In March 1980, Amnesty International issued an Urgent Action featuring a
Libyan trade union leader and political opponent of Colonel Mu’ammar
al-Gaddafi. He had been arrested by Libyan secret police and was executed
three days later. The Urgent Action stated that the man had five children.
One of those children is Omar Deghayes.
Omar Deghayes and his family managed to flee persecution in Libya and were
eventually granted political asylum in the UK. Omar Deghayes grew up in
Brighton and studied law in British universities. A devout Muslim, Omar
Deghayes visited prisoners to offer them support. Omar Deghayes’ ambition
was to be a human rights lawyer.
In 2001, Omar Deghayes decided to travel with a friend and look for work. He
went to Malaysia, Pakistan and eventually Afghanistan, where he married and
had a son.
When the international conflict in Afghanistan started after the 11
September 2001 attacks in the USA, Omar Deghayes fled to Pakistan with his
wife and baby. They were planning to return to the UK when they were
arrested in Lahore in April 2002, reportedly for a bounty of US$5,000.
Omar Deghayes was caught up as an "enemy combatant" and eventually
transferred to Guantánamo Bay via Afghanistan. In all, four governments have
been complicit in his detention, alleged ill-treatment and torture, and in
denying him justice for over three years.
"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
" Omar Deghayes.
In Pakistan, Omar Deghayes alleges that he was tortured in custody. He was
told he was being held in Pakistan at the behest of the USA. Omar Deghayes
says that he was:
- subjected to "systematic beatings";
- forced into stress positions;
- kept in a dimly lit room full of glass boxes with
- "very large snakes", and threatened with being left in the room after the
snakes had been released;
- submerged under water until he believed he would drown.
In Afghanistan, Omar Deghayes likened the US-run prison at Bagram air base
to "Nazi camps that I saw in films". When asked by his lawyer about beatings
in Bagram, Omar Deghayes replied, "Of course, beating and torture is
considered normal [there]". Omar said he was also subjected to:
- forced nudity;
- food deprivation;
- being locked in a box with very little air for prolonged periods;
- being chained to the wall and suspended by the wrists.
- Omar Deghayes states that the "guards forced petrol and benzene up the
anuses of prisoners. This would burn horribly".
In Guantánamo Bay, where Omar Deghayes was transferred in September 2002, he
has reportedly been targeted for ill-treatment because he has legal training
and has spoken out against abuses through his lawyer. The alleged abuses
he and other detainees were sexually assaulted during a strip search, and
when he challenged the guards he was repeatedly pepper-sprayed in the eyes
and face, and a guard forced his finger into one of Omar’s eyes, leaving him
blind in that eye;
a jet of high pressure water was sprayed up his nose until he thought he
he was kept in solitary confinement for over eight months;
on 9 and 11 September 2004 he was interrogated by Libyan intelligence agents
who threatened him with violence and death. In addition, British
intelligence agents are reported to have interrogated Omar Deghayes up to
seven times while in Bagram and Guantánamo.
"[The letters] are heavily censored – they just say things like ‘how are
you?’ and ‘I’m fine’." Taher Deghayes, Omar Deghayes’ brother.
Omar Deghayes’ family has found it difficult to deal with his long,
indefinite captivity and the gruesome allegations of torture. For most of
the three years, their only contact with Omar Deghayes has been through
heavily censored letters delivered by the Red Cross. Omar Deghayes’ wife is
distraught, and Omar Deghayes has not seen his son, who is now three, since
he was a couple of months old.
Omar Deghayes’ family is convinced this is a case of mistaken identity. Omar
Deghayes’ name appeared on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, and the accompanying
picture was taken from a training video of a Chechen separatist group.
According to the family, the person in the video looks nothing like Omar
Deghayes, a view supported by facial recognition experts.
In June 2004 the US Supreme Court ruled, in Rasul v Bush, that the federal
courts have jurisdiction to hear habeas corpus petitions from foreign
nationals detained in Guantánamo Bay. Yet none of the detainees still held
there has had the lawfulness of his detention judicially reviewed. Instead,
the administration set up Combatant Status Review Tribunals to determine if
each detainee was an "enemy combatant". For this process, the detainee had
no access to secret evidence used against him or to legal counsel. Meanwhile
the tribunals were allowed to draw on evidence extracted under torture or
Omar Deghayes was notified that one of these tribunals had found him to be
an "enemy combatant", and that "the United States may continue to detain you
After the June 2004 ruling, lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees filed
habeas corpus petitions with the US District Court in Washington DC. The
first judge on the DC District Court to interpret the Rasul v Bush decision,
Judge Richard Leon, ruled in favour of the executive authority of the US
President during wartime, holding that the Guantánamo detainees had no right
to challenge the lawfulness of their detention.
Two weeks later, Federal District Judge Joyce Hens Green gave a different
opinion. She rejected the government’s argument that the detainees have no
substantive rights, and held that the detainees had the US constitutional
right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law. The
government is seeking to have a higher court, the US Court of Appeals for
the District of Columbia Circuit, resolve the difference of opinion between
the two judges in its favour. Meanwhile, the legal limbo of the detainees
continues, with none having had the lawfulness of his detention judicially
Whatever the Court of Appeals decides, the case is likely to be sent for
appeal to the US Supreme Court. This would keep the detainees in their legal
limbo and leave the lawfulness of their detention unreviewed by the courts.
"The biggest fear is if they send him back to Libya." Taher Deghayes, Omar
Omar Deghayes’ situation is worsened by his citizenship status. He has had
refugee status in the UK since 1987, and his family are all British citizens
Omar Deghayes had applied for citizenship, but missed an interview because
he was abroad. The UK has argued that under international law it can only
intervene on behalf of British citizens. Omar Deghayes still has a Libyan
passport, which means it is left to the Libyan government, the same
government that executed his father and threatened Omar Deghayes with
torture, to make diplomatic representations on his behalf.
This raises the concern that, if released from Guantánamo Bay, the US authorities will send Omar Deghayes to Libya where he will be at risk of further torture. One of the Libyan agents who interrogated him in Guantánamo Bay allegedly said: "You will be brought to judgement in Libya. In here I cannot do anything, but if I meet you [later] I will kill you."