The Truth Behind Torture
Interview with Marc Lamont
January 8, 2013 Get video here
Zero Dark Thirty painted the picture that torture was effective in killing Bin Laden. What's winning the war on terror, torture or intelligence?
Marc Lamont: Omar, you've been on the other side of this equation at the prison. What was your experience like there? Tell me how you got there and what happened.
Omar Deghayes: Yes, long story, but what I wanted to say is that the torture that went on in Guantanamo Bay was a systematic kind of torture; it wasn't subjected to whether a guard would do it or not; it was a system which was incorporated in a regime where everyone had to go through a process where they would be attacked physically, then in their dignity, [so] they would be indignant, and they would be mistreated. Many people, physically, lost […] like you can see my eye [POINTING TO HIS RIGHT EYE], my eye has been gorged out inside Guantanamo. And this thing didn't happen only to me. It happened to many—several—people, like for example [INAUDIBLE] the Yemeni , and it happened to Ashad, who lost his eye. And several people; there is Abdullah Suri. A couple—several—people in Guantanamo were attacked and they lost their lives, they died [INAUDIBLE] And I know [INAUDIBLE] for example, the Egyptian, who was amputated, because they said there would not be any medical treatment . The only thing that they would do is they would give him things to relieve his pain, but they would not treat his leg; the only solution for him was amputation. And this didn't only happen to [INAUDIBLE]. It happened to another example as well, who was Lahdar from Spain. His hand was amputated because of the same reason. [INAUDIBLE] from Morocco: same thing . They kept saying to him, continuously, that "we will amputate your hand" because his hand cannot be treated. And he refused for several years. Like five to six years he kept refusing to amputate his hand. And when he went back to Morocco (he is now released), now his hand is fine and is being treated. And another incident of [INAUDIBLE] who said, when they amputated his leg, he met the Red Cross, and they read his files and they said, "Why did you agree to amputating your leg? Because your leg could have been treated." And he said the pain was so grave that [he] had no choice other than that
ML: Omar, let me back you up a little bit because there are people here that don't know the story of how you got there; they don't understand exactly what goes on in Guantanamo. In fact, there's a kind of commonsense logic among many Americans that if you were there you did something wrong, and if something bad happens to you, you probably deserved it. So let's back up. How did you get there in the first place? What happened? What were the charges? What were you accused of?
OD: Yeah; it's wrong to assume that everybody in Guantanamo [that] ended up there must have committed something, because we realize and know, for example, many people spoke from inside the Bush administration, like Wilkerson, who was assistant chief-of-staff and he's spoken out that the Bush, and Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld themselves knew that many, many people inside Guantanamo were innocent, but it was politically damaging to release those people. For example, after September 11, my story. What happened is that everybody who was in Pakistan [or] in Afghanistan, whether he was doing any work (because, you remember, Afghanistan, Pakistan, for more than thirty now years, there were Arabs who emigrated there [and] were working with the Afghani people since the Russian invasion, setting up schools, helping orphanages, and doing all sorts of things, and so this is nothing new to the American people.
ML: Absolutely. What was your thing, though? What were you accused of?
OD: I was accused of all sorts of things; like, what happened was that I was never convicted of anything and I was there for six years. What they do, they usually do, is that they make a set of accusations. They say, like for example, "you are a friend of Osama bin Laden" (this was the accusation of one year). And then they said I was in Chechnya. Until it was proven that a picture they had of me being in Chechnya was somebody else—a completely different identity. What happens is that they accuse you of something and then they change it the second year to try to tailor something that may be more suitable after having more information. And then the third year "if you answer these accusations…" What happpens then in the third year, the fourth year, is they bring up another, new set, of allegations. So I think, [INAUDIBLE] in Guantanamo itself was nothing of what you have committed, but is more like a political thing—that they are justifying doing something against what happened in September 11.
ML: Right. So you were there for six years, a range of accusations are getting hurled at you. And one assumption people have also is that when we speak of "enhanced interrogation"—when we talk about the conditions of torture—that you are temporarily in pain, or that you are temporarily damaged, but ultimately, it's not long-term damage. But you lost an eye there. I know you mentioned it earlier. But could you say a little bit more? How did you lose your eye? How was it taken out? What were the conditions?
OD: What happened is that there was a group of guards that are going to Irak, at the time, and they wanted them to get used to dealing closely with the people from the Middle East […] So what happened was that those [guards] were brought to a block, a block that I was locked up—an isolation block. It was called "Oscar Block". And this block, there are thirty people in it. And they thought these were the rebelious people. So they kept them in isolation. And they wanted to make an example of them because they were trying to stop the humiliating program which was going on, where they would take away your clothes and trousers and put you in one block called "Romeo" as a punishment from the interrogators. So it was a kind of humiliating…. So they were resisting… All these three people came up one day at night and they went to one cell after another. First we tried to reason with them, what did they want? I spoke to the officer (I spoke English there). So I tried to translate, what was it they wanted? Did they want only a cell search? We'd come out for cell searches. They didn't—the intention wasn't that. They just said "You have to go out." And when people went out, what they did, they did something which over [INAUDIBLE] you; that would sexually abuse everyone who would willingly come out from his cell. So they intended that people refused to go out from their cells, which we did, and then this is what they wanted—they practiced going into each cell beating people up. And when they held you down on the floor, then the guard or the officer would push two fingers [GESTICULATIING] into both of your eyes. They went on to every cell in the block. But what happened was that many people had badly injured their eyes. But […] my right eye had been weak from a big accident. So that it was completely infected and it lost sight in it […] And what happened to the others was that their eyes were badly injured and they were in pain for several days, where they had liquid coming out from their eyes. Like I said, as examples, Abdullah Suri, [INAUDIBLE] who was in the next cell, [INAUDIBLE] the Yemeni, and others. And this is what happened. And because of my condition and other—I lost completely… It just deteriorated, deteriorated, and then I can't see properly from my right eye now.
1. In personal communications with the Guantanamo Testimonials Project dated June 1-3, 2014, Mr. Omar Deghayes identified this prisoner as Wadah from Abyan, Yemen. This prisoner was officially known as Mohammed Ahmed Abdullah Saleh al Hanashi (ISN 78). He later died in custody. Officially deemed a suicide, questions have been raised about the circumstances of his death.
2. Mr. Deghayes similarly identified this prisoner as Adel Aljezar, known officially as Adel Fatough Ali Algazzar (ISN 369).
3. Mr. Deghayes also identified this prisoner as Najeeb Alhusayni, officially known as Najib Mohammad Lahassimi (ISN 75).