A man of letters in barren Guantanamo

Muhammad Rahim al-Afghani  

An Afghan man being held with the most significant terrorism suspects in U.S. custody has apparently gained extensive knowledge of western pop culture in an unlikely place — the top secret prison-within-a-prison in Guantanamo Bay.

In March 2008, Muhammad Rahim al-Afghani became the last prisoner sent to Guantanamo. He was accused of helping Osama bin Laden elude capture, and was locked away in Guantanamo’s Camp 7, a prison unit shrouded in secrecy holding 15 “high value” detenus. With no court appearances, or even charges filed, he remained largely a mystery. So, it was a surprise when his lawyer Carlos Warner released his letters. More surprising still was the content — quirky notes peppered with references to Howard Stern, Fox News and the global video hit of South Korean singer PSY.

“Dear Mr. Warner,” he wrote. “I like this new song Gangnam Style. I want to do the dance for you but cannot because of my shackles.”

In another letter, the multilingual al-Afghani tells his lawyer, most likely in jest, that he has adopted a banana rat, a rodent commonly spotted around the U.S. base in Cuba. “Tell the guards to leave my friend alone. They need to chillax,” said the prisoner who had never been to the U.S.

Sense of humour

To Mr. Warner, a federal public defender for the Northern District of Ohio, the letters humanise a man who he contends has been demonised by U.S. authorities, He said the letters demonstrate a surprising amount of resilience.

“It shows he’s different and he’s intelligent,” said Mr. Warner. “Just think that he’s doing this under all the restrictions that’s he’s under down there. He has an incredibly good sense of humour.”

“I want you to contact Amanda Palmer,” he wrote on Nov. 6, referring to the American singer. ”... Ask her to write a song about me and my family.”

These are part of a public document filed in federal court by the government in response to Mr. Warner’s filing of a civil writ of habeas corpus seeking the prisoner’s release.

His younger brother Abdul Basit said al-Afgani worked for an Afghan government committee responsible for eradicating opium poppies, but was forced-out by members of the Taliban, which emerged in the 1990s. He suggested his brother is being held more for who he might know rather than what he has done.

The Justice Department document said al-Afgani began helping the Taliban in the 1990s and that job morphed into working for al-Qaida. The first set of letters was released by Mr. Warner in June.The rest came during or after subsequent visits by Mr. Warner, who had them cleared by the military before releasing them to the AP. None are more than a few sentences, and contain many typographical errors. In separate notes, he asks Mr. Warner to appeal for help from radio personality Howard Stern. “If he is the ‘King of All Media’ he can help me.” In another, he criticises Fox News’ “Fair and Balanced” slogan, writing that if that were true the channel “would not have to say it every five minutes”.


With no Internet access, he could have picked up such information from other shows or through Mr. Warner, who has spent hours with him and delivered magazines such as Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated and The Economist.

The U.S. military will not say when or if Rahim al-Afgani will be charged. His name does not appear on the list of detenus who have been cleared for release from Guantanamo and his name was not among those mentioned as possible candidates for an exchange with the Taliban as part of a peace deal.

Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Oct 9, 2021 6:04:18 PM |

Next Story