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Former Guantanamo Prisoner, Brother of Current Prisoner in Cuba to Call for Closure of Prison Camp

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Protests are scheduled across the world today as part of the International Day to Shut Down Guantanamo. We speak with a former Guantanamo detainee currently in Cuba as part of an international delegation calling for the closure of the prison camp as well as the brother of a Guantanamo detainee who has been held there since 2002. [includes rush transcript]

Protests are scheduled across the world today as part of the International Day to Shut Down Guantanamo. In Washington, a nonviolent direct action is planned outside the Federal Court. Protesters dressed in orange jump suits and black hoods plan to risk arrest by attempting to deliver motions to the court on behalf of detainees at Guantanamo.

Meanwhile in Cuba the first-ever international delegation of former prisoners, families of current prisoners, US lawyers and human rights activists will hold a protest today in front of the gates of Guantanamo.

One member of the delegation is Asif Iqbal who was held at Guantanamo for two years. In late 2001 he was taken from Pakistan to Afghanistan, where he was held, beaten, and interrogated by US troops. During his two years at Guantanamo he claims he was abused by US interrogators and forced to make false confessions. He was released in 2004 and has a lawsuit pending against the United States. He joins us on the phone from Cuba.

  • Asif Iqbal, British citizen and former Guantanamo detainee.

Taher Deghayes also joins us on the line from Cuba—he is the brother of Guantanamo prisoner Omar Deghayes. Formerly a law student in Britain, Omar Deghayes was arrested in Pakistan along with his family in 2002. He was taken to Guantanamo where he has since been held without charge.

  • Taher Deghayes, brother of Guantanamo prisoner Omar Deghayes.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: One member of that delegation is Asif Iqbal. He was held at Guantanamo for two years. In late 2001, he was taken from Pakistan to Afghanistan, where he was held, beaten, and interrogated by US troops. During his two years at Guantanamo, he claims he was abused by US interrogators and forced to make false confessions. He was released in 2004 and has a lawsuit pending against the United States. He joins us now on the phone from Cuba. Asif Iqbal, welcome to Democracy Now!

ASIF IQBAL: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: You are a British citizen. You were imprisoned at Guantanamo. You won your release, part of what is known as the Tipton Three. Road to Guantanamo, the film, is about you and the other two men you were imprisoned with from Tipton. Why have you returned to the place you were imprisoned for several years?

ASIF IQBAL: Well, I’m not going to be exactly at the prison. It’s just going to be quite far away, away, but I’ve got to do something for the people that are still there. I’m free, but, you know, I can’t forget about what happened to me in Guantanamo. For two-and-a-half years, while I was at Guantanamo, people in orange became my family. Even though I’m with my loved ones and my family, they’re still there. You know, they’ve had — it’s been five years since that place was opened. They’ve had no legal recourse. To me, they’re all innocent until proven guilty. And I want to make a stand for them.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier in the broadcast, we played a clip of a ten-year-old child named Anas El-Banna, who called for the release of his father, Jamil El-Banna, and a family friend who he called Uncle Bisher. That’s Bisher al-Rawi. You knew them at Guantanamo?

ASIF IQBAL: Yeah, I knew them in Guantanamo.

AMY GOODMAN: They’re there now?


AMY GOODMAN: They’re there now?

ASIF IQBAL: Yeah. And then, I remember quite clearly, three years ago or just over three years ago, when I was next to Jamil El-Banna, an interrogator came up to Jamil El-Banna and said, "Don’t worry. You’ll go home soon." And it’s been over three-and-a-half years since I heard them words from an interrogator. That was — it was said to Jamil. And everyone knows their story. They was basically framed by British officials from an African nation, taken to Afghanistan, and then taken to Guantanamo. They was not in the war zone, but still they ended up in Guantanamo. And the worst thing is, they are still there after such a long time.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to play for you Anas El-Banna today in Britain, leading the protest calling for the closure of Guantanamo. He’s ten years old.

ANAS EL-BANNA: My dad has been away for four years, and it has been a very difficult time for all of us. Is there any justice in this world that can help my dad and also Uncle Bisher? My dad is a human, even though he didn’t have a British passport. Where is the human rights?

AMY GOODMAN: Anas El-Banna is ten years old. He’s calling for his father’s release at Guantanamo. Asif Iqbal, what are you calling for today, as you stand in Cuba nearby Guantanamo?

ASIF IQBAL: I’m calling for torture to be stopped, no matter what the circumstances are, and also for the closure of Guantanamo Bay, and if they don’t want to — and for justice to prevail.

AMY GOODMAN: Asif, we played a documentary a while ago by a British filmmaker on what happened at Sheberghan and the voyage the people — the hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, packed into this caravan, what they called a "caravan of death." You were one of those people?

ASIF IQBAL: Yeah, I was one of them people.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe what happened? You were one of only a few dozen who survived that journey. Who put you in these trucks, and what happened?

ASIF IQBAL: Well, basically, we was put into the containers by Northern Alliance troops, but there was an American presence all the time, during this whole horrific event. And basically, we was taken off trucks and put into containers. And when we was in the containers, they basically shot into the containers and killed numerous people, and numerous people suffocated for lack of oxygen. I was one of the lucky ones. I survived it. And even before the shooting, I was unconscious, so I didn’t even know that containers got shot at. Then I woke up, and I seen all the dead bodies. Then I finally reached my destination. That was Sheberghan.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for joining us. We’re going to talk to someone who is on the same delegation as you: Taher Deghayes, now joining us also on the phone from Cuba, brother of the Guantanamo prisoner, Omar Deghayes. Formerly a law student in Britain, Omar was arrested in Pakistan, along with his family, in 2002, taken to Guantanamo, where he’s since been held without charge. Taher Deghayes, welcome to Democracy Now!

TAHER DEGHAYES: Thank you, Amy. Thank you very much for having us.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us why you’re there. Tell us about your brother.

TAHER DEGHAYES: Well, the reason we’re here is we’re trying to draw attention, particularly to the American people, because I think the rest of the world has already heard the message, that is, what is here happening on Guantanamo on their name —

AMY GOODMAN: [Taher], I’m just trying to get a clearer — if you could just speak perhaps a little further from the phone or step — walk a little away from where you are, so we can get a clearer phone line.


AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.

TAHER DEGHAYES: Sorry. I’m here in an office — OK, go ahead.

AMY GOODMAN: Describe again why you’re there.

TAHER DEGHAYES: Can you hear me now?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes. I can hear you.

TAHER DEGHAYES: Well, we’re here to draw attention to the plight of these people that have been held here for five years — I mean, my brother, in particular, is four-and-a-half years — with no trial and no light at the end of the tunnel. I mean, this is not the way we expect a civilized democracy to behave. So we’re actually particularly here to draw attention through the American people on what is happening, you know, on their name.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us how Omar was taken to Guantanamo. He was arrested in Pakistan, along with his family, in 2002?

TAHER DEGHAYES: Yeah, he was kidnapped in Pakistan. He was at home with his Afghani wife. He’s married to a lady from Afghanistan, and they were trying to obtain a visa to come back home to the UK. We were communicating with him, you know, to help him process his visa. One night, apparently, somebody broke into their house, and they took him, they arrested him, or kidnapped him, or — depending on which side you’re on — and sent his wife back to Afghanistan. Obviously, we did not hear from him for a while, so we were very worried. It all went quiet — we didn’t hear from his wife — until we received a letter from the Red Cross telling my mom, "Mom, I’m in Guantanamo. And don’t worry about me. I’m fine."

AMY GOODMAN: Your family are refugees from Libya?

TAHER DEGHAYES: Yes. Omar is a refugee from Libya. We left — we managed to leave Libya in 1986. We received refuge in the UK. My father was a civil rights lawyer in Libya who was killed by Colonel Kadhafi in 1980. And ironically, you know, 27 years later, we are in the same position, in the sense that my father never had a trial. He never was convicted of anything. But his ordeal finished in three days. Omar’s ordeal is continuing. And, you know, it’s not a little dictatorship; it’s a democracy. It’s a country that we’ve all looked up to, all wanted to have the values and rights. It’s very, very disappointing and disheartening.

AMY GOODMAN: Your brother Omar has been blinded in one eye at Guantanamo?

TAHER DEGHAYES: Yes, according to a report that we got from his lawyer, because obviously most of the information he writes to us, they — we are getting more frequent letters now, in the last year. Before, we used to hear from him once every six months.

AMY GOODMAN: Blinded by pepper spray?

TAHER DEGHAYES: Yes, apparently pepper spray. And apparently they were trying to — I don’t know — restrain him, or yeah, something like that.

AMY GOODMAN: Taher, I want to thank you very much for being with us. We’re also joined in Washington, D.C., by an attorney who has been to Guantanamo many times. Gita Gutierrez is with us, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. She has gone to Guantanamo to represent prisoners there. CCR and Amnesty International are holding a news conference today on the steps of the Supreme Court to call for the closing of Guantanamo. Gita Gutierrez, as you hear these voices today in Cuba, as you hear the voices of those who have returned from Guantanamo, can you talk about the situation of the men who are currently there? How many men are at Guantanamo now, men and boys?

GITA GUTIERREZ: Amy, there’s approximately 400, almost 400 men and boys who are still imprisoned at Guantanamo, and the stories that you’ve heard described of the depression and the grim circumstances there continue. Most of the men are suffering from a deep sense of depression and hopelessness. And the conditions are so restrictive that many of them are not receiving the kind of mental health care that they need.

AMY GOODMAN: What is their legal status? How is it that no man has been tried?

GITA GUTIERREZ: Because the Bush administration continues to defy the Supreme Court and has roped Congress into that effort. The government has refused to move forward in federal court with any hearing on any case that men have brought to challenge their detention. So right now, most of them continue to face a sense of indefinite detention with no prospect of a fair hearing.

AMY GOODMAN: The military tribunals, what will happen to them? And is there any difference now that Democrats are in charge of the House and the Senate right now?

GITA GUTIERREZ: Well, the military tribunals, the military commissions are military criminal trials that, at this point, are only applicable to ten of the nearly 400 men in Guantanamo. So as a practical matter, they’re not going to have a large impact on the legal status of most of the men. We expect next week for the military to propose and reveal new rules to govern military commissions that may begin this summer. And we would hope that this time around, Congress will exercise more vigorous oversight for the kinds of rules that are applied there.

AMY GOODMAN: The issue of habeas corpus being stripped and the military tribunals bill that was just passed, passed by Democrats, as well as Republicans.

GITA GUTIERREZ: Yes, it was. We are hoping that we’ll see a decision from the DC Court of Appeals in the next few months, or even sooner, that addresses the constitutionality of that legislation. And we hope — the biggest difference with the Democrats in office now will be that hearings are held on a variety of topics in Guantanamo, on the type of torture and abuse of prisoners, on the accountability for how these policies evolved, and to get some accurate information out to the public and to other government leaders about what’s happening in Guantanamo.

AMY GOODMAN: Gita, the former Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, described these men at Guantanamo — more than 700 have been held over the last five years — as the worst of the worst. Over 300 have been released without trial, without charge. Your response, as we wrap up right now. You have ten seconds.

GITA GUTIERREZ: That’s a lie. According to the government’s own documents, 92% of the men at Guantanamo are not al-Qaeda fighters, and these are innocent men who deserve to be released immediately.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us, Gita Gutierrez, attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, in Washington, D.C. They’re holding a protest on the steps of the Supreme Court today.

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