How an Innocent Man Was Tortured Into Making False Confessions
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In four years of researching and writing about Guantánamo, I have become used to uncovering shocking information, but for sheer cynicism, I am struggling to think of anything that compares to the revelations contained in the unclassified ruling in the habeas corpus petition of Fouad al-Rabiah, a Kuwaiti prisoner whose release was ordered last week by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ( PDF). In the ruling, to put it bluntly, it was revealed that the U.S. government tortured an innocent man to extract false confessions and then threatened him until he obligingly repeated those lies as though they were the truth.
The background: lies hidden in plain sight for five years
To establish the background to this story, it is necessary for me to return to my initial response to the ruling a week last Friday, before these revelations had been made public, when, based on what I knew of the case from the publicly available documents, I explained that I was disappointed that the Obama administration had pursued a case against al-Rabiah, alleging that he was a fundraiser for Osama bin Laden and had run a supply depot for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountains, for two particular reasons.
The first was because a CIA analyst had interviewed al-Rabiah at Guantánamo in the summer of 2002 and had concluded that he was an innocent man caught at the wrong time and in the wrong place; and the second was because, although al-Rabiah had said that he had met bin Laden and had been present in the Tora Bora mountains, he had provided an innocent explanation for both occurrences. He had, he said, been introduced to bin Laden on a trip to Afghanistan to investigate proposals for a humanitarian aid mission, and he had been at Tora Bora -- and compelled to man a supply depot -- because he was one of numerous civilians caught up with soldiers of al-Qaeda and the Taliban as he tried to flee the chaos of Afghanistan for Pakistan, and had been compelled to run the depot by a senior figure in al-Qaeda.
These appeared to be valid explanations, especially as al-Rabiah, a 42-year old father of four children, had no history of any involvement with militancy or terrorism, and had, instead, spent 20 years at a management desk job at Kuwait Airways, and had an ownership interest in some health clubs. Moreover, he had a history of legitimate refugee relief work, having taken a six-month approved leave of absence from work in 1994-95 to do relief work in Bosnia, having visited Kosovo with the Kuwaiti Red Crescent in 1998, and having made a trip to Bangladesh in 2000 to delivery kidney dialysis fluid to a hospital in the capital, Dhaka.
As a result, it appeared to me a week last Friday that Judge Kollar-Kotelly granted al-Rabiah’s habeas petition because neither his meeting with bin Laden nor his presence in Tora Bora indicated that he was either a member of, or had supported al-Qaeda or the Taliban.
However, now that Judge Kollar-Kotelly’s ruling has been issued, I realize that the account given by al-Rabiah during his Combatant Status Review Tribunal at Guantánamo in 2004 -- on which I based my account of his activities -- was a tissue of lies, and that the truth, hidden for over six years, is that, like torture victims groomed for show trials throughout the centuries, he made up false stories under torture, and repeated them obediently, fearing further punishment and having been convinced that he would never leave Guantánamo by any other means.