[Pnews] Their Fathers Were Caught in the 9/11 Dragnet. Guantánamo Came to Define Their Lives.

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Sep 10 15:24:34 EDT 2021

Fathers Were Caught in the 9/11 Dragnet. Guantánamo Came to Define Their
Alice Speri - September 10, 2021

*When Jawad Rabbani* was about 12 years old, he printed out the Wikipedia
entry for the Guantánamo Bay U.S. military prison in Cuba. With his
rudimentary English, he pored over the document, looking up words and
concepts he didn’t understand. Around the same time, he watched a Bollywood
film <https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1328634/> about a young man suspected of
terrorism in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. A scene depicting a man
getting waterboarded left Rabbani shaken — and obsessed with learning all
he could about U.S. torture. He spent hours searching for videos
demonstrating torture methods and watching them on repeat.

“When I saw that scene, it was really heartbreaking, it was really
difficult for me,” Rabbani, 18, told me on a call from his home in Karachi,
Pakistan. “I wanted to understand how the CIA tortured these guys, their

Rabbani was born months after his father, a taxi driver named Ahmed
Rabbani, was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and transferred to U.S. custody
— misidentified, according to the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Report
on Torture, as Hassan Ghul, a Pakistani member of Al Qaeda whom the CIA
briefly detained and later killed in a drone strike. Jawad had read online
that his father had been subjected to 545 days of torture at a CIA black
site in Afghanistan before being sent to Guantánamo, where he remains to
this day with no charge.

The U.S. government has detained nearly 800 men at Guantánamo since it
opened in 2002 — an overwhelming majority of them without charges. Now,
nearly 12 years after President Barack Obama vowed to shut down the prison
within a year of his inauguration, 39 of them remain, only 12 of whom have
been charged with a crime. Ten more have been cleared for release but
remain at the prison awaiting resettlement. Transfers out of Guantánamo
mostly halted during the presidency of Donald Trump, who opposed closing
the prison and threatened to send more people there. President Joe Biden
has indicated that he intends to close Guantánamo, though he has offered no
timeline for doing so. In July, the U.S. government repatriated Abdul Latif
Nasser, who had been held for two decades without charge, back to Morocco
— the first transfer under the new administration.

“There’s so much focus on the injustice on the men in Guantánamo, but
what’s often forgotten is the fact that this has had such dire consequences
for waves of family members around them.”

The abuses these men endured before, during, and sometimes after their stay
at the prison are a dark chapter of the two-decade war on terror launched
in the aftermath of 9/11. The physical and psychological torture, beatings,
and forced feedings they were subjected to have been widely documented. The
devastating impact of detention at Guantánamo, however, extends well beyond
the men themselves, defining the lives of hundreds of their family members
across the world. An untold number of children have grown up with a father
at Guantánamo — living childhoods filled with fear, anguish, and stigma.

“There’s so much focus on the injustice on the men in Guantánamo, but
what’s often forgotten is the fact that this has had such dire consequences
for waves of family members around them,” said Katie Taylor, deputy
director of Reprieve <https://reprieve.org/uk/>, an advocacy group that
represents six men who remain at Guantánamo and that has worked to support
more than 70 former detainees who were resettled in 28 countries.

“Children grow up without a father, often without a breadwinner,” Taylor
added. “And then there’s also a huge amount of stigma, even though the
U.S., in most cases, hasn’t charged or tried them, and even though the
so-called intelligence that their detention is based on has been debunked
so clearly over the years. … But people assume there’s no smoke without
fire, and they must have done something — and that doesn’t just impact the
men when they are released, it very much impacts their family members.
There is so much heartache.”

Left/Top: Ahmed Rabbani as a young man prior to his capture and indefinite
imprisonment at the Guantánamo Bay military prison. Right/Bottom: Jawad
Rabbani, now 18, has never met his father.Photos: Courtesy of Jawad Rabbani
“I Never Told Anyone”

Yusuf Mingazov was 3 years old when his father, Ravil Mingazov, was
arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and transferred to U.S. custody, suspected of
being associated with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. He was never charged with a
crime, and in 2010, a federal court found that none of the accusations
leveled against Ravil by the U.S. government could be proved and that there
was no lawful basis for his detention. (“Ravil was never a threat. He never
did anything to harm the United States or its allies. He was not a member
of Al Qaeda or the Taliban. He did nothing to act in a hostile manner,” his
attorney, Gary Thompson, told The Intercept.)

Ravil, a Russian Muslim of Tatar ethnicity, had been a classical dancer and
a decorated officer with the Russian army before leaving the country in
2000, seeking to escape religious discrimination and harassment from
authorities. He wished to relocate his family to a majority-Muslim country,
so they set off for Afghanistan by way of Tajikistan.

[image: 210719-Passblue-Gitmo-Detainee-Russia-embed1_clxiqc]

Ravil Mingazov, pictured as a member of the Russian army before his
imprisonment at Guantánamo Bay in 2002.

Courtesy of Yusuf Mingazov

Following his father’s arrest, Yusuf grew up in the city of Naberezhnye
Chelny, in Russia’s Tatarstan region, where his mother worked three jobs to
sustain them in his father’s absence. Harassment by Russian authorities
eventually sent the family to Syria. Amid the war in Syria, they returned
to Russia in 2012. But when Russian security forces again began to harass
them, they left for the U.K., where they received political asylum and
continue to live. Yusuf, who is now 22, is studying to become a doctor.

>From a young age, Yusuf’s mother had told him that his father was in jail
“by accident, that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he
recalled. But she hadn’t explained the full circumstances of his detention,
seeking to protect him by sparing him the details.

Not knowing left Yusuf resenting his father for not being around. He began
to seek out answers for himself. When he heard that “Guantánamo is in
America,” he turned to Google to learn more, finding photos of shackled
detainees at the prison and reports of beatings and torture. He never spoke
about his father with friends. “I never told anyone,” he said. “It won’t
make sense that he’s innocent if he’s been there for such a long time.”

[image: IMG_0604]

Yusuf Mingazov, son of Ravil Mingazov.

Photo: Courtesy of Yusuf Mingazov

Over the years, Yusuf had learned to conjure up an image of his father
through old photos and family tales. His mother didn’t like talking about
Guantánamo but would tell him stories about his father prior to his arrest.
Other relatives told him that his father, who worked in a military food
warehouse, used to take leftover food and distribute it to people in need
and that he had set up a small library of religious books for fellow
officers curious about Islam.

“There’s this phrase in Russian, ‘When he walked, it looked like writing,’”
Yusuf recalls a family friend telling him about his dad. “He walked in a
very beautiful way, he was a ballet artist, and so he had a very good
physique, and nice movements.”

Yusuf first spoke with his father more than a decade after he landed at
Guantánamo, on a video call arranged by the International Committee of the
Red Cross, which for years has facilitated contact between men detained
at the prison and their families. He was struck by his father’s long,
unkempt beard, which reminded him of a movie about a man cast away from a
shipwreck. “He looked like a man on a raft,” he said.

“But he didn’t look like a broken person,” he stressed. “He was very happy,
he was laughing. I saw that he was looking at me, like exploring me,
because he hadn’t seen me for a long time.”

Over hourlong calls every few months, Yusuf began to get to know his
father, who would also send him postcards from the prison — pictures of
sports cars, motorcycles, and mosques from around the world.

Left/Top: Ravil Mingazov photographed at Guantánamo prison. Right/Bottom:
Postcards sent from Ravil to his son Yusuf.Photos: Courtesy of Yusuf

In 2016, U.S. officials cleared Ravil
release after 15 years of detention without charge. He feared persecution
in Russia, where some of his friends had died under suspicious
circumstances. At least seven other Russian nationals who were held
at Guantánamo had already returned <https://www.rferl.org/a/24449086.html>
there, where some were arrested and tortured by Russian security forces,
according to a 2007 Human Rights Watch report
<https://www.hrw.org/reports/russia0307webwcover.pdf>. At least one was
killed; others are now in hiding.

Instead, Ravil became one of 23 Guantánamo detainees who were transferred
to the United Arab Emirates as part of a confidential bilateral agreement
with the U.S. government. He and his lawyers were made to believe that the
resettlement would be permanent and that he would be detained for six
months, to participate in a rehabilitation program, before being released
for good. His son said that Ravil had wanted to be in a Muslim-majority
country. “He thought they would be good people because they are following
Islamic rules,” he said.

At first, Ravil was treated well in the UAE; he was given access to books
and weekly calls with his son. The two started picturing their reunion. “He
would say, ‘When I come out, we’ll have a huge barbecue, and we’ll invite
all the family, and me and you, we’ll start going to the gym together,’”
his son recalled. But as the years passed, the calls grew shorter and
further apart. When Ravil complained to his son about the way he was
treated, they were abruptly disconnected. “They never let him speak
freely,” said the younger Mingazov. “Guantánamo was very bad, but this is
even worse.”

Yusuf believes that UAE officials reduced his father’s access to calls in
retaliation for his complaints about the facility, which Yusuf passed on to
his father’s attorney. (Thompson was never allowed to speak with his client
after his transfer.) Last Yusuf heard from his father, he was being held in
solitary confinement in an unknown location and denied medical treatment
— but it’s been months since their last call.

“There’s just total darkness around the UAE’s behavior, and they can act
with impunity.”

“The UAE really does not allow anybody access to monitor what they are
doing,” said Thompson. “So there’s just total darkness around the UAE’s
behavior, and they can act with impunity.”

Meanwhile, in Russia, officials have shown up at Ravil’s mother’s home,
seeking to verify information to issue him with a passport. That has raised
fears among his relatives and attorneys that he might soon face forcible
repatriation from the UAE.

“The UAE promised our State Department that no such transfer would ever
take place,” said Thompson. “They also promised they would treat Ravil
humanely, and they haven’t done that either, but the idea [of repatriation]
has already been condemned by the United Nations
so it would be in flagrant disregard of international law, and I don’t
think the UAE wants to be a pariah government.”

Thompson added that Ravil has a pending petition for family reunification
in the U.K., where he could reunite with his son. “They are just sitting on
it for political reasons, they’re afraid to do anything with it,” Thompson
said, referring to U.K. officials. “They just won’t act on it.”

A spokesperson for the U.K. Home Office declined to comment on Ravil’s
petition, saying the office does not comment on individual cases. The UAE
Embassy in the U.S. a did not respond to a request for comment.

Paintings sent from Guantánamo prisoner Ahmed Rabbani to his son Jawad.Photos:
Courtesy of Jawad Rabbani
A Lifetime Apart

Among the dozens of men who remain at Guantánamo, Ahmed Rabbani is one of 17
who remain in indefinite detention — facing no charges but still awaiting
clearance for release.

That’s despite the fact that the U.S. government realized within a day of
taking him into custody in 2002 that he was not the man they thought they
had captured, noted Taylor of Reprieve. Ahmed’s name appears multiple times
in the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture, which details
how he was subjected to “forced standing, attention grasps and cold
temperatures.” The report does not mention
how he was left hanging from his wrists for hours, causing his shoulders to
dislocate — a torture technique described during the Spanish Inquisition as
“strappado.” At Guantánamo, Ahmed has been engaging in hunger strikes for
years, and he has been forcibly fed by prison officials.

“It’s absurd, but so sinister, so terrible, what was done to him,” Taylor
said. “I can’t give you an explanation for why he’s being held. It is
complete nonsense. … There is no reason for Ahmed to ever have been held
and to be held now.”

[image: The 9/11 Wars]The 9/11 Wars

Jawad Rabbani first spoke to his father when he was 7 or 8, after someone
working for the Red Cross facilitated a phone call. “He told me he’s in
jail, and I asked him, ‘Why? Bad guys are supposed to be in jail,’” the
younger Rabbani recalled. “He laughed and didn’t answer me.”

At first, Jawad had a difficult time trying to build a relationship with
his father. In one of their early conversations, he recalled, his father
had asked him to recite a poem. “I think he expected something religious,”
he said. Instead, Jawad sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” in English. His
father laughed but seemed disappointed.

Sometimes, his father would grow impatient with him — frustrated that his
son didn’t show greater interest in religion, leave the house much, or talk
to his relatives. “I told him I don’t like to leave my comfort area,” Jawad
recalls. “He wasn’t happy with me.” As he grew older, Jawad continued to
speak with his father every few months. The tensions he felt early on have
eased up in recent years. It often takes a while to break the ice on their
calls, he says, which start with small talk and awkward silences. “By the
time you start enjoying the conversation, the time is up.”

His father also used to send him drawings he made at Guantánamo. In one, a
pair of cuffed hands held Jawad’s name. The image was “sad and dark,” Jawad
says. “Honestly, I think that painting put me in a depression.”

The rest of the family also struggled. Jawad’s grandfather died kneeling on
a prayer mat, heartbroken over his son’s fate. His mother, who had been a
teenager and married to his father for less than two months when he was
arrested, worked hard to provide for Jawad materially but struggled to give
him the answers he needed. “She has been through a lot, I don’t know how
she managed it,” he said of his mother. “But I didn’t have much of a
childhood that I could remember, any memories to be nostalgic about. I
never think about my childhood, I don’t have anything to look back to.”

[image: Rabbani_ICRC]

A photograph of Ahmed Rabbani taken at the Guantánamo Bay prison.

Photo: Courtesy of Jawad Rabbani

Jawad searched the internet for details about what the U.S. government
thought his father might have done, but he found that the information was
“classified.” He collects
all the
articles that
his father has written from Guantánamo by dictating them to his attorney
over the phone. As the years passed, he began to fixate less on the
mechanics of torture and more on the resilience and strength that it must
have taken his father to survive it.

“How is he alive after almost 20 years of this? After all this torture and
insults?” he asks. “I can’t imagine how he got through this all these
years, without family.”

He still hopes to see him one day, he said, and to show him how he learned
to take care of himself. He thinks that when that day comes, it will take
time to build a connection after a lifetime apart, but he likes to picture
himself with his father, “sitting in a garden, talking about things, like a
father and son.”

“Just imagine what life would be for your family without your father. Just
imagine what it would be like if your father was at Guantánamo,” he said.
“How could they ruin 20 years of someone’s life?”
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