On April 30, the University of California, Davis, celebrated the fifth year of its Guantánamo Testimonials Project, an effort to gather first-hand testimony of the abuse of detainees held there in U.S. custody, and to make their stories available to the general public. The anniversary was marked with a milestone of its own: for the first time, a public discussion between a former detainee — Omar Deghayes — and former Gitmo guard Terry Holdbrooks took place before an American audience. (Since his one-year stint as a guard at Guantánamo, Holdbrooks has converted to Islam and is now known as Mustafa Abdullah.)
You can read the transcript of their discussion here, but for some good background and context, we suggest heading over to Andy Worthington's site, where he's broken it up into three parts. Part One is mostly Deghayes' story, Part Two focuses on Holdbrooks, and Part Three features the discussion between the two and about the "Gitmo suicides." Deghayes is also featured in Worthington's film, Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo, which is being screened throughout the U.K. this summer.
Last weekend, we learned that the Guantánamo Review Task Force report basically confirmed what the ACLU and many other groups have been saying all along: most of the men detained at Gitmo are not "the worst of the worst," and were not involved in plots against the U.S. Many, like Deghayes, were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time: they were picked up and sold for a bounty. Deghayes told the U.C. Davis audience:
When we were in Pakistan, the American authorities of the government of Bush at the time was paying lots of money to people, any people, who would hand them any Arabs. They were buying Arabs from Pakistan. So [we were] rounded up, in our village and our house, we were captured and then taken to lock-ups where we were mistreated in Pakistan and then sold to the Americans.
More than 700 men have been detained at Gitmo since it opened in 2002. Most were released during the Bush administration. While the Obama administration figures out what to do with the remaining 181 detainees, the unlawful military commission hearings against some detainees proceed. The ACLU will return to Guantánamo in late June to observe the pre-trial hearings of Ibrahim al-Qosi.