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Guantanamo prison says hunger-striking Pakistani cheats, drinks smoothies

By CAROL ROSENBERG | Miami Herald | Published: November 8, 2017

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba (Tribune News Service) — Trump administration lawyers argued in a court filing Tuesday that a Pakistani prisoner, whose lawyers claim is being starved at the war-on-terror prison, is actually eating on the down-low and no longer needs forced feeding.

Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani, 47, “is not malnourished,” Justice Department lawyers wrote in a 35-page filing unsealed at the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. Prison camp monitoring of him has detected that he “routinely eats solid food.”

Moreover, they wrote, based on information that was blacked out in the filing, “He also frequently makes ‘smoothies’ as he desires.”

Lawyers for the captive have asked Judge Royce Lamberth to order an outside medical expert to evaluate him. They also seek release of Rabbani’s military medical records. They argue that U.S. military medical teams have “a new policy of medical neglect” that dangerously withholds regular nasal-gastric feedings of Rabbani, leaving him “precariously close to death.”

In an affidavit, the family medicine physician in charge of low-value detainee medical care said he took Rabbani off a tube-feeding list on Sept. 20 “because it is no longer medically indicated to preserve his life and health.”

The Trump administration filing explains that, starting in September, the Guantanamo prison began tweaking its tube- and forced-feeding policies. A long-term hunger striker who has kept a “consistent low body weight” and does not “display signs of malnutrition” requires less nourishment, the government lawyers argue.

Now, tube feedings are recommended “only when it becomes medically necessary to prevent death or serious harm,” the lawyers write. “A detainee will be removed from the involuntary enteral feeding list when he no longer shows signs of malnutrition.”

Rabbani’s lawyers describe the captive as a committed long-term hunger striker. They describe the prison’s implementation of the policy this way in an Oct. 16 filing:

“The government now is allowing the strikers to either reach the brink of death only to revive them after they have suffered serious risk of permanent damage, or the alternative of eating ordinary food, which hunger strikers could not digest — several years into a hunger strike — even if they wanted to.”

The doctor, an anonymous Navy commander, wrote in an affidavit that, while Rabbani pointedly rejects communal meals in his Camp 6 cellblock, the doctor personally observed Rabbani doing something surreptitiously behind a sheet in his cell on the evening of Oct. 19, suggesting he was eating on the sly. He also saw him making a cup of tea, and carrying closed containers to his cell.

It is not known what the Navy doctor meant by Rabbani making smoothies. The U.S. military has not permitted reporters to observe life on the Camp 6 cellblocks since mid-summer. At that time, communal captives had access to a pantry but no blender or smoothie maker could be seen.

Based on weight charts, the unnamed doctor estimated that Rabbani was consuming at least 1,200 calories a day.

Rabbani got to Guantanamo in 2004 from U.S. detention elsewhere and has never been charged with a crime. The Pentagon describes him as “a financial and travel facilitator for prominent al-Qaida leaders,” notably the alleged 9/11 plot mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and the alleged USS Cole bombing mastermind Abd al Rahim al Nashiri “from 1997 until his arrest in September 2002.”

His legal defense team, at the London based Reprieve non-profit, describe him as a former taxi driver who was mistaken for another extremist. Rabbani’s brother is also among the 41 captives held as uncharged, low-value detainees.

The government hunger-strike filing also includes some specifics about how the Pentagon is running medical care in the low-value, communal portion of the 41-captive prison complex. The 26 low-value detainees have four board-certified doctors assigned to their care, the government wrote.

Two board-certified psychiatrists staff the Behavioral Health Unit, or psych ward, they write, leaving it unclear whether that means there are six doctors altogether for the 26 captives or two at the mental health facility and two more general practitioners.

Prison medical staff have perfected their ability to weigh their captives, the filing said, and no longer allow them to be weighed on the cellblocks “due to repeated attempts by some detainee to manipulate their weight readings.” An explanation is blacked out in the public version of the court filing.

It also offered this insight into how weights are derived: “When detainees are weighed with prosthetics, on a backboard, wearing restraints or other restrictive devices, or an FCE-chair, the weight of those devices are subtracted from, or otherwise accounted for, when obtaining the weight.”

FCE is short for Forced Cell Extraction, the tackle-and-shackle system that prison guards use to subdue a non-compliant captive, confine him to a restraint chair and wheel him to a forced-feeding.

The unnamed senior medical officer pointedly noted in his affidavit that he does not care for the 15 former CIA captives called high-value detainees, who are held in a secret prison on the base called Camp 7. They include the five men accused of plotting the Sept. 11 terror attacks and the alleged mastermind of al-Qaida’s USS Cole bombing, all six of whom are charged in capital cases.

©2017 Miami Herald
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Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani posing for the International Red Cross at Guantanamo in 2013, in a photo provided by the Reprieve legal defense organization.
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