TANTA: On Oct. 1, 2005 Sami Al-Laithi turned 50. This was also the very day he arrived in Cairo after nearly four years of imprisonment and torture at Guantanamo Bay.
He was released after a US military tribunal deemed him innocent of charges of being an enemy combatant.
But Sami returned to Egypt on a wheelchair.
Upon arrival at the infamous high security prison everything he possessed on his body was taken from him. The wheelchair on the other hand, was given to him, free of charge after his spine was severely damaged while being tortured at Guantanamo Bay, as he claims.
“I am part of this chair, the former detainee told Daily News Egypt, “still in a prison.
Upon his return to Egypt, local state security held Sami at a special prison section at Cairo’s El Qasr Al-Eini Hospital.
A security officer accompanied every doctor or staff member that entered Sami’s hospital room. While there, he was given no information about his medical condition or his future.
“My feelings were mixed, Al-Laithi said regarding his homecoming. “I was afraid of returning, but I am a destroyed man. If they kill me, what is it to me, I am already dead.
If he had not been physically handicapped Sami believes the Egyptian secret service would not have released him.
On Oct. 5, Sami’s brother Hatem breezed over a headline in the local El-Wafd newspaper that read: “Egypt pledges good treatment of Guantanamo Bay Prisoner. Had he read further, he would have realized the article was about his own brother.
Having not heard from Sami for years his family had taken him for dead. When friends called Hatem to bring his attention to the actual content of the article he traveled to the Wafd newspaper offices in Cairo the next day to seek further information.
The newspaper, which had no details of the ex-detainee’s whereabouts, interviewed Hatem, who made an official request to President Hosni Mubarak to release his brother.
By the evening Sami and his family were reunited.
In 1986 Sami Al-Laithi left to Pakistan upon the invitation of his sister who was seeking his support in her illness. She had moved to the country with her husband, an Al-Azhar University professor, who was on a visiting professorship in Islamabad.
Sami continued his education in Pakistan and eventually moved to Afghanistan to teach English and Arabic at the University of Kabul.
In November 2001 the Egyptian national was injured during the American invasion of Afghanistan and taken to a Kabul hospital. There he was visited by one of his students who warned him of the Northern Alliance forces, who had taken over Kabul and were hostile towards all Arabs in the city.
Taken to the safety of the Afghan-Pakistani mountains in order to flee the US invasion, the Egyptian university professor would eventually be captured by Pakistani forces and then handed over to the American army.
Soon thereafter he arrived at Guantanamo Bay.
Sami’s return home was almost 20 years after his departure from Egypt. But the Egyptian state hardly kept the promise it had made in the newspaper headline upon Sami’s return.
The Al-Laithis live in Shubra Al-Qas, a small village in the environs of the city of Tanta in the Delta region.
Since Sami’s return, the secret service has observed the family’s every step.
With his phone tapped and Sami restricted to his wheelchair, the small home has become the former detainee’s new prison.
True that Sami’s arrival in Egypt was met with much fanfare by the Egyptian press and local human rights organizations, but nothing much has come out of it.
TV station after station hosted the ex-Guantanamo prisoner and pledges of financial and medical support heaped up. The prominent government daily, Al-Ahram promised to “try the perpetrators.
On Oct. 10, 2005 the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights promised to cover the cost of Al-Laithi’s defense and represent him in seeking compensation from the US.
“It is my right to get compensation from America, Sami Al-Laithi told Daily News Egypt. “But I don’t have any hope at all.
Since that time, the human rights organization never came through on its promises.
Tariq Zaghloul, the organization’s field director told Daily News Egypt that they had last contacted Sami “about a year ago and would do so again soon.
In Egypt the former inmate now lives on loans, since he has no source of income. His brother Hatem believes he lost his job as an interpreter for the Egyptian military once the government found out about his elder brother’s detention at Guantanamo.
During a TV interview shortly after his return to Egypt, Subhi Tabargi, the owner of the Saudi-German hospital in Jeddah promised to cover all of Sami’s medical expenses at the hospital as well as invite him to perform the Omrah (pilgrimage to Mecca).
After preparing all the requested paperwork and after numerous phone conversations, the Al-Laithis’ calls fell on deaf ears.
“These words don’t add up to anything, these organizations are purely profit-driven, the 52-year old declared. “I stopped trusting in anything, even lawyers, Al-Laithi said.
In a tormenting medical condition and without proper medical oversight, Sami lives with constant pain. His current wheelchair, the same relic from Guantanamo Bay in which he arrived in Egypt, has no footstool. His numb feet drag along the ground as he moves through his home on the chair.
“Every day there were attempts of inmates trying to kill themselves at Guantanamo Bay, Sami recalls.
“If I had the right to kill myself, I would have done that. But I don’t have that right, I don’t have the right to kill anyone, he said.
From the state that illegitimately detained and tortured him, Sami has received no form of compensation. The US did not even apologize for the inhumane treatment and from the government and his own countrymen the ex- Guantanamo detainee has received only empty promises.