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Brothers leave Guantanamo Bay without charge after almost 20 years

By George Wright | BBC News |

Two brothers from Pakistan who were held in the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay for nearly 20 years have been released without charge.

Abdul and Mohammed Ahmed Rabbani were arrested in Pakistan in 2002.

The Pentagon said Abdul Rabbani operated an al-Qaeda safe house, while his brother organised travel and funds for the group’s leaders.

The brothers alleged that they were tortured by CIA officers, before being transferred to Guantanamo.

Both have now been repatriated to Pakistan.

The Guantanamo camp, in Cuba, was established by then-President George W Bush in 2002 to house foreign terrorism suspects following the 9/11 terror attacks in New York. It is on a US Navy base.

But the camp has come to symbolise some of the excesses of the “war on terror” due to interrogation methods that critics say amount to torture, and detainees being held for long periods without trial.

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US President Joe Biden says he hopes to close the facility, where 32 people are still being detained. At its peak in 2003 the facility held 680 prisoners at one time.

“The United States appreciates the willingness of the Government of Pakistan and other partners to support ongoing US efforts focused on responsibly reducing the detainee population and ultimately closing the Guantanamo Bay facility,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

The brothers were captured by Pakistan’s security services in the city of Karachi in September 2002. It took almost two years for them to be transferred to Guantanamo after originally being held at a CIA detention facility in Afghanistan.

In 2013, Ahmed Rabbani began a series of hunger strikes that lasted for seven years. He would survive on nutritional supplements, sometimes forcibly fed to him through a tube.

Clive Stafford Smith, a lawyer with the 3D Centre who has represented both men, told the BBC that he will attempt to sue over the brothers’ detention, “but their chance of compensation are slim. Neither will they get a simple apology”.

Both men were approved for release in 2021. It is unclear why they remained imprisoned.

Ahmed Rabbani’s wife was pregnant at the time of his arrest and just five months later she gave birth to their son. He has never met his son.

“I have been talking with Ahmed’s son Jawad who is 20 and had never met or touched his dad as his mother was pregnant when Ahmed was kidnapped. I have met Jawad several times, and I wish I would have been there for their first hug,” Mr Stafford Smith said.

During his time at Guantanamo, Ahmed Rabbani built a name for himself as an accomplished artist. He has an exhibition in Karachi planned in May, with 12 other Pakistani artists inspired by his work, Mr Stafford Smith added.

Maya Foa, director of justice charity Reprieve, which provided legal representation to Ahmed Rabbani until last year, called his two decades of imprisonment a “tragedy” that “exemplifies how far the USA strayed from its founding principles during the ‘war on terror’ era”.

“They robbed a family of a son, a husband and a father. That injustice can never be rectified. A full reckoning of the harms caused by the disastrous ‘war on terror’ can only begin when Guantanamo is closed for good,” she said.