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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]

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

AMY GOODMAN: Protests are scheduled across the world today as part of the International Day to Shut Down Guantanamo. In Washington, D.C., a nonviolent direct action is planned outside the federal court. Protesters dressed in orange jumpsuits and black hoods plan to risk arrest by attempting to deliver motions to the court on behalf of prisoners at Guantanamo.

Meanwhile, in Cuba the first-ever international delegation of former prisoners, families of current prisoners, U.S. lawyers and human rights activists are holding a protest today in front of the gates of Guantanamo. 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 U.S. troops. During his two years at Guantanamo, he claims he was abused by U.S. 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 10-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 10 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 10 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 U.K. 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 U.K. My father was a civil rights lawyer in Libya who was killed by Colonel Gaddafi 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.

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