September 23, 2017
IT WAS NOT the first time Muhammad Rabbani had problems when returning to the United Kingdom from travels overseas. But on this occasion something was different — he was arrested, handcuffed, and hauled through London’s largest airport, then put into the back of a waiting police van.
Rabbani is the 36-year-old international director of Cage, a British group that was founded in 2003 to raise awareness about the plight of prisoners held at the U.S. government’s Guantánamo Bay detention site. Today, the organization has a broader focus and says it is working to highlight “the erosion of the rule of law in the context of the war on terror.” Due to its work campaigning for the legal rights of terrorism suspects, Cage has attracted controversy, and Rabbani has faced the government’s wrath.
His trouble at Heathrow Airport in late November began with a familiar routine. Often, on his return to the U.K. from foreign trips, he was stopped by police and questioned under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act— a sweeping power British authorities can use at the border to interrogate and search people without requiring any suspicion of wrongdoing. People questioned under Schedule 7 have no right to remain silent, and they can be interrogated for up to six hours. Rabbani estimates that he has been stopped under Schedule 7 about 20 times. Usually, he was let free after a few questions without any charges or arrest. But not this time.
Rabbani was returning to London after a business trip to one of the Gulf states. He had been meeting with an individual whom he says was previously detained by U.S. authorities and suffered “years of torture” at the hands of his American captors. The person provided Rabbani with information about his treatment, including names of particular individuals allegedly involved in carrying out the acts of torture. These details, Rabbani says, were provided on a confidential basis and were to be used by Cage as part of a pending legal action against the U.S. government.