of the Red Cross at the prison at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in a photo the Associated Press obtained in 2012 from the Afghan’s family.
Muhammed Rahim al-Afghani poses for the International Committee of the Red Cross at the prison at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in a photo the Associated Press obtained in 2012 from the Afghan’s family. AP

The Guantánamo parole board has upheld the “forever prisoner” status of a former CIA captive whose lawyer has portrayed him as one of the prison’s best known consumers of popular culture.

Muhammed Rahim al-Afghani, 50, “was a trusted member of al-Qaida who worked directly for senior members of al-Qaida, including Osama bin Laden, serving as a translator, courier, facilitator, and operative,” the Periodic Review Board board wrote in a brief decision released by the Pentagon on Tuesday.

It said he knew in advance about the Sept. 11 attacks and had a role in attacks on U.S. and coalition targets in Afghanistan.

Rahim has been held at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba since March 2008 but has never been charged with a crime. In 2009, a federal task force that reviewed the detainee population at the prison designated him for indefinite detention, not trial, “a forever prisoner.”

His attorney of eight years, Cleveland-based public defender Carlos Warner, said the board “didn’t get the full picture” because Warner wasn’t permitted to participate in his Aug. 4 hearing. “He had no knowledge about 9/11 in advance. He is being held because he was in a black site, not because of what he did. If he did those things, why didn’t they charge him?”

The decision makes the Afghan the 20th of Guantánamo’s last 61 captives to be designated as a forever prisoner. Another 20 are approved for release. Ten are charged with crimes and 10 more are awaiting board decisions.

In 2012, the Associated Press put a spotlight on the captive, saying he “has apparently gained extensive knowledge of western pop culture” at Guantánamo’s clandestine Camp 7 prison for former CIA captives. It described “quirky notes” from the Afghan captive to his lawyer “peppered with references to Howard Stern, Fox News and the global video hit of South Korean singer PSY.”

At pretrial hearings in the Sept. 11 case in 2012, a Navy lawyer also submitted a note from Rahim to Warner to illustrate the delays and complexity of getting attorney-client mail from Camp 7.

The note said: “LeBron James is very bad man. He shuld apologise to the city of Cleveland.” Then Navy Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Bogucki, defense attorney for a captive actually charged in the Sept. 11, 2001 conspiracy, said it took Warner two months to get the letter declassified for public release.

Rahim offered an apology of sorts of his own at his Aug. 4 hearing when a U.S. military officer assigned to help argue for release read a statement describing the Afghan’s eagerness to be reunited with his family — two wives and seven children.

“He has also shown regret for his past actions, saying he only did what he did for money, so he could feed his family,” the unnamed American officer said. “Rahim has spoken of wanting a peaceful life in the future.”

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg

Additional reading

Our Periodic Review Board guide, here, to the progress, decisions.

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