US guards at Guantanamo tortured me, says UK man
London Independent | April 24, 2005
By Severin Carrell
A British resident has claimed he was tortured by US guards at Guantanamo Bay, suffering violent sexual assaults, near drowning and an attack in which he was blinded.
The Independent on Sunday has been given a detailed account from Omar Deghayes of repeated abuse by American and Pakistani interrogators over the past three years including electric shocks and sodomy by US guards.
The allegations, made by human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, have persuaded British ministers to take up Mr Deghayes's case.
In some of the most disturbing allegations to emerge from Guantanamo, Mr Deghayes also accuses US and Pakistani interrogators of beating him repeatedly since his arrest three years ago, smearing his face with human excrement, starving him of food, and withdrawing light and clothing.
In a detailed 10-page account Mr Deghayes, whose family fled Libya after his father, a prominent lawyer and trade unionist, was allegedly murdered by agents of Muammar Gaddafi in 1980, claims:
* Pakistani interrogators put him in a "snake room" with glass cases holding poisonous snakes to make him confess, and tortured him with electric shocks;
* Members of the US "extreme reaction force" at Guantanamo Bay blinded him in his already weak right eye with Mace riot control gas and by gouging it with a finger;
* At Bagram airbase, Afghanistan, US guards allegedly sodomised five detainees, and forced petrol and benzene into the anuses of others;
* In Pakistan, two interrogators tied him to a bench, repeatedly whipped him with wooden canes in turns and threatened with him rape;
* British intelligence officers interrogated him in Pakistan - adding to allegations that MI6 and MI5 collaborated in the arrests of many of the British residents in Guantanamo Bay.
Mr Deghayes's testimony was recorded during more than 20 hours of interviews by his US attorney, Clive Stafford Smith, in a Guantanamo Bay cell in January and March this year, and has only recently been cleared by US Department of Justice censors.
Mr Stafford Smith said he found Mr Deghayes's testimony "totally credible". He added: "He has been treated worse in Guantanamo than any other person I have come across. He is legally trained and tries to help other people there, so the Americans think he's a trouble-maker. Consequently, he's suffered for it."
The claims are understood to have shocked the Foreign Office minister Baroness Symons, and played a major part in the Government's decision to directly intervene in the cases of five British residents still held at Guantanamo Bay. Until now, the UK has refused to intervene.
The Government has been under intense pressure to lobby for the release of Mr Deghayes and the other British residents - a Jordanian, an Iraqi, a Saudi Arabian and a Ugandan who have lived in Britain for up to 20 years as refugees or permanent residents. Mr Deghayes's family, including his mother and wife, an Afghani, live in Brighton.
All five men - and up to four others believed to have close British ties - are in legal limbo because they kept their original nationality to reclaim property or have legal rights in their country of origin. Their parents, wives and children are British citizens, but the Foreign Office says their foreign nationality bars the UK from formally representing the men. None of their home countries has intervened. The US has also refused to give the UK any access to them.
Mr Deghayes's case has alarmed human rights lawyers because the US has allowed Libyan intelligence officers to interrogate him in Cuba - even though he is a refugee from Col Gaddafi's regime.
Mr Stafford Smith said they could now "conclusively prove" that Mr Deghayes was the victim of mistaken identity. They had established that video footage allegedly showing him in Chechnya was of another man, who is now dead. Mr Deghayes had never been to Chechnya, the lawyer insisted.
Mr Deghayes was seized in the Pakistani city of Lahore in April 2002 by armed local intelligence officers, and alleges he was immediately subjected to repeated torture, threats against his wife and children, and violent assaults by his captors.
He claims the Pakistani interrogators told him they were holding him at US request, and insisted they had no interest in him. He claimed: "I underwent systematic beatings every night for three days. Each time, when I was nearly unconscious, I would be thrown back into the cell to await more."
After several weeks in Lahore, he said, he was taken to the Pakistani capital Islamabad where he claims to have been interrogated by both British and US intelligence officers. He alleges he was "similarly abused" there for approximately a month, including having his head forcibly held under water in a large drum "until I was almost drowned".
Mr Deghayes was terrorised by one technique - shoving prisoners into a chamber nicknamed the "snake room". The Libyan claimed: "One day they took me to a room that had very large snakes in glass boxes. The room was painted black and white, with dim lights. They threatened to leave me there, and let the snakes out with me in the room. This really got to me, as these were such sick people that they must have had this room specially made."
Over his two months in Afghanistan, he added, they starved him of food for nearly eight days, deprived him of light "for days on end", "effectively suffocated" him in an airtight box, and subjected him to beatings and being forced to live naked for long periods "as part of the humiliation process".
He added: "The camp looked like the Nazi camps that I saw in films ... Lying on the floor of the compound, all night I would hear the screams of others in the rooms above us, as they were tortured and interrogated. My number would be called out, and I would have to go to the gate. They chained me, and put a bag over my head, dragging me off for my own turn. They would force me to my knees for questioning. They would threaten me with more torture."
In September 2002, Mr Deghayes was transferred to Guantanamo Bay from Bagram. Since then, he alleges, he has been repeatedly subjected to violent assaults and humiliating ill-treatment. He is now living in solitary confinement, in a concrete cell.
The blinding incident came in March last year after the prisoners protested against forcible intimate body searches by guards training for their transfer to Iraq. Mr Stafford Smith recounts: "The prisoners were Maced, but they fought back this time. The officer standing behind the MPs kept urging them to spray more Mace at Omar's eye. 'More, more', he shouted. Then one of the MPs pushed his finger into Omar's eye. Again, the officer shouted 'more, more'. Omar was trying desperately not to scream, the pain was agonising."
Mr Deghayes was left unable to see in either eye at first. His right eye, already weakened by a childhood accident, has been left permanently "milky white" and blinded, Mr Stafford Smith said.
Other severe assaults involved the camp's "extreme reaction force", a form of riot squad allegedly used to quell or punish prisoners. In a series of incidents, US personnel smeared another man's faeces in his face; he was nearly drowned when water from high-pressure hoses was forced up his nose; he had his head shoved into a flushing toilet; had his nose nearly broken; and was violently assaulted in the recreation yard.
The US government insists it investigates all allegations of ill-treatment, and now admits to 10 proven cases of abuse at Guantanamo Bay, and at least two detainee murders in Afghanistan. In January, the Pentagon launched a fresh inquiry, which reported its findings last month, after leaked FBI papers revealed serious allegations of abuse witnessed by FBI agents at Camp Delta.
Mr Stafford Smith said Mr Deghayes was now "very, very paranoid because they've played so many games with him". However, he added, his client "is holding up better than many" at Guantanamo Bay. "All he wants to do is to get back home to his family."