Interview with Omar Deghayes, former Guantanamo detainee

omar-deghayes.jpgOmar Deghayes was born the son of a prominent Libyan lawyer, an "opponent of the increasingly totalitarian Gaddafi" later taken away by the Libyan authorities and killed. After his father's death, Omar Deghayes settled with his family in Saltdean, Great Britian. As a British resident and student of law, Deghayes was imprisoned in Guantanamo for six years after he was abducted from Pakistan and sold for bounty to the United States military. As many of his interviews rightly point out, Mr. Deghayes lost an eye after it was gouged by a Guantanamo guard.

You were captured and detained between May 2002 and Dec 2007?

2007 May...April? Yes. I think. Probably May or April...yes.

Do you recall where you were held? Were you going from one camp to another? Do you remember those dates...?

No. It's going to be very difficult because when we were in the prisons in Guantanamo, we had no idea of dates or time.

It was difficult to...we didn't have any watches. We weren't allowed to know dates or things...I think until 2005, when the lawyers started to come in...we started to have some idea of the dates.

And then after that I think 2006 we were allowed to know what time...they had time...a big clock hanging in some of the...not the cells...but in the middle in between the cells. So, it would be difficult to say which dates I was in which prison and so on...

Do you have a recollection of the places that you were actually held?

Yes. Yes. I do. Yes. Even though we weren't allowed to even know that. But we eventually did know where we are.

Where were you first?

I was first in Lahore. I was kept in Lahore prison for two months. And I think it was a maximum security in Lahore. Kind of a fortress, which is made special for, I think, terrorism cases and things like that. There are some Pakistani people there. And some Arabs.

Then after Lahore you went to...or they took you to...?

Yeah, then I went to a lock up in Islamabad, where the guards were wearing civilian clothes.

It was kind of a lock up, and then after that...we were moved another two months in Bagram base. And then after Bagram base I was moved to Guantanamo.

And when you were at Guantanamo...do you know camps you were in?

Yes. I was first in Camp Delta...1 and 2. Was it 1 and 2? Yes. 1 and 2.

And then I was moved after four months probably or five months I was moved to Camp 3...and then probably back to 1 and 2...and then I was in isolation blocks called Oscar and November...and then when Camp 5 opened I think it was about 2005...I can't remember.

As soon as it was opened I was moved to Camp 5. It might be the end of 2004 or 2005, and then I was kept most of the time at Camp 5...and then sometimes locked up in isolation or things like that.

What happens is that they locked me up in Oscar for one month and then as soon as the month finishes they take me out to cages...normal cages...for one day and then they return me back to the Oscar and November blocks.

So I kept being locked up like this until they created Camp 5. Then they knew that me and I think about forty people went. Were moved to Camp 5 and I was help in Camp 5 most of the time.

I spoke to someone anonymously, who was there sometime around 2007 and 2008. He remembers ISN 239, which is Shaker Aamer's GTMO number. He was there at the time when there was a hunger strike that had 19 hunger strikers. So the block guards had to do force cell extractions two times a day. So one day they did 38 forced cell extractions forced feedings in one day. Do you remember that time?

Are you saying this is in 2007 or after 2007? Because there are a couple of hunger strikes...I think I remember there were about 3, which I remember. And, we had to do the same thing. They pulled people out and beat them up and things like that. And many times a day from different cells. And, so I don't know which one you are talking about... Is this 2007 you are saying...or after 2007?

This would have been in the Summer or Fall of 2007. How did you come upon Shaker Aamer. When you first met him, and what your experience like?

Shake Aamer if I remember I met him in the cells there, I think it was. I am trying to remember which part of the prison that I first met him...for the first time.

If I remember...it was very late I think in my imprisonment so it was about probably about 2004...it might be. It was first time he was...he was brought in a cage next to my cage.

In Camp 1 I think. So that was the first time that I saw him. And he came next to my cage and we got to know each other. And he spoke, and I realized that he came from here from London...and I got to know him more. So that was the first time I had seen him the first time inside Guantanamo.

My understanding is that no one, not even his lawyers, have had contact with him for some time.

Somebody who was released in France...recently...no now it has been how many years? I think it has been one year or two years. He has been in contact with him. He was next to him...in a cell next to him. And I remember speaking to him, and asking him about Shaker's condition and what has happened to him.

And he was telling me, that they are trying to persuade him to go to Saudi Arabia. That the Americans are trying to persuade him to be released, but not to this country, the UK. But to Saudi Arabia.

And he was telling me this story about Saudi delegates that were allowed inside the cell...not inside the cell but inside corridors...the prison and in the cells to speak to him to try to convince him to go back to Saudi Arabia. Which is very very unusual.

I was surprised that they did that, because in those cells even the interrogators, I meant the interrogators who were licenses inside the camps, they weren't allowed to come near to the cell. It was mostly the guards and generals who control the cell...and to allow foreign intelligence service from the Saudi Arabian to meet him near the cell or to speak to him in his cell it was very surprising to me. So, yes...I remember that. So, he was isolated for a long time. I think during 2007. But after that he was at some point he was put with other few prisoners on the same block and...

Is the gentleman from France... Lakhdar Boumediene?

No. It's not Lakmare, It's Saber Lahmer. He was released to France after Lakdare.

Camp 2/3, which was suppose to have been shut down was re-opened. I spoke to someone who told me they remember that Shaker was there. He referred to Shaker as ISN 239. He referred to Mr. Lakhdar Boumediene as ISN 10K2. He says that there were three or four others that were there. So five or six that were there total that were all what he termed the most determined hunger strikers.

There were two things. There were 2 blocks of this kind that he was speaking about. One block was hunger strikers and I think whom they considered as leaders. They had Shaker and they had other people, I can't remember four or five. I can't remember exact number.

And then they had in the same camp, which I think was 2 and 3, which was reopened. As you say it was first closed and then it was reopened, as you say, and they had there might have been a number of 20 prisoners more or less...and all these cells they had all the people who were continuously hunger striking and they didn't want to give in and stop the hunger strike.

I think within there was Sami al-Haj, if you've heard of him. Sami al-Haj is the Sudanese man who works for Al Jazeera cameraman. And they had some Yemeni people and they had some Saudi people...I can't remember.

Who had the last contact with Shaker other than Lakhdar Boumediene?

I think the last contact with him from the lawyers his American lawyer, who is supposed to speak on the 21rst of June at Parliament about Guanatanmo.

Are there other people that you became close to while you were held at Guantanamo that are still there?

I think I know most of the people who are still in Guantanamo. Because I was moved a lot from one camp to another and the cages. I think I met most people.

Yes, I can remember many people and still think of many people who are locked up and especially the Yemeni groups. Because the Yemeni have been mostly the number raised till the Yemeni...in large numbers...there are lots of Yemenis who are kept in Guantanamo not because of what they committed.

They haven't been to any interrogation for years now....and they are only locked up there for the simple reason which is politics...and fear...and not enough pressure from...

So, I think the Yemenis I feel sorry for more than anyone else...because of the conditions and why they are there. Their situation is very... they haven't got anyone to speak about them. The government isn't interested. They have been used or kept locked up because of somebody else doing something in their country...or because for the chaos in their country, which is not their fault.

And it is just adding up one mistake which is locking them up wrongly in the first place and not giving them due process and then adding fear of releasing them, which makes another mistake.

I think it is very immoral that people are kept all these years just because they think that if we release them...it is not due to their own individual circumstances.

It is due to politics and it is due to their country and what is happening, which I think is really sad. I got a letter very recently from one of the Yemenis, and he has been asking me to find him a lawyer that can defend him.

And it is very sad, because. It is very sad because...there are very many of the Yemenis. Even the Americans think they are insignificant. Even according to their standards... and they are not people who are important for interrogation.

And they are only kept because of the circumstances. And feel very sad that most journalists and most people even lawyers dismiss them from when they talk and they are the majority number...I think they are about a hundred...so more than half of people kept in Guantanamo are probably Yemenis.

Is there anything else that you feel is important that might help me with the cause of Shaker or the Yemeni detainees that I haven't asked about.

Obviously very sad that they have been locked up for what ten years now without any due process...all of these people.

And Shaker has a young child who was born...I have met him...I have seen him here in London...but he has never seen his father...and I remember sitting down and talking to him...and telling him about his father.

He was so happy. He and his brother and sisters they were all sitting down in one place. I saw them once...in a gathering somewhere...and they came down to me and they were so happy to see me I think .

It was very sad to see the look in their eyes and describe their father for them who most of them rarely, rarely have known. One of them had never seen him.

And I remember , I was telling them how their father was...how patient and just...describing their father and how funny and things like that and they were just listening and looking at me...it was very very moving I think.

And, it is very sad at the same time, to think of that from a journalist point of view and from people as community thinking that somebody without any hearing or due process...without giving him any chance to answer his allegations... and most of the allegations against people like Shaker...especially Shaker are like saying very similar allegations...the standard template...that they give to every so called prisoner which is they have nothing serious against him.

Shaker has become what he is and being locked up because of what he has done inside prison...not outside prison...or before prison. Because Shaker was trying to help and defend...they started to think of him as somebody who was important outside prison.

He must have been a big general or something...which is really clumsy and crazy because I know who Shaker is...and it is very sad only because he as I say...he had the ability to speak in English and Arabic...and he used that into translating to young Arab people who couldn't speak from Saudi Arabia for themselves.

And he tried to help them and defend them...and because of what some...I think he is kept in prison because of people's motivation inside prison and because of his activity in prison rather than what he has really committed before prison.

Awful.

It is sadness really.

For me, the first battle is cutting through the disinformation and misperceptions that people have about what is going on at Guantanamo. Then after that half the time...when you tell people...they either living in their own world or they are prejudice...

It is difficult to get them out, isn't it...from what they lock themselves out to...because it is easier to believe easy recipes that the media and the politicians have already made for us...to believe in and to think outside those lines and try to research things and try to think harder and deeper then what they transmit in that small bite that they transmit to us as information...media information is sometimes consuming and difficult for people who normally are all of them like myself... everybody is probably involved in his work and family and got so much to do already and...

I think your work, and there are many journalists and people who dig in and make it easier for us to just read just articles and films and things of that...I think has made already a big difference in Guantanamo and many other injustices.

And, I think...I hope you not become frustrated and you know I don't want you to...I don't know what you are facing...because I am sure it is very difficult to write against the stream.

No it is not. Maybe it was. That is the great thing about the truth. You know...people think they have to make ideological jumps..but you just simply need facts...if you are not a sociopath...if you have any bit of a human heart and any decency you can't but want to help. I know Guantanamo is the tip of the iceberg, of all the sites that exist...it is the one we know the most about. So God knows what is going on at places that we don't know about.

Definitely. Let me tell you. I have met people like that.

It's awful.

I mean and injustices only create more injustices in the world. I think they keep asking where violence and terrorism is happening in the world..and what is causing this...and I think if they just look under their own feet they will know why this is happening.

Thank you so much for your time. I am very grateful to you.

Thanks a lot for taking time out and interest in working in these kind of cases. So, thank you.

*This was published originally for WL Central