Omar Deghayes: A prisoner Britain prefers to forget

By Ben Russell, Political Correspondent 
Published: 18 February 2006

When Omar Deghayes and his family arrived as refugees
in Britain, they thought they had found a haven from
secret police and torture. 

As a small boy in 1980, Omar saw his father, Amer, a
prominent trade unionist and lawyer opposed to the
dictatorship of Colonel Gaddafi, dragged from the
family home in Tripoli by the Libyan secret police. He
was subsequently executed.

About seven years later, the young Mr Deghayes and his
family managed to secure exit visas, so Omar could
receive treatment for an eye condition, and fled to
Britain, hoping for a new life.

Today Mr Deghayes is one of eight British residents
being held in Guantanamo Bay. During his
three-and-a-half years' incarceration he has been
tortured, held in solitary confinement for months, had
his finger smashed, lost the sight in one eye and has
resorted to a hunger strike, unable to defend himself
in a court.

Omar's sister, Amani, said the family hoped their
anguish had ended when they left Libya in 1987 and
made a new home as refugees in Britain. Now, she is
angrily pressing the Government of their adopted home
to help bring her brother home. She said: "It is
something everyone wants for themselves, to be able to
feel you don't have to watch your back for no reason.
If you have done something wrong, you want to think
that you are going to get a chance to speak about it
and say what you think and answer for yourself. It
just seems that is not the case any more."

The first thing Omar's family knew about his
incarceration was when his name appeared on an
internet list of America's 50 most wanted terror

Mr Deghayes, now 35, was seized in Pakistan in January
2002 after being recognised as appearing on a Chechen
training video seized by the Spanish government. His
lawyer and family insist this is a classic example of
mistaken identity.

On Thursday, lawyers for Mr Deghayes and two other
British residents being held at the base won the first
round of their legal battle to force the Government to
press their case in Washington as international
pressure grows for the notorious American base to be
closed for good.

The case of Mr Deghayes highlights the plight of eight
British residents who are still being held despite the
fact that nine other British detainees have all been
flown home and released without charge.

Yesterday, international pressure grew for an end to
the Guantanamo Bay base where about 500 men have
languished without trial for years.

The Government insists it cannot act on behalf of the
men because they do not hold British passports, even
though several have refugee status and some have
British families and children waiting for them.

Kate Allen, UK director of Amnesty International,
said: "Omar's current situation is the worst of all
worlds. Not only is he trapped within Guantanamo's
cruel and arbitrary system but the UK is essentially
trying to wash its hands of him. As with other UK
residents at Guantanamo, we need to see the Government
making specific demands on the US authorities for
either an early and properly fair trial for Omar, or
his immediate release and safe return to Britain."

Omar and his family fled their homeland to Brighton
and were granted political asylum. He grew up in
Brighton and went to college to study to become a
solicitor, hoping to follow in his father's footsteps.
His mother, sister and brothers were all granted
British citizenship but Omar's application was being
considered when he went travelling four years ago
before retaking his solicitors' exams in Huddersfield.
He visited Malaysia and Pakistan before ending up in
Afghanistan where he got married and had a son. The
next his family heard, he had been arrested and has
become one of eight British residents in legal limbo.

They describe him as a devout Muslim, who occasionally
preached at a Brighton mosque but say he was no
extremist and travelled to Afghanistan out of
curiosity about the Taliban regime. They insist he has
shown no support for terrorism.

At home, his sister cannot bring herself to read her
brother's censored letters home. She said: "My
brother's situation is quite shocking. The fact no
officials are doing anything about it is even more
shocking to me."

British residents at Camp Delta 


Originally from Ethiopia, but lived in London since
1978 seeking asylum for several years. He travelled to
Afghanistan in 2001 before fleeing to Pakistan after
the American-led invasion. The 27-year-old is reported
to have been held and tortured in Morocco before being
taken to Kabul and then Guantanamo.


A Saudi Arabian citizen who has lived in south-west
London. Held since he was captured in Afghanistan in
2002. His wife of eight years, Zennira, and four
children are British citizens. He applied for British
nationality when he was seized in Pakistan. Alleged to
have been tortured in Kabul, and became a spokesman
for the detainees. His lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith,
said he had a 43-inch feeding tube in his nose when he
saw him last month.


Fled to Britain from Iraq with his family 20 years
ago. He was arrested in Gambia where he had travelled
with Jamal el-Banna. He was accused of taking a weapon
of mass destruction to Gambia. His lawyers say it was
a battery charger.


Refugee from Jordan who lives in London with his wife
and five children, all of them British. Arrested in
Gambia with Bisher al-Rawi.


A Moroccan who worked as a cook in London for 18
years. He was seized in Pakistan and is said to have
been sold to US forces. He has been in solitary
confinement for more than two years, and is accused of
attending a terrorist training camp in July 2001. His
lawyers have proof and witnesses showing that he was
working in a London kitchen at the time.


An Algerian who lived in Bournemouth. He was refused
refugee status, but granted indefinite leave to
remain. Lawyers are still attempting to gain access to
him so they can press his case.


An Algerian from Harrow, north London, who was granted
refugee status in 2000. British lawyers say they are
still trying to gain access to him.


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