Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

"Hearts Ruptured with Sadness"


On January 11, 2007 more than 100 people in orange jumpsuits trudged slowly from the Supreme Court to the Federal District Court in Washington, DC. Black hoods covered their faces. Another 400 protesters followed “the prisoners” as they tried to enter the U.S. court building. This bit of political theater symbolically brought the plight of tortured and indefinitely detained prisoners out of the legal shadows of Guantanamo and into the court, thereby shining a light on the illegality of their treatment and detention.

Five years after the first “war on terrorism” prisoners arrived at Guantanamo — invisible and isolated in their hoods and shackles and orange jumpsuits — the world community sought to draw attention and sympathy to their plight. From Warsaw to Wichita, from Bahrain to Boise, from Birmingham, Alabama to Birmingham, England, more than one hundred protests joined this month’s International Call to Shut Down Guantanamo.

In front of the Federal District Court — the one that ruled in November that an ailing prisoner at Guantanamo could not gain access to competent (and unbiased) medical attention off base — the theater began. Police turned the hooded prisoners away. But another 89 people had entered the building earlier in the day and gathered in the atrium to read the names of nearly 400 men who remain imprisoned.

It was a haunting litany of loss and lamentation. I took off my sweater to reveal an orange t-shirt emblazoned with “Shut Down Guantanamo: End Torture” and began to read former Guantanamo prisoner Moazzam Begg’s account of arriving at the prison camp.

As we continued our program, the head of the U.S. Marshals Department told us that if we put away our banners and took off our orange t-shirts, we could stay throughout the afternoon. It was an unprecedented offer. But to those committed to bringing the names, cases, and stories of men rendered invisible and unheard by the Bush administration (an injustice largely unchallenged by the U.S. criminal justice system), it was an unacceptable bargain. We kept reading the names — Saifullah Paracha, Mahbub Rahman, David Hicks, Jumah al Dossari, Abdullah Mohammad Khan.

My hands shook. In my pocket was enough money to get on the subway and an index card with the name “Omar Deghayes, Britain.” Many of us standing in the courthouse atrium did not bring our own identification. We were experimenting with how to move beyond symbolism and concretely bring the name and story of a Guantanamo prisoner to the attention of the courts.

At the same time, the mother and brother of Omar Deghayes were in Guantanamo, Cuba, demanding to be let onto the U.S. military base and reunited with Omar. They had come as part of an international delegation that included peace activists, lawyers, the co-director of the film The Road to Guantanamo, and former Guantanamo prisoner Asif Iqbal.

In December 2005, as part of Witness Against Torture, 25 of us had walked more than 100 kilometers to get as close to the U.S. base as we could, fasting and vigiling and calling on U.S. authorities to grant us access to the prison camp.

Journeying from Dubai to Guantanamo a little more than a year later, Omar’s brother Taher and his mother Zohra were now standing in the same spot. Zohra writes of the “excruciating” pain of being so close to her son but unable to enter the base. Omar “is in this cursed jail for so many years in conditions which are not even fit for animals,” Zohra writes. “I pray to Allah during every prayer that he is released and that he finds people who treat him kindly and compassionately. My heart is ruptured with sadness.” It is not the first time the Deghayes family has suffered. When Omar and Taher were children, the Qaddafi regime assassinated their father. Zohra sought political asylum in the UK for her family.

By all reports, Omar is an innocent man. A devout Muslim who aspired to be a human rights lawyer, he traveled to Malaysia and Afghanistan in early 2001, got married, and had a child. When the United States invaded Afghanistan, the young family fled to Pakistan and made plans to return to England. Instead, Pakistani security forces arrested them in April 2002 and turned them over the U.S. forces in exchange for a $5,000 bounty.

At Guantanamo, Omar says he was singled out for harsher treatment because of his familiarity with the law and his tendency to stand up for other prisoners. Permanently blinded in one eye when a U.S. guard jabbed him with his finger, Omar has also been subjected to sexual humiliation, has endured high power water jets forced up his nose, and was held in solitary confinement for over eight months. U.S. officials at Guantanamo also allowed Libyan intelligence agents to question and threaten Omar.

At the District Court protest, I focused on Omar, Taher, and Zohra to put my own predicament in perspective. We followed through on our plan to read the names, and the marshals kept to their word as well by arresting us. Held in a cold basement cell for three or four hours, we were released with a citation to appear in Federal District Court on April 18.

When I go back to court, I will have a chance to tell Omar’s story. The citation bears my height, weight, and hair color. But the name on the ticket is Omar Deghayes.

As the court cases about Guantanamo grind on — bandied among the Supreme Court, the Federal Court, and the Executive Branch — the movement to shut down Guantanamo builds in the streets and the statehouses. More and more Americans are unwilling to tolerate torture and indefinite detention as the only visible end products of the “war on terrorism.” January 11, 2007 marked five years of Guantanamo imprisonment for Omar and the hundreds of others. Can their hope and humanity endure another year of imprisonment? Can our sense of law, justice, and democracy withstand the corrosion of executive impunity that long?

Let’s not take that chance. Let’s shut Guantanamo down.

FRIDA BERRIGAN is a columnist for Foreign Policy in Focus and Senior Research Associate at the World Policy Institute’s Arms Trade Resource Center. Her primary research areas with the project include nuclear-weapons policy, war profiteering and corporate crimes, weapons sales to areas of conflict, and military-training programs. She is the author of a number of Institute reports, most recently Weapons at War 2005: Promoting Freedom or Fueling Conflict. She can be reached at:


More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
David Yearsley
Trump and Hitchcock in the Age of Conspiracies
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”