My brother is Denied the Help of His Adopted Country: Britain Calls Guantanamo a 'Shocking Affront', But Refuses to Lift a Finger For This Country's Residents Held There Without Charge
By Amani Deghayes
October 5, 2006
I am left astounded at the cruel irony. This week we learned that the British government is refusing to allow the return of my brother and other UK residents from GuantanamoBay because it doesn't have the intelligence resources to monitor them round the clock, as the Americans appear to demand. In effect, British officials seem to be saying that, because they don't think Omar and the others are sufficiently dangerous to warrant the level of ongoing surveillance the US insists on, they are unwilling to negotiate their return. If only Omar and the seven other British residents were more "dangerous", the logic of Whitehall officials seems to have run during secret meetings with US counterparts, revealed in the Guardian on Tuesday, then perhaps we might consider your terms.
Irony aside, the government has been evasive and disingenuous from the outset. Lord Falconer is now travelling the world delivering lectures saying that Guantanamo is a "shocking affront to the principles of democracy". Quite apart from the fact that the camp was originally defended by the lord chancellor's colleagues after its creation in January 2002, this new government line clearly does not extend to helping UK residents actually caged in this appalling place.
Omar has endured the brutal conditions at Guantanamo for more than four years. Like so many of the prisoners, my brother was originally apprehended in Pakistan. Along with his wife and baby he was arrested in Lahore in April 2002, reportedly for a bounty of $5,000. Just last week, Amnesty International published a report accusing Pakistan of aiding the mass abduction and handover to US forces of hundreds of people like Omar as part of the "war on terror".
After being "rendered" to Afghanistan and tortured at the US-run Bagram air base (which he likens to "Nazi camps that I saw in films"), Omar's Guantanamo ordeal began. He has been kept in solitary confinement for months at a time and seriously abused by the guards. It appears that he's been singled out because he has legal training, speaks several languages and has challenged guards who, he says, have sexually assaulted detainees during strip searches. As punishment he was repeatedly pepper-sprayed in the face. A guard also forced a finger into one of Omar's eyes, leaving him blind in that eye. Other ill-treatment and humiliation have, he says, become routine.
The UK government knows all this, and has indeed sent intelligence officials to interrogate Omar and the other UK residents. Yet the government will still do nothing. Presently it seems to recognise a responsibility to only one of the UK residents at Guantanamo - Bisher al-Rawi, the Iraqi national who has apparently been accorded separate status because of his supposed links to British intelligence. For everyone else, including my brother Omar - a refugee and someone who fled the murderous regime of Libya's President Gadafy - the government is still determined to wash its hands of any responsibility.
Using the argument that they are UK residents and not British nationals, the government is currently refusing to offer any formal legal or medical help to the men. Even though some of them are refugees and all have long-term ties to this country, including British wives and British children, the government stubbornly resists our pleas for help.
My own and other families have had to resort to legal action to try to pressure the government into reversing its "no help for British residents at Guantanamo" stance. This is still ongoing.
Who in all honesty should Omar, and people like him, get help from if not from 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? In the words of one of the Libyan officials who interrogated Omar in his cell: "As sure as the sun is in the sky, if you're returned to Libya we will kill you."
My father, a trade union leader, was detained and then killed by the Libyan secret police in March 1980, a fact that Amnesty International recorded at the time, issuing an "urgent action" appeal on his case. A few years later our family managed to escape Libya, and we sought political asylum in Britain. As refugees here we have always been grateful to the UK for the opportunity to build new lives in Brighton and London, but we are now extremely angry and distressed by the government's stance.
We're not looking for special favours. Just the chance for Omar to be reunited with us. 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.
Meanwhile the government continues to sit on its hands. Tony Blair has spoken of Guantanamo as an "anomaly" and Lord Falconer praises President Bush for "strides forward" over Guantanamo. But still my brother languishes in that disgusting place without recourse to a legitimate legal process and without help from this country, his adopted home.
Amani Deghayes is the sister of Omar Deghayes, who has been held at GuantanamoBay since April 2002 www.amnesty.org