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OMAR DEGHAYES SPEAKS TO SchNEWS
Given a more optimistic environment after Obama's announcement that he's going to close the Guantanamo prison camp, SchNEWS interviews ex-detainee, Omar Deghayes, to gauge his reaction.
This week SchNEWS spoke to former Guantánamo detainee, Omar Deghayes, now back in England after finally being released in March 2008. Omar spent six years in prison camps, one at Bagram and the rest at Guantánamo. He was never charged with a crime, had no trial, and his release was spurred on by a Brighton-based campaign, Save Omar ( www.save-omar.org.uk ). Omar was visiting Afghanistan in 2001, and went to Pakistan when the US bombing started - there he was handed to the US by bounty hunters, as was the case for many Guantánamo detainees. The physical results of his maltreatment and torture include being blinded in one eye by pepper spray. 

First of all can you give us your reaction to the latest developments – the closures and the banning of torturous practices?

Obama’s saying these good things about closing Guantánamo Bay and not only Guantánamo Bay also the other secret detention centres. But the thing is these are promises and we have to wait until we see people going home to their countries and their families... It’s been seven years... what’s going to happen to those people now?... he didn’t say whether he’s going to bring them to trial in the States ... Are they going to have a fair hearing in front of a jury? Are they going to get years of further imprisonment without anything, on the flimsy evidence that they have, that they’ve been tampering with for seven years? These are the questions he needs to answer. And lastly who is responsible for ruining those peoples lives? ... What they went through, their families, their youngsters, their children that grew up under those conditions? Who’s going to face those crimes that were committed? Who’s going to address those things and put them right? Obama didn’t address any of those things.

They’ve got 26,000 people detained in the war on terror, do you think they will really be able to address each one of those cases – to try or release every single one of them?

What kind of evidence are they going to present after seven years of this kind of treatment? I think the only fair thing is to release those people and accept that it’s because of the stupidity of the administration – that they weren’t able to bring the public into it and taking things properly through the courts. I don’t want to be too negative because his [Obama’s] intentions are right and those promises are very good but unless we see it happening and unless we see people going back to their families, only then things will improve.

They’re talking about returning a lot of the detainees to their own countries – do you think they can guarantee their safety if they do that or will they face further persecution when they get there?

I think certain people can’t go back to their countries... there are about 40 people in prison there, which, returning them to their countries is a complete danger they will be faced with, not certainly but probably death and if not they will be imprisoned and tortured. There’s some Chinese and Indians and others, many people who fled their countries in the first place, that’s why they were in Pakistan and Afghanistan, they fled their countries for safe-havens with the Taliban government. The Taliban government at the time gave refuge to anyone without asking for papers of residency, passports, all those things. Lots of these people were picked up from Pakistan and Afghanistan, because they fled their countries in opposition to those governments. Now returning them back to those governments, it’s a real danger to their lives, especially if they haven’t been charged with anything, they haven’t done anything against the Americans or anybody else as we know it, as the law recognises. So I think it’s very unfair to return many of them back to their countries.

They’ve not actually banned the practice of rendition yet – do you think they’ll carry on with that or will it be reviewed too?

This is a question I think should be put to Obama, what about renditions? Are you going to continue doing the same things like with Ibn al Sheikh al Libi, where he went to Egypt to be tortured and then information was taken away from him which led to the war in Iraq, false information that the Americans withdrew but the Iraq war still continued for years after that. Many people were sent to Morocco like Mohammed Binyam, the last British resident who was sent there where he was tortured, a blade was put to his private part. And many others like Hassan Attash who was sent to Jordan to be tortured. So I think that question would be something to put to Obama himself to answer, to say is the CIA stopping those practices, will they close those secret prisons down?

They’ve banned a lot of the ‘interrogation techniques’ – the torturing techniques – but they’re still using ‘aggressive techniques’ – ‘no touch’ stuff like music torture – do you think it’s important we carry on working against these things as well?

People have died in Guantánamo Bay in front of our eyes in the conditions, people were driven to death, people were beaten up in Bagram until they died. Moazzam Begg who is with me now, witnessed it himself in Bagram. In other places too, I’ve witnessed myself four dying in Guantánamo. Hundreds of detainees died in those detention centres according to The New York Times in 2005. Thomas Friedman claimed that... hundreds of detainees died under detention and all of them, he claimed, died of heart attacks. This is not only grossly immoral but it’s politically stupid. Not only that, I mean many things, abusing people sexually, I’m speaking about very serious things, like people losing parts of their body, sight and limbs, kidneys, failures, because of conditions there.

And sometimes it's the subtle engineering of the prison itself, how it’s been engineered like the very high powered air-conditioners, the food they give, the lights that will cause damage to a person’s brains – 24 hours of light for six years, day and night, glaring light inside the cell. What is this intended to do? This is intended to deflect peoples' thinking on such things. ...They torture in a way that’s very subtle and very clever, that looking at it first sight you wouldn’t recognise it, unless you speak to people there, unless you know what really does go on, on the blocks. That’s why they have a policy of not keeping anyone more than six months ... special guards come in and then as soon as they recognise what goes on they move them out and replacement guards come in, that’s the system that works there.

In terms of what happened to you – who do you hold responsible for it and what action would you like to be taken against them?

Who’s responsible? I have no doubts that it’s Bush, Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld, because they signed papers in July 2002... saying that they can commit torture. And many advisers to the system have now come out and spoken about those presidential papers being signed, some of them signed by the Minister of Defence, Rumsfeld, who himself approved the many techniques that were used against us. So I have no doubt in mind who is responsible and who should be held accountable. But saying that, making people accountable for their actions is not revenge and retribution. The reason is... that those things that happened to us should not happen to any other people – they should not happen again. The only way you can do that is to make people who did it accountable in one way or another, so that other people will not take those same footsteps, will not follow them in their ugly actions.

Like here, even in the UK, because of what happened in Guantánamo Bay, the Blair Government set up a similar system where you had control orders and people were put under detention, were put under house arrest with all sorts of conditions and rules without any trials and without any lawyers. Governments all over the world started to do similar things, as long as you are Muslim and you come from the Middle East then it seems that they think it’s fair play to do anything they like and that’s sad. I think other countries, including the UK should close those places because Obama has promised to close his extra-legal places... we have about eighteen people [in the UK] under control orders without any trials, without any fair system. That’s the reason for bringing people to account, the only reason is this rather than revenge, retribution - that’s not the motive.

Last of all, how much can we trust that this new administration is making a break with the policies of the last one - can we believe that this is really coming to an end?

... I’m happy for any change and I think he [Obama] is making the right sounds. But looking at his actions, I just heard a couple of days ago they bombarded the Pakistan border and killed many civilians. This does make us sit down and think, is he a lot better than Bush? Are they not counted, these twenty people who died in Pakistan? Are they not human beings? Are they just civilians who had nothing to do with this war on terror? I think all these things should be addressed before we can judge Obama.

The Save Omar Campaign, which helped return Omar Deghayes from Guantanamo, is transforming into the Brighton Against Guantanamo campaign and needs more volunteers - contact jackie.chase@virgin.net . They will be showing a film Taxi to the Dark Side at the Friends Meeting House, Brighton, Wednesday 11th Jan, 8-10pm. 

For more see www.save-omar.org.uk

 
 

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