Interview with Omar Deghayes about Omar Khadr
Omar Khadr is a Canadian citizen who was arrested at fifteen after the compound he was living in in Afghanistan was bombed by US military. He was tortured at Bagram prison and Guantánamo, and has spent the last nine years of his life imprisoned by the US.
Omar Deghayes spoke to Alexa O'Brien on June 5, 2011. The following is an excerpt from that interview.
Did you have any contact with Omar Khadr?
Yes definitely. I know him very well. He was locked up in Camp 5 for a long time, and I saw him in the other camp also before for a short period of time. But in Camp 5 I was locked up with him for a long time.
Do you think that Omar Khadr would be a threat to society if and when he is released to Canada?
No. Definitely not. Even the guard and the interrogators in Guantanamo I think used to like him a lot ... for his personality. He is an open, kind person. I don't think he would be a threat to society. No.
What do you think the effects of nine years of being detained at Guantanamo and in other places, including black sites, starting at age fifteen would have on someone like Omar?
Definitely gross destruction to his psychology and personality as a child.
He was a child when he was brought. I remember him when he was brought first to the prisons. And I saw him afterwards in Camp 5 where he had grown in prison, and where he started to have a beard and a moustache. Before he didn't.
To grow inside prison, and inside very abnormal circumstances like those, where people threaten, physically beaten, sometimes ... He was very ill, because I think he had lots of injuries and wounds. And he wasn't treated for those wounds ... and they were used against him by interrogators and doctors.
And to grow in an environment like that ... I am sure it will have a devastating effect on him in the future.
I remember him receiving letters from his family. Some of them...you were able to see that some of them were censored. And even the letters were even more disturbing for him ... because I think some of his family were describing problems that they were facing outside in Canada.
I remember talking to him about some of those ... a few times in the showers. They were very very disturbing ... imagine a child growing up with adult men in a lock up like that.
Even he is not on the same level of ... you do not find the same level of companionship ... it must be very difficult for him. I am sure it will have lasting effect on him.
The whole condition ... isolation. Even because of his age, he wasn't spared the isolation and lock ups. I mean they treated him like just another ... like anyone else. Even ... if not worse sometimes.
So, I think it must be very devastating for somebody at a tender young age like his. If other people like myself and other men ... more grown ups ... we might have had some experience in life ... and we might have been able to cope and be patient with some things ... and try to make sense of things. For a child of his age ... I think it must be very destructive.
Do you have a sense of what kind of support Omar would need if he were to be released?
I am sure he would need support. Yes.
Like something like what I had. We had family to understand...and family contacts ... and then we had lots of friends who were here working, who were very sympathetic to conditions...and we were always surrounded by those friends...and they tried to help and sometimes explain ... even in normal things in life.
Like we needed some help in going to medical assistance, and they might have be able to contact people or they knew other friends that might help ... and things like that.
Even normal things like that ... and try to adjust to normal life again.
He will definitely need lots of help from people. Maybe even medical doctors. Family and friends and sympathetic society.
If society ... I don't know how things are in Canada. If they are hostile ... it might just cause more damage and more resentment and fear and he would lock himself inside in isolation...like I have seen with other people who have sensed that society are hostile against them.
But I think with freedom and family support I am sure ... he is a very intelligent young boy ... young man.
And I think he is a very sociable, and very talented, and very intelligent.
I think if he was to be free, I think he would make a good future I am sure, and turn his experiences into positive experience.
I told him when he gets released ... I asked him to contact me that I can help him with marriage, or something like that. Cause I know his father died when he was in prison, and it must have affected him.
The Canadian government, under the last three prime ministers, two Liberal and one Conservative, have done nothing about the plight of a tortured fifteen year old Canadian boy imprisoned with no trial in the world's most notorious torture camps. They have contributed nothing to his education, nor to his emotional or psychological welfare. They have expressed no concern for his well being. They have not requested his repatriation, nor have they requested that the illegal and amoral conditions of his confinement be improved. They have fought against co-operating with or helping him at all levels of Canada's judicial system, in both 2008 and 2010, and both years the Canadian government was found, in every court, to have violated Omar Khadr's rights as a Canadian citizen. The Federal Court of Canada has also ruled that the activities of the Canadian government in this case constituted a breach of the UN Convention against Torture and the Geneva Conventions.
Omar Khadr signed a plea bargain last fall that would see him home to Canada in November 2011, if the Canadian government upholds its promise to him. Recently, the Canadian High Commission refused board on an Air Canada direct flight to internationally acclaimed human rights activist Moazzem Begg. Begg was invited by Omar Khadr's defense lawyer to speak in Canada about Islamophobia, Guantanamo, and, of course, his former cell mate Omar Khadr.