By ANDY WORTHINGTON
June 22, 2007
Overlooked in the reports about Guantánamo detainee Abdullah bin Omar, a Tunisian who, on Sunday, was sent back to the country of his birth, where there are fears that he will be subjected to torture and abuse, is the story of the other Tunisian who, shackled and bound, shared a US plane with him. Unlike bin Omar, who was represented by lawyers who have done their best to publicize his case, there was no one to speak out for 38-year old Lofti Lagha, and no way of knowing if he too faces persecution on his return. Even his identity has so far remained concealed, revealed neither by the US nor the Tunisian authorities.In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision, in June 2004, that the prisoners in Guantánamo had the right to challenge their detention in the US courts (a right that was taken away by Congress last October), around 200 detainees availed themselves of this hard-won opportunity, but for some reason–either because he did not trust American lawyers, or because he found no way of establishing contact–Lofti Lagha was not one of them. Like hundreds of other men in Guantánamo without legal representation, the only people he met for five and a half years who were not part of the US administration that imprisoned him without charge or trial were, on occasion, representatives of the Red Cross, and, almost certainly, representatives of the intelligence services of his home country–in his case, a secretive, repressive regime dominated, for 20 years, by the dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Although Lagha was not one of Guantánamo’s completely voiceless prisoners–a dubious accolade reserved for 22 detainees whose names, reprinted from lists released by the Pentagon last year, can be found on page after page of the internet, but for whom no story whatsoever has been reported–all that exists in the public domain to mark his 2,000-day imprisonment are three pages of notes from the Unclassified Summary of Evidence for his Administrative Review Board hearing in 2005–convened to assess whether he should still be regarded as an “enemy combatant”–which, like his earlier tribunal, he did not attend.