Guantánamo detainee wants Ludacris to stop by and say hi; he won’t

Ludacris performs before University of Georgia spring football game

Atlanta rap artist Ludacris performs pregame entertainment at the University of Georgia spring game.
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Atlanta rap artist Ludacris performs pregame entertainment at the University of Georgia spring game.

Word of rapper Ludacris’ coming Fourth of July concert has reached an Afghan man held as a Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin militia member at the U.S. Navy base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

A lawyer for Haroon al-Afghani said she mentioned the upcoming show in a telephone call with the prisoner Wednesday, and he wondered if the artist would stop in to see the prisoners, too.

The idea is not as preposterous as it sounds. Celebrities have toured the Detention Center Zone in past years.

“We all know rap. Many of us listen to it,” the 30-something Afghani told attorney Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, according to a partial transcript of Wednesday’s call released by her firm. “It is very kind of him to visit here. But, wait, will he visit the detainees?”

The answer is no. Navy Capt. John Filostrat, a prison spokesman, said by email Friday that the artist is “not stopping by Camps 5 or 6 while he’s on Naval Station Guantánamo Bay” for his 10 p.m. Independence Day concert on a portion of the 45-square-mile base far from the Detention Center Zone.

While Guantánamo periodically gets regional U.S. bands to entertain the troops, it has been years since someone as well known as “Luda” has gone down there to do a show. Charlie Daniels played for the troops the first year the prison opened and riffed on a standard with, “The Devil went down to Gitmo … looking for a Taliban.” Jimmy Buffett also put on a show in 2002.

The Pentagon’s Armed Forces Entertainment organization said the hip-hop artist whose real name is Chris Bridges was too busy filming “Fast and Furious 8” to do an interview about the gig, believed to be his first for troops stationed overseas.

At the Pentagon, a spokesman declined to say how much Ludacris was being paid for the show. “We cannot disclose the amount of compensation given, as that is a part of a contract between the Armed Forces Entertainment program and the entertainer and their management,” said spokesman Brian Burke.

There were no plans or permission for Ludacris to film there, he said.

Afghani, captured by Afghan security forces and handed over to the United States, got to Guantánamo on June 22, 2007, as one of the last captives brought to the detention center that the Obama administration has downsized to 79 prisoners.

Sullivan-Bennis works for Reprieve, a nonprofit legal defense group, and first met Afghani last month to help him prepare for his June 14 parole board hearing. She said he grew up in a refugee camp in Pakistan, but acquired an economics degree at a university in Peshawar and speaks five languages, including the English he learned at Guantánamo.

“I was shocked by how American he seemed,” she said of their first of five meetings, which spanned Islam’s holy month of Ramadan. “He’s really picked up the language and culture.” She said she brought up the Ludacris concert to see if word had reached her client through the prison guard grapevine. It hadn’t. The Afghan at first said he was aware of the artist’s music, but later said perhaps he was not.

The U.S. military considers Afghani to be a former Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, or HIG, commander who organized and led attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanstan. It also said he was a courier for another Guantánamo detainee, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, who is awaiting a war crimes trial for allegedly serving as commander of al-Qaida forces in Afghanistan from 2002-04.

Sullivan-Bennis told the U.S. interagency review panel considering whether to approve his release that the Afghan’s wife and daughter live in Pakistan and his sister lives with family in London. “He wants nothing more than to return to his wife and family,” Sullivan-Bennis said, “whom he feels immensely guilty for having left to fend for themselves.”

This week, she said, the Afghan told his lawyer by telephone that the captives would welcome a class by Ludacris. Books at the storage facility for the detainee library include instruction manuals on musical instruments, although none are allowed.

“We can only read about how to use them, like pretend,” according to the partial transcript of the 90-minute call released by Reprieve. “I would love Ludacris to come and teach us about music. Our music comes mostly from the television or talking to guards.”

Instead, the artist was expected to go live on Radio Gitmo, the Navy-run station that serves the base of fewer than 6,000 people, including soldiers on temporary prison duty, sailors on long-term assignments, Defense Department contractors and Navy families.

The base was also arranging a “Meet and Greet” at Navy base headquarters, miles from the prison compound, for 40 “active-duty members from all branches,” said Chief Petty Officer Keith Bryska, the base spokesman.

Bryska said the artist didn’t know anybody in particular on the base. “This show was offered to us through Armed Forces Entertainment,” he said.

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg-