Chris Arendt grew up in a trailer at the end of a dirt road in the middle of a rural Michigan cornfield. At the moment he’s on a road-trip around Britain in the company of Moazzam Begg, from Birmingham UK and Omar Deghayes, a refugee from Libya with family in Brighton. The three of them will be speaking at public meetings in Glasgow and Edinburgh on Friday 30 January and Saturday 31 January.
It was Guantanamo that brought them together. Moazzam Begg spent three years as a US prisoner at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay. Omar Deghayes spent nearly six years as a prisoner at Bagram and Guantanamo. Chris Arendt served as a guard there, having signed on with the US National Guard to pay for community college tuition. He found it so shocking that on one occasion he tried to hang himself from the ceiling fan in his room. Last year he testified at the Winter Soldier hearings organised in the US by Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Moazzam Begg has visited Scotland several times before. He’s becoming a star of public meetings. He knows that it was meetings, letter-writing and campaigning that brought him home from Guantanamo. His father Azmat worked tirelessly at the task, despite failing health. He spoke at public meetings in Scotland, and once travelled up to Findhorn for a meeting. Supporters of Omar Deghayes worked just as hard. Activists from the Save Omar campaign in Brighton visited Scotland several times while Omar was still at Guantanamo. But this will be the first opportunity for people in Scotland to meet Omar himself.
Omar Deghayes came to the UK with his mother, sister and brother from Libya in 1986, six years after his father, Amer – a prominent figure in Libyan public life who pioneered trade unions – was assassinated by Colonel Muammar Gadaffi’s regime. Omar travelled to Afghanistan in 2001, and married an Afghan woman, with whom he has a child. The family moved to Pakistan when war broke out. There, Omar was arrested and taken to Bagram and then to Guantanamo. He was released in December 2007.
Others haven’t been so lucky. Three British residents – Shaker Aamer, Binyam Mohamed and Ahmad Belbacha- are still being held there. The men have links to Britain but don’t have British passports. Barack Obama has said that he’ll close Guantanamo within a year. But a year’s a long time at Guantanamo. And Obama hasn’t said what weill happen to the prisoners.
Two Sides One Story – Guantanamo from Both Sides of the Wire
7:30pm Friday 30 January (doors open 7.00pm), Adelaides, 209 Bath Street, Glasgow , G2 4HZ
2:30pm Saturday 31 Jan, Augustine Church, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 1EL
Admission to both meetings is free