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Thursday, July 15, 2010 

Omar Deghayes and the torture files.

If nothing else, the latest documents revealed thanks to the lawsuit brought by six former Guantanamo detainees show conclusively why both MI5 and MI6 need "official" historians. Authorised academics like Christopher Andrew, despite having complete access to the archives, seem to discover relatively little that wasn't previously known and always manage to give them a clean bill of health when it comes to past allegations of misdeeds.

This seems especially strange when we look at the reports sent back after interviews conducted in 2002 and 2003 with Omar Deghayes. One of the obvious benefits of knowing that your dispatches are top secret, and highly unlikely to ever be released to anyone other than your superiors is the advantage, both that you can be completely honest, and also that you don't need to temper your complete contempt for the person you've gone half-way around the world to interrogate. This doesn't just extend to a complete lack of any care for the conditions in which Deghayes was being held, but also to an apparent disgust for him personally. The officers' minds also seem to have been conclusively made up before even speaking to him, presuming to know everything about him, and if he doesn't then corroborate their intelligence then they automatically assume him to be lying. Admittedly, this isn't helped by his initial pretending to be his brother, detailed in the penultimate but what should be first report in the file.

Probably most interesting is Deghayes admitted links to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Deghayes' association with the group coincides with the alleged funding by MI6 of an attempt at assassinating Colonel Gadaffi, as alleged by David Shayler during his credible stage, before he started dressing as a woman and claiming that holograms crashed into the twin towers and not aeroplanes. This could well explain why they appear to know so much about him, or rather believe to. How wrong their information was is difficult to be completely certain about, but the insistence in the report after the first interview that he was lying about his "superficial" involvement, although "robustly" is hardly backed up by the dropping all around of any subsequent case against him. In any case, Deghayes had every reason to want Gadaffi overthrown - it is not disputed that his father was murdered while in custody in the country, with his family seeking asylum here as a result.

As with the other detainees, the ultimate aim of MI5 seems to have been, although unstated, to potentially recruit him. The first stage was for him to be completely "honest" with his interviewees, and if he didn't give the "right" answers, without having any way of knowing what they were, especially if they were based on the same fiction as the Americans, who had him in a Chechen training camp when he had never been near the country, then he would be instead left to the Americans, who could do whatever the hell they liked with him. Also instructive is the way the officers seem to sex up what he did tell them - he admits at one stage to having been in Bosnia, which correlates with his travels around Muslim countries, but denies having fought there. This is turned in the summary into "having been a Bosnian vet". This was also the interview when he was brought into the interview room "manacled and hooded", conditions which should have immediately under the new code resulted in it being terminated.

It's in the next, penultimate interview where the real contempt, almost imperial arrogance and disregard for his condition becomes truly apparent. Despite being told beforehand that he doesn't have malaria or TB, Deghayes continues to "expectorate rather disgustingly", which according to the officer usually "coincided with when he was being most evasive". Deghayes then next dared to condemn his treatment and how he was being held (Deghayes has since commented that the treatment at Bagram where he was being held at the time, was far worse than at Guantanamo itself. This is despite him being blinded while at Guantanamo), which the officers seemingly just about managed to listen to without cracking up laughing, making "no comment", even though Deghayes challenged them directly on how he could feign "internal bleeding". Again, the guidelines at the time, wrongly, suggested that the "law does not require you to intervene to prevent" ill-treatment. In fact, our responsibilities under the UN Convention Against Torture require exactly that, but all involved seemed to conveniently forget about that at the time. If detainees now complain about being mistreated officers are supposedly meant to not return, which also helpfully leaves them in the complete clutches of those doing the torturing.

Not that it would have made any difference when MI5 were so obviously hand in glove with those operating at Bagram at the time. In the final interview, "Andrew" called in a "senior officer" at the facility, telling him in his hearing that he didn't believe Deghayes was cooperating. It's not clear whether the next page is directly connected, so much is redacted and disjointed in the files, and the date seems to be almost 9 months ahead, but this is the page where it's clear they're abandoning him to his fate unless he gives the "full truth". He didn't, whether he could or not, and the next relevant piece has him in Guantanamo, where he "begins the interview with a hostile attitude ... [H]e riled for some time against the system which detained him and the US legal basis for it ... [H]e stated that the UK government should be working for UK nationals rather than bothering with him". That Deghayes was right in absolutely everything he said, having been "arrested" in Pakistan and most likely sold on to the Americans, having any rights whatsoever denied to him and left to rot by the nation he was a resident of didn't cut any ice with them, it goes without saying.

Whether Deghayes was directly offered with the chance to work for MI5/6 at any point is difficult to know. It would however fit with the pattern of those who subsequently found themselves in Guantanamo. Martin Mubanga it seems was offered a similar deal, and we know for a fact this what was offered to Jamil el-Banna, who was rendered to Guantanamo with the direct connivance of the security services after he declined.

As shocking as the revelations are that Downing Street directly intervened to prevent Mubanga being giving consular access, a right offered as a matter of course to any British citizen/resident, and as perhaps indicative of Jack Straw as a man that he was wholly complicit in the rendition of all the detainees to Guantanamo, writing in January of 2002 "that we accept the transfer of UK nationals held by US forces ... to the US base in Guantanamo as the best way to meet our counter-terrorism objective by ensuring they are securely held", it's the human story behind Deghayes' case which rankles the most. Abandoned by officers who decided he wasn't telling the truth, on the basis of intelligence which was almost certainly inaccurate, he was blinded in one eye while resisting at Guantanamo, and only by a miracle was not in the other as well. Any case against him was dropped in Spain on the grounds that he was suffering from "post-traumatic stress syndrome, severe depression and suicidal tendencies". He was one of the first, but by no means the last to discover what the collusion of the security services with torturers and human rights abusers during the first stages of the "war on terror" amounted to.

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I read all your posts and should have commented earlier.

Thanks for this very powerful post. Keep going.

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