Lofti Lagha, Guantánamo detainee from Tunisia, says US forces abused him

13.8.07

Back in June, I was the first journalist to cover the story of Lofti Lagha, one of two Tunisians repatriated from Guantánamo, who faced an uncertain future in the country of his birth. While fears that his fellow countryman, Abdullah bin Omar, would face torture on his return to Tunisia (which were confirmed in July), the fate of Lagha was impossible to predict. Like hundreds of other Guantánamo detainees, he had spent over five years in US custody without charge, without trial, and without ever meeting a lawyer who could tell something of his story to the outside world.

Seven weeks after his return to Tunisia, Lagha has finally been allowed to meet with a lawyer, Samir Ben Amor. He has not spoken about his treatment since his return –- although Ben Amor noted that he is “expected to go on trial in Tunisia later this year” and “could face up to six years in prison” if convicted on charges of “associating with a terrorist group” –- and Ben Amor did not elaborate on the conflict between Lagha’s claims that he was working for the missionary organization Jamaat-al-Tablighi and did not take up arms against anyone in Afghanistan, and the Americans’ allegations that he was involved with terrorism, saying only that his client “had travelled to Afghanistan in early 2001 from Italy, where he had settled as an illegal immigrant and become a devout Muslim.” The Associated Press, which reported on Lagha’s meeting with Ben Amor, added that, prior to his arrest on the Pakistani border, he “was in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, at the height of a US-led military campaign that ousted the Taliban regime, although it was not immediately clear why he was there.”

What Lagha has spoken about, however, is the brutal treatment he received in Afghanistan at the hands of US forces, telling his lawyer, “My hands and feet were frozen from the glacial cold,” and explaining that, after three months in a hospital in Pakistan, he was handed over to the US military, who took him to their prison at Bagram airbase, north of Kabul. According to Ben Amor, “It was there that US medics told Lagha it was necessary to amputate his frostbitten fingers, contradicting Pakistani doctors who had said he didn’t need an operation.” Ben Amor added that “Lagha vehemently opposed the procedure, but was drugged one night and woke the next day to find his fingers had been amputated, leaving only his thumbs. When he woke up, he claims he was beaten and kicked by US soldiers.”

Nearly six years after he was first captured, Lagha remains a mystery. With little prospect that he will receive a fair trial in Tunisia, this latest news –- of enforced and unnecessary amputations by the US authorities, which, it should be noted, have been reported by many other prisoners, both in Afghanistan and Guantánamo –- does nothing to indicate that there has ever been any justice in his treatment.

Bagram airbase

Bagram airbase.

For more on Guantánamo, the Tunisian detainees, and the horrors of Bagram prison, see my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

[Note: Mr. Lagha’s first name is spelled incorrectly. It is “Lotfi” not “Lofti.”]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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