This Is a Man: The Defiance of Omar Deghayes

“What stuck in the minds of these men who had become murderers was simply the notion of being involved in something historic, grandiose, unique (“a great task that occurs once in two thousand years”), which must therefore be difficult to bear. This was important, because the murderers were not sadists or killers by nature; on the contrary, a systematic effort was made to weed out all those who derived physical pleasure from what they did….

Hence the problem was how to overcome not so much their conscience as the animal pity by which all normal men are affected in the presence of physical suffering. The trick used by Himmler — who apparently was rather strongly afflicted by these instinctive reactions himself — was very simple and probably very effective; it consisted in turning these instincts around, as it were, in directing them toward the self. So that instead of saying: What horrible things I did to people!, the murderers would be able to say: What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!” —

~ Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem

“The prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay during the war on terror have attacked their military guards hundreds of times…. [One] detainee ‘reached under the face mask of an IRF (Initial Reaction Force) team member’s helmet and scratched his face, attempting to gouge his eyes,’ states a May 27, 2005, report on an effort to remove a recalcitrant prisoner from his cell. ‘The IRF team member received scratches to his face and eye socket area,’ the [Pentagon] report said. ” —

~ Associated Press, July 31, 2006

Omar Deghayes had no face mask when he was bound in chains and buried beneath a scrum of armored guards. Pinned down and unable to flee or protect himself, Deghayes felt a pair of fingers probe into his eye sockets.

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As the assailant, his fingers forged by sadistic purpose into implements of mutilation, tore and gouged at his eyes, Deghayes suppressed the scream that was gathering in his throat out of determination not to concede anything to his tormentors.

While Deghayes resisted in silence, the officer presiding over the torture commanded his underling to press harder. The victim was determined to resist; his jailers were determined to break him. Deghayes won that battle, but it cost him the sight in his right eye.

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Today, following more than six years of constant degradation and torture in the Caribbean gulag described by the flagitious gasbag Rush Limbaugh as “Club Gitmo,” Deghayes is permanently disfigured. His useless eye is permanently shut and his nose, broken through repeated beatings, is visibly scarred and noticeably skewed to his right.

Omar’s hideous wounds are tokens of honor attesting to his victory in what was truly a holy war against the world’s most powerful terrorist syndicate, the United States Government.

“A lot of the things in his character seem to have deepened, like rebellion and resistance and not accepting oppression,” comments Omar’s brother Abubaker in describing the changes wrought by six years of imprisonment and abuse. “I think they became more rooted in him rather than being beaten out of him.”

The seeds of Omar’s admirably defiant personality were probably planted by the example of his father, a Libyan attorney who distinguished himself as an enemy of Gaddhafi’s regime and was murdered by the dictator’s secret police as a result. At one point, Libyan and American intelligence agents engaged in a bidding war to buy Deghayes from the bounty hunters who had captured him. It’s difficult to imagine that Omar’s suffering would have been much worse had the Libyans won that auction.

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Several years ago, the Landmark Legal Foundation, a litigation firm headed by the deranged rant-radio personality Mark Levin, filed a Freedom of Information Act request to compel the Pentagon to release a report on alleged abuses committed at Gitmo.

The “abuses” in question were supposedly committed by the detainees against the guards. “Lawyers for the detainees have done a great job painting their clients as innocent victims of U.S. abuse when the fact is that these detainees, as a group, are barbaric and extremely dangerous,” insisted Levin. “They are using their terrorist training on the battlefield to abuse our guards and manipulate our Congress and our court system.” (Emphasis added.)

Levin, a person to and from whom lies come easily (imagine a genetic hybrid of Joseph Goebbels and Lazar Kaganovich, and you’ve got Levin), was lying. Fewer than ten percent of those detained at Gitmo had any plausibly alleged connection to terrorism of any kind, much less extensive battlefield training in the tactics of asymmetrical warfare.

As a group, the detainees were innocent men who had been kidnapped, imprisoned, and abused for years without any prospect of relief. It is hardly surprising that people in such circumstances would become violent and desperate. Nor should it come as a shock to us that at least some of those who had no proven terrorist affiliations before being sent to Gitmo declared war on the government that had abused them once they were released. Deghayes was among the Gitmo detainees who “attacked” their armed captors in any way they could. He was not a violent or vulgar man by disposition.

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Prior to being scooped up by Pakistani bounty hunters and sold to the U.S. government, Deghayes had been a peaceful, unassuming man, an entrepreneur who was devoted to his religion and studying to become a lawyer.

He had done nothing to merit his imprisonment, let alone the constant, dehumanizing mistreatment he suffered from the moment he was stuffed, hooded and shackled, into a military transport plane bound for the former Soviet air base in Bagram, Afghanistan, where he was imprisoned before being sent to Gitmo.

The partial blinding he suffered — he never regained the vision in his right eye — was retaliation for his persistent defiance. When guards would assault him, Deghayes would fight back — as hard as he could, however he could, for as long as he could. When they pumped pepper spray into his cell by way of the “bean-hole,” Deghayes would claw at their hands and then counter-attack as viciously as he could when reaction team would swarm him in response.

On the day he was blinded, Deghayes was one of several detainees who refused to surrender their pants. “Being humiliated by getting beaten up is better than giving your own trousers out,” he explained later. “If I’d done those things” — that is, meekly complied with whatever calculated humiliation his captors chose to inflict on him — “I would’ve been really bitter now. I’m probably less bitter than anyone else because I know I gave them a really hard time.”

Omar actually displays an astonishing empathy for the guards who tormented him. As he describes them, they were victims of a cult-like regime of information management and milieu control.

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