Cobalt’s blacked-out windows left prisoners isolated in total darkness – and often without heat in Afghanistan’s freezing winters. They were shackled to bars with their hands forced above their heads, meaning they could never rest.
Loud music was played constantly, denying sleep. Some detainees were subjected to cigarette burns. Others were stripped naked, hosed down with water and placed in cold cells.
Rabbani, 52, said that for days on end he was “hung by the hand to an iron shackle where my toes hardly touched the ground”. This torture, known as strappado, was favoured by the Spanish Inquisition.
After 540 days in Cobalt, Rabbani was rendered to Guantanamo Bay, the offshore military prison where US law does not apply, meaning that the US government was able to hold detainees indefinitely without charge as enemy combatants.
Rabbani is innocent. As the Senate report recorded in 2012, he had beenmistakenfor an al-Qaeda operative called Hassan Ghul. The United States has known this for a decade, probably much longer. He is still in Guantanamo today.
Many have suffered in the same way. In total, almost 800 men have been imprisoned during its 20-year history.
Rabbani, a Rohingya Pakistani, weighed around 73kg at the time of his arrest. Emaciated from a hunger strike, today he weighs just 30kg, meaning – he likes to joke – that 57 percent of him “escaped” from Guantanamo. He suffers mentally and finds it hard to remember things.
His family have been tortured, too, but in a different way. In Islamabad last autumn, I met his 18-year-old son Jawad. Jawad has never met his father, who was seized a few months before he was born.
He told me how as a child his mother explained his father’s absence by saying that Rabbani was away working in Saudi Arabia. He first spoke to him when he was six years old, in a 15-minute telephone call arranged by the Red Cross.
His father told him he was in jail. “I asked him why are you in jail? The jail is supposed to be for bad people. He laughed and didn’t reply,” said Jawad. Jawad said this knowledge started to “affect me a lot” when he became a teenager. “I went to the dark web when I was 13 or 14 years old. So, I looked for the videos, those people who tortured and how they torture and all the things you get on the dark web,” he said.
“I was in those groups where they used to share those videos where they tortured people and all those things. So, I do have an idea of how they tortured him and all the things, waterboarding to kicking him or playing music that will torture my dad. How they will make miserable his brain and all the things. I knew it.
“There was a time that I used to believe my father had committed a crime. That’s why he’s been tortured, because you don’t torture a person for no reason. I used to cry, you know, at night in my room. “Just imagine your life without your father for 18 years. What would you be? If he didn’t touch you or care for you or provide you his love, his money, everything? Where would you be?”