Argus title : Hypocrisy prolongs jail agony
Omar Deghayes, a Libyan born refugee to Britain, is imprisoned in the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. He has been convicted of no crime, but has been held there for 4 years without being brought to trial.
Omar’s father was a trade unionist who was jailed, tortured and assassinated by the Libyan regime in 1980. Now his son is illegally imprisoned and subject to repeated torture by US security personnel. His family has not had news of him for months. Even his lawyer has not been able to see him.
Omar lived in Brighton for 20 years. He wasn’t born in the city, but often visited as a child. After his father’s murder he and his family fled to the UK, where their claim for asylum was accepted. Omar settled in Saltdean, attended a local school and later university where he studied Law.
Omar was arrested in April 2002 on a visit to Pakistan with his wife and baby son. Since then he has been held without charge, almost certainly on the basis of mistaken identity, first in the custody of the Pakistani Government and then by American forces in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay.
The Argus has printed extracts from Omar’s harrowing prison diaries in which he alleges that while in American custody he has experienced: repeated beatings; stripping; solitary confinement; deprivation of food; prolonged incarceration in a box with very little air; being chained to a wall and suspended by the wrists; actual and threatened sexual assault; suffocation by water; and permanently blinding by having mace and a finger driven into his eye.
There are more recent reports that to humiliate him his face has been smeared with faeces and that when on hunger strike he and other prisoners were brutally force fed, in such a way as to cause pain, vomiting and bleeding.
The British Government has, in the past, grudgingly made representations to the US to free British Citizens imprisoned at Guantanamo. However, it has repeatedly rebuffed requests to intervene on Omar’s behalf because, unlike other family members, he is not yet a British citizen. The government has callously suggested that Omar should seek help from his “own” country.
Omar’s sister Amani asks: “Who in honesty should Omar..get help from if not the government of the country in which he grew up, was educated and has spent the majority of his life? Is he really going to receive assistance from his birth country Libya – the country that has sent its agents to “visit” him at Guantanamo and quietly let him know that his life will be in danger if they ever get their hands on him back in Libya?”
Last month the family lost a High Court action to compel the UK government to intervene on Omar’s behalf. The Court accepted that he had been tortured and agreed that there were strong arguments for government intervention on behalf of people with British residency. However, it cravenly concluded that it could not determine foreign policy and must leave questions of representation to politicians.
The Judges appear to have been persuaded by government lawyers who were – wittingly or unwittingly – misleading the court. For it has emerged that, before the court case, the US government had already offered to release the British residents, provided that they be placed under 24 hour surveillance. In a truly breathtaking display of hypocrisy and political chicanery, the British government had secretly refused the offer – on the grounds that Omar Deghayes and others do not pose sufficient threat to warrant this.
In short, Omar languishes in Guantanamo Bay, not because he poses a serious security risk, but because he doesn’t.
There has to be strong suspicion that the government doesn’t want Omar and the other prisoners home because what they will have to say when they get here will be politically embarrassing.
Amani says: “It’s very hard to distinguish what has happened to my father in Libya from what is happening to my brother
…..Sometimes I think that my father had a better deal because his torture and ordeal was over in three days but Omar continues to suffer for years.”
She adds “As refugees here we have always been grateful to the UK for the opportunity to build new lives…We’re not looking for special favours…If there is evidence against him (which I very strongly doubt) then he should of course stand trial in a British Court. But not the kangaroo courts being set up at Guantanamo and certainly not the non-trial he would receive in Libya.”
Amani gave me a copy of a statement written by her mother Zohra Zewawi, in March this year. It is deeply moving and is reproduced almost in full. Zohra writes:
“Whenever I try to express my feelings of sadness due to my beloved son’s absence, I find my brain incapable of doing so. Whenever I remember him in my mind or in my soul, the tears pour out of my eyes and I cannot stop them at all. The tears feel as if they would go on for eternity.
“How can I tolerate my existence in the house without him? I find his smell in every corner of the house where he lived. How do I cope with the knowledge that we eat everything we like while he does not eat even a little; or the fact that we sleep on our comfortable beds while he does not even get to sleep. Instead he is tortured to prevent him from sleeping!
“Every morning when I get up and wash my face with clean warm water and perform the ritual ablution in order to pray, I remember him and how he does not even have water. So how do you think I feel thinking of my son in a cold narrow cell without sunshine or fresh air? I cannot sleep at night because of the sadness I feel when I think of my son, (and when do I forget?)
“It breaks my heart to think that my handsome, well-groomed son who took such pride in his appearance does not even have clothes to wear. It breaks my heart that he has not had a comb to brush his hair in three years. He told me how sad he was to see that his hair had turned grey from all the stress.
“Worst of all it breaks my heart when I think of his milky white eye which has been blinded so deliberately and callously by the American guards. My late husband was so determined that Omar does not lose his eye when Omar was accidentally poked in the eye by another child. The advice in Libya was to remove Omar’s eye but my husband refused and took Omar to Switzerland as it had the most advanced eye treatment at the time….. Alas, all that effort, pain and money is completely destroyed in such a brutal way.
“Sometimes I cannot tolerate staying in the house because of his absence from me as he was my best companion…my cheerful, vivacious son.
“I am absentminded and distraught and every place becomes narrow for me whenever I remember him which is all the time. He is in this cursed jail for so many years in conditions which are not even fit for animals.
“I pray to Allah during every prayer that he is released and that he finds people who treat him kindly and compassionately. My heart is ruptured with sadness. I swear that if I could express what I feel properly even tens of papers would not be sufficient….
“So what shall I say and what do I say when his little son Suleiman comes to me and asks me, “Where is my daddy? Where is my daddy and when is he coming so I can meet him?” When he asks me, I feel the world is pulled from under my feet…
“Even when I receive a letter from him, I find half or more of the letter erased. They have begrudged me even the pleasure of hearing his news …
“I swear by Allah that my son is innocent….. Omar loves all people and loves helping people. Have mercy on those on Earth and God will have mercy on you.”
She signs her statement with a heart-rending final sentence: “The mother who yearns for her son.”
The Save Omar Campaign is based in Brighton and works for his release. It is backed by The Argus and has widespread political and public support.
On 25 November 11am till 4pm the Campaign will hold a conference in central Brighton to discuss the current situation and plans for the future. To book, call Martin on 07985 408124.