The CIA's Last Detainee Warms Up to LeBron, and More Letters from Guantanamo Bay
In these letters, written in June and recently declassified by the government, Muhammad Rahim covers everything from LeBron (again) and the Ashely Madison hack to his capture and dentention.
"It is good to hear about LeBron coming home," wrote Muhammad Rahim. He was referring, of course, to the basketball star. "But...as the great Bret Michaels once said, 'Although the wound heals, the scar remains!!!'"
One man's opinion about one of the world's top athletes might not be notable, except that Rahim's came in the form of a letter from Guantanamo Bay. He is the last detainee tortured in the Central Intelligence Agency's so-called "detention-and-interrogation program." The CIA believes he acted as a translator for Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
In May, I wrote about Rahim's surprisingly negative feelings about LeBron James, as well as his status as a "high-value" detainee at Guantanamo. In a new cache of letters, written in July and obtained by VICE Sports following government declassification, Rahim's attitude toward Cleveland's prodigal son has brightened considerably. His frustrations about a life in legal purgatory, however, remain the same. From his disgust toward Donald Trump to his support for Caitlyn Jenner, the letters reveal a curious and agile mind, hungry for connection with a world outside his prison cell.
On the front-runner for the Republican presidential nominee, Rahim delivers a blunt message: "Donald Trump is an idiot!!" He goes on to decry Trump as a "war zero" and a racist before questioning Trump's connection to the now defunct United States Football League. "He bankrupted the U.S.F.L. and now wants to bankrupt the U.S.," laments Rahim. "At this rate Hillary has a chance."
The letters also capture Rahim's growing frustration with the ossified legal system at Guantanamo, where Rahim has been held without charge since late 2008. In one letter, Rahim summarizes his impatience in one question: "How do I get out of here?"
In the same letter, Rahim also reveals a previously unknown detail about his capture and detention: that he requested to be transferred to American custody when Pakistani intelligence, known as the ISI, captured him in 2007. Rahim writes, "I asked for U.S. custody because I believed that the U.S. was a country of laws and justice. I thought the ISI would kill me. I thought I could prove my innocence in the U.S. I was wrong."
In 2007, Rahim was rendered to a CIA black site in Afghanistan, where he was subjected to six of the CIA's so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques," including one round of sleep deprivation lasting over five days. In response to his torture, a CIA cable quoted in the Senate torture reports indicates that Rahim threatened to "make up information if interrogators pressured him" and that his interrogators "could even kill him if they wanted."
In one of Rahim's new letters, he describes his treatment at the hands of the CIA for the first time: "In 9 munths [sic] the CIA treated me like an animal," he writes. "Only animals were treated better. They did not let me shower or use the toilet for months, they fed me animal food."
"I have dignity," concludes Rahim. "Those who humiliated and hurt me do not. I pray for them now."
Rahim was transferred to Guantanamo Bay in late 2008, entering the prison with the same "high-value" designation that was placed on 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and U.S.S. Cole conspirator Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
For Carlos Warner, Rahim's civilian lawyer, this label impedes progress on his case, making it nearly impossible to move Rahim through diplomatic channels. "If I go to Saudi Arabia, for example, or Kuwait, and say, 'Look, I've got a great client, look at how he's a normal dude, he's talking about Donald Trump...come meet him,' They're going to say no because he's a [high-value detainee] and there are many [low-value detainees] they can take just as easily," says Warner.
Movement through the U.S. legal system is not an option, either.
"It'd be great if someone from the government said they're going to prosecute him. Then it's like, 'Game on,'" Warner said. "I'm used to defending clients who are charged. This is a client who is just in legal limbo forever."
Warner believes that only the CIA can remove Rahim's "high-value" label. "It's the CIA that put it on him," he said. "So the CIA has to take it off him."
Cmdr. Gary Ross, a Department of Defense spokesperson, delivered the following statement on Rahim's status: "Muhammad Rahim has been designated by the Guantanamo Executive Order Task Force for continued Law of War detention. He was not designated for prosecution and, currently, won't be brought up on charges within the Military Commissions."
Despite the seemingly insurmountable legal hurdles, Warner remains "cautiously optimistic" about Rahim's future and believes the Afghan native's best chance of release lies in negotiations with the Afghan government. Until then, Rahim will remain at Guantanamo Bay, occupying his time with the inanities of American sports and culture.
"What's amazing about him is that I think that I have problems, and then I visit with him...and he manages to have that spirit that kind of comes through in the letters," Warner said. "Overall, he's just a very positive, optimistic person."