The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion A Pakistani man is starving to death in Guantanamo. We have a duty to stop it.

A guard walks into the maximum security detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2016. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Imran Khan is a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan and the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (Movement for Justice party), the main opposition party in Pakistan.

In common with the people of Pakistan, Americans have a rich history of peaceful protest when their government strays from its proper purpose. We remember the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War demonstrations and the millions who turn out on the Mall in Washington for any important issue.

Today, I am writing about another peaceful protest — that of a fellow Pakistani citizen who has had his rights stripped from him, Guantanamo Bay detainee Ahmed Rabbani.

Ahmed’s family originally come from the persecuted Burmese Rohingya; he is a rather humble taxi driver from Karachi, Pakistan. In 2002, he was sold for a bounty to the CIA. They were told he was someone called Hassan Ghul, but he insisted this was a mistake.

In its investigation of the CIA torture program, the Senate Intelligence Committee confirmed this, along with Ahmed’s claim that he had been tortured. Indeed, he was tortured “without approval” — as if approving it makes it any better — and held for more than 540 days in CIA custody before being rendered to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. He has now waited 15 years in vain for a charge or trial.

Ahmed finally lost patience four years ago and went on a hunger strike as a peaceful protest. This is, I feel sure, the kind of protest that Americans will understand: After all, how else can Ahmed object to 15 years of injustice but by refusing to put anything in his mouth?

Under President Barack Obama, authorities force-fed the hunger strikers, pumping them full of supplements. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this, at least it has kept Ahmed alive. However, in a telephone call with his lawyer at international human rights organization Reprieve, Ahmed has explained how, on Sept. 20, the Trump administration enacted a new policy of not force-feeding hunger strikers. Ahmed and other peaceful strikers would essentially be pushed as close to death as possible in order to try to force them to end the hunger strike, even if it means their organs fail or they die. Ahmed reports that the military are withholding medical care as well.

Perhaps President Trump will tweet that Ahmed brings this on himself: that he went on hunger strike, and if he wants to die, let him. But one might as well say that the civil rights protesters deserved to be beaten by the police because they failed to respect the arbitrary laws of the time. Ahmed is a devout Muslim, and it would run counter to his faith to take his own life. He does not want death, merely justice — and it reflects his understandable desperation for justice that he should have persisted for so long.

The Pakistan government has not spoken up for Ahmed; I feel I have to. I call upon all moderate Americans to remember the small number of people languishing in Guantanamo Bay and insist on respect for the principles that the United States was built on — liberty, justice and freedom for all. It is our duty to ensure that Ahmed is kept healthy and alive until he is returned to his wife and son in Karachi.