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Moazzam Begg
Moazzam Begg.jpg
Moazzam Begg
Born 1968 (age 41–42)
Sparkhill, Birmingham, England
Arrested February 2002
Islamabad, Pakistan
by Pakistani police
Released 25 January 2005
Paddington Green Police Station, London, England
Citizenship British/Pakistani
Detained at Bagram Theater Internment Facility; Guantanamo Bay
Alleged to be a member of Al-Qaeda
Charge(s) None
Status Released (UK government imposed conditions on traveling abroad)[1]
Occupation Director of Cageprisoners
Spouse Zaynab Begg
Parents Azmat Begg (father)
Children 4

Moazzam Begg (born 1968) is a British/Pakistani Muslim who was held in extrajudicial detention in the Bagram Theater Internment Facility and the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp, in Cuba, by the U.S. government for nearly three years.[2][3]

According to the U.S., Begg was an enemy combatant and al-Qaeda member, recruited others for al-Qaeda, provided money and support to al-Qaeda training camps, received extensive military training in al-Qaeda-run terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, and prepared to fight U.S. or allied troops.[4][5] While Begg admits spending time at two Islamic militant training camps in Afghanistan, supporting militant Muslim fighters, buying a rifle and a handgun, that he "thought about" taking up arms in Chechnya, and being an acquaintance of people linked to terrorism (most notably, Khalil al-Deek, Dhiren Barot, and Shahid Akram Butt), he denies the remainder of the U.S.'s allegations.

Begg says that when he was incarcerated at Bagram, though not in Guantanamo Bay to which he was later moved, he was hog-tied, kicked, punched, and left in a room with a bag put over his head, even though he suffered from asthma. A Pentagon spokesman said there was "no credible evidence that Begg was ever abused by U.S. forces". Begg also claimed that while at Bagram, he witnessed two other detainees being beaten to death. After intensive discussions with the U.K. government, President Bush had him released without charge on 25 January 2005. Bush released Begg over the objections of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the FBI, who were concerned that Begg could still be a dangerous terrorist.[6]

After his release, he became a commentator on radio and television on issues pertaining to the UK Muslim community and UK and worldwide anti-terror measures, and toured as a speaker about his time in Guantanamo and other detention facilities. He has also co-authored a book, and authored broadsheet and magazine pieces.[6] In 2010, Gita Sahgal, then the head of Amnesty International's gender unit, publicly condemned her organization for its collaboration with Begg, calling it "a gross error of judgment".[7]

Contents

Early life

Childhood

Begg, born to Muslim parents, has dual U.K./Pakistani citizenship.[8] His mother died when he was 6. His father, Azmat Begg, is a former bank manager, born in India, who also lived in Pakistan before immigrating to the U.K.[6][9][3]

He is originally from Sparkhill, a suburb of Birmingham, and grew up in the Moseley area of Birmingham.[10] His father sent him to the Jewish King David School, Birmingham, from the ages of 5 to 11, because he thought it inculcated good values and was the next best thing to a Muslim education.[3][10][11] He later attended Moseley Secondary School, Solihull College, and University of Wolverhampton.[12]

Gang

During high school, Begg became a member of the Lynx Gang, a Birmingham street gang.[6][3] Begg described the gang as consisting of teenage boys predominantly of Pakistani origin, but also boys who were Algerian, Asian, Afro-Caribbean, and even Irish.

They banded together to fight the far right, punk rockers, and skinheads after being teased and bullied by neo-Nazi skinhead anti-immigrant groups.[3][13][6][14] He said "we did things that no good Muslim should," but that he rarely joined the fights.[6][14] Though he did end up in court because of his involvement in a fight with skinheads.[15]

U.K./Afghanistan/Bosnia, 1993-98; training camps, arrest, and search

Begg “received extensive training in al-Qaeda terrorist camps since 1993”, according to an official dossier released by the U.S. Justice Department.[16] Pentagon officials say that Begg trained at three terrorist camps associated with al-Qaeda.[6] While at the training camps he reportedly trained how to use handguns, an AK-47 rifle, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and how to plan ambushes.[16][17] The dossier also identified him as “a member of al-Qaeda and affiliated organisations,” who was “engaged in hostilities against the United States and its coalition partners”.[16] It also said he “provided support to al-Qaeda terrorists, by providing shelter for their families while the al-Qaeda terrorists committed terrorist acts”.[16]

On a family holiday to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in his late teens, he became interested in Islam.[6] In late 1993 he returned to Pakistan, and crossed the Pakistani/Afghan border with the leader of the Lynx Gang, Syed Murad Meah Butt (known as Niaaz), and some fellow young Pakistanis near the city of Khost. He met various groups of nationalist and Islamic rebels (mujahedeen) fighting the occupying Soviet forces and the Soviet-backed Afghan government.[8][6] He admits visiting a training camp there for two weeks, run by—he has identified variously—the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance or a Pakistani group (run by Jamat-e-Islam) fighting for Kashmir, at which people were being trained how to use Kalashnikovs and handguns, and in mountain tactics and guerrilla methods.[3][8][17] Begg later wrote of his time at the training camp: "I had met men who seemed to me exemplary in their faith and self-sacrifice, and seen a world that awed and inspired me."[18] Begg says he himself didn't train.[8]

Inspired by the commitment of the mujahedeen, he also admits travelling to Bosnia in the early 1990s to help the Muslims there during its civil war, where he was "terribly affected by some of the stories ... of the atrocities taking place there", and supporting militant Muslims there.[8][6][5] In 1994 he joined a charity delivering aid to Muslims in Bosnia.[10] He travelled to Bosnian battle zones, and what he saw there led to his conviction that armed resistance could sometimes be justified.[3][19] He admits to "very briefly" joining the Bosnian Army Foreign Volunteer Force.[14] It was there that he first met Khalil Deek.[9]

He also attempted to travel to Chechnya.[8] But though he says he "thought about it", and "fighting wasn't out of the question," he denies he took up arms there.[8][9] He does acknowledge he supported Muslim fighters, and gave them financial support.[8][20][21]

Begg was first arrested in 1994, as he showed up for work at a benefits office in Small Heath, Birmingham, for alleged involvement in a benefit fraud case, and charged with conspiracy to defraud the Department of Social Security.[21] His friend and fellow gang member Butt was also charged, pleaded guilty, and served 18 months in jail.[21][22][23] In 1999, Butt was jailed for five years in Yemen along with the son of Abu Hamza for planning a terrorist bombing.[6][22][24][21][25]

The fraud charges against Begg were subsequently dropped.[21] But a search of his home by anti-terrorist police[10] reportedly found night vision goggles, a bulletproof vest, and "extremist Islamic literature".[21] His family said that he was collecting the items as a hobby. He says the items were in fact a flak jacket, for protection against shrapnel from mines in Bosnia—one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, and a hand-held night vision lens, to help navigate Bosnian streets that lacked electricity. He also denies knowledge of any "extremist Islamic literature" being seized at the time.[26] The items seized were, he says, no different than what many aid workers operating in conflict zones might be expected to carry.[26][21]

In 1995 Begg married. In early 1998, Begg moved with his wife and their two small children to Peshawar, Pakistan, on the Afghan border.[6]

There, he and his wife socialized primarily with members of the town's Palestinian community, and some Arab and Afghan veterans of the anti-Soviet jihad.[6] One was Palestinian Khalil Deek, whom the U.S. 9/11 Commission described as an associate of Abu Zubaydah, a senior al-Qaeda lieutenant who was also in Peshawar, recruiting new members for training at Afghan camps.[6] An American counterterrorism official said the CIA and MI5 suspect Begg worked with Deek to create a CD-ROM of a terrorist manual, Encyclopedia of Jihad, which Deek gave to two Palestinians plotting with Zubaydah to bomb Jordanian tourist sites.[6] Begg acknowledges meeting Deek in Bosnia, and later investing with him in a small business deal, but said he never met Zubaydah (though Pentagon officials said that conflicts with what he told interrogators).[6]

Begg admits he visited a second Afghan training camp, near Jalalabad, for two or three days during that time.[8][17] He claims it was run by Iraqi Kurds who were training in the use of crudely improvised incendiary grenades to fight Saddam Hussein, not by al-Qaeda, and that he donated a few hundred British pounds to that camp and a third training camp.[3][8][17] A Pentagon spokesman said he also spent five days in early 1998 at Derunta, an al-Qaeda-affiliated Afghan training camp, learning about poisons and explosives, and Defense Department officials said that in sworn statements Begg made to the FBI he admitted having trained at Derunta and two other Afghan camps.[6] Begg disavowed having said that, but said he did sign some documents while in custody because he feared for his life.[6]

U.K., 1998-2001; arrest and raids

He returned to Birmingham in the summer of 1998, opening an Islamic book and video store.[6] The Maktabah Al Ansar bookshop in Sparkhill, Birmingham, became a gathering place of targets on British and U.S. government watch lists, and MI5 first raided it the following year.[19][27]

In 1999, his bookstore commissioned and published a book by Dhiren Barot about his experiences in Kashmir, entitled The Army of Madinah in Kashmir.[28] Barot had undergone terrorist training in Pakistan and Afghanistan, joined the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir against India, and was later referred to as bin Laden's "UK General", convicted of being an al-Qaeda terrorist, and sentenced to 40 years in jail.[28][29][30] In the book Barot, who used the alias Esa Al Hindi, accuses western troops of invading Muslim countries, and urges followers to strike back.[31] Barot wrote in the book: "Terror works, and that is why the believers are commanded to enforce it by Allah."[32] The book was used as evidence against Barot when he was later tried and convicted of planning a "dirty bomb" attack on London.[28]

In February 2000, 60 Special Branch and MI5 officers investigating Islamic terrorism raided the bookshop, took away books, files, and computers, questioned staff, and arrested Begg under British anti-terrorism laws.[28][21] They found the bookstore offered titles such as The Virtues of Jihad and Declaration of War.[33][21] He also said that the store's most popular book was Defence of the Muslim Lands, by al-Qaeda co-founder Abdullah Azzam.[34] He was released without charge.[33][21] His father also said the British government retrieved encrypted files from his computer, and ordered Begg to open them, but Begg refused, and a judge ruled in his favor.[21]

His home in the U.K. was raided by anti-terrorist police in the summer of 2001, and a computer, five floppy disks, and two CD-roms were taken, but no charges were pressed.[10]

Afghanistan/Pakistan, July 2001-February 2002; arrest

With his wife Zaynab and three young children, Begg moved to Kabul, Afghanistan, in late July 2001.[6][21][17] Taliban-ruled Afghanistan at that time protected Osama bin Laden, banned music and most games, beat women for improper dress, had fired all women in public service, and severely restricted the education and medical treatment of women.[35][36] Yet as this was happening, Begg wrote in his autobiography that in 2001 the Taliban had made "some modest progress—in social justice and upholding pure, old Islamic values forgotten in many Islamic countries."[36] Begg now says it was his perception at the time, and since then he has criticised the Taliban for human rights abuses.[36] As The New York Times put it: "Despite the Taliban's status as an international pariah for its treatment of women and its hospitality toward al-Qaeda, Begg saw it as a fine, inexpensive place to raise a family."[6]

He insists he moved to Kabul both because he was moved by the plight of the Afghan people living under the Taliban regime, and to fulfill his dream of being a teacher. Begg maintains he began sponsoring an school for basic education from the U.K., providing books, teaching materials, and classroom and playground equipment. He says he was in the process of starting the school, and was going to be a charity worker at it. The school was to be for boys and girls, despite the fact that the Taliban regime opposed education for females and had not given him a license.[9][27][17] He says he also went there to build wells.[9][27] In August, out of curiosity he says he visited the Taliban/Northern Alliance front line for a few hours one day.[17]

In his book Enemy Combatant, Begg recalls telling two U.S. agents who visited him in his Guantanamo Bay cell that:

I wanted to live in an Islamic state–one that was free from the corruption and despotism of the rest of the Muslim world.... I knew you wouldn't understand. The Taliban were better than anything Afghanistan has had in the past 25 years.[37]

The Allied attack on Afghanistan began in October 2001, and following the Taliban's defeat, a U.S. Justice Department dossier on Begg indicates that he joined their retreat to the Tora Bora mountains, where he was “prepared to fight in the front line against allied forces”, according to the Pentagon.[16][6] While in Afghanistan, he admits to buying a rifle and handgun in August.[5][17] But he said that he and his family evacuated to Islamabad in Pakistan for safety. Though he says he became separated from his family for three weeks on the way, ultimately joined up with several men who were led by a guide over the mountains into remote tribal areas of western Pakistan, and only then reunited with his family by mid-November.[6][10][27][17]

Surveillance photo of the Derunta training camp after U.S. bombardment.

Al-Qaeda's Derunta training camp, 15 miles from Jalalabad, was captured in November 2001. The Guardian and USA Today reported that a photocopy of a money transfer was found there requesting that a London branch of Pakistan's Habib Bank AG Zurich credit the account of an individual identified as "Moazzam Begg" in Karachi, Pakistan, with a sum of money in sterling.[38] The money order photocopy was found alongside al-Qaeda training books, listed targets for destruction, hand-drawn sketches of bombs, and bomb-building manuals.[38] U.S. and Pakistani officials said at the time that they did not know who Begg was, but would try to find him.[38] Begg maintains that he is unaware of such a transaction, and that no one has shown him the document.[39][40]

In February 2002, Begg was arrested by Pakistani police officers on suspicion of links with the Taliban or al-Qaeda, at his rented home in Islamabad, in what his family maintains was a case of mistaken identity.[21][41][3] After a few weeks, the Pakistanis handed him over to American officers.[3][42] He was bundled into the back of a car, and taken back to Kabul.[10]

Detention in Afghanistan; February 2002-February 2003

Sketch of Dilawar chained to ceiling of his cell, by former Reserve U.S. Army Military Police Corps sergeant

Begg was held at Bagram Theater Internment Facility for approximately a year.

He says he was tortured in Bagram, in that he was hog-tied, kicked, punched, left in a room with a bag put over his head (even though he suffered from asthma), sworn at, and threatened with rendition to Egypt.[8][5]

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said there was "no credible evidence that Begg was ever abused by U.S. forces", and U.S. intelligence officials insisted Begg exaggerated the harshness of his treatment.[5][19] The Department of Defense conducted three investigations into Begg's abuse claims, and "found no evidence to substantiate his claims."[34]

In a July 2004 letter he wrote of: "threats of torture, actual torture, death threats, racial and religious abuse", "cruel and unusual treatment", and that "documents ... were signed under duress".[43] He also wrote: "This culminated, in my opinion, with the deaths of two fellow detainees, at the hands of US military personnel, to which I myself was partially witness".[43] Begg claimed that while at Bagram, he saw two other detainees (Dilawar and Habibullah) being beaten so badly that he believed the beatings caused their deaths.[8][44] He is featured in the 2007 documentary Taxi to the Dark Side talking about one of the deaths.

Detention in Guantanamo Bay; February 2003-January 2005

Cell in which a Guantánamo Bay prisoner was detained. Inset is the prisoners' reading room

Conditions and purported admissions

He was transferred on 2 February 2003 to Guantanamo Bay.[42][45]

CNN reported that leaks of intelligence reports alleged Begg spent time in an Afghan al-Qaeda training camp, where he learned to make bombs, and that he had been linked to a plot to attack the British Houses of Parliament.[46] In an editorial in Gulf News Linda Heard said that Begg, who wrote his parents that he had no idea of what he was supposed to have done and was "beginning to lose the fight against depression and hopelessness":

"confessed to being part of a plot to spray the British Parliament with anthrax.... Begg's confession has been the cause for hilarity in certain circles; among those who know how difficult it would be to come up with a pilot-less drone, not to mention weaponised anthrax."[47]

He was held in Guantanamo Bay for just under two years, often in solitary confinement.[48] The U.S. government considered Begg an enemy combatant, and claimed that he trained at al-Qaeda terrorist camps in Afghanistan.[49] He was not charged with any crime, nor for the majority of the time was he allowed to consult legal counsel.[50]

A 9 October 2003 memo summarizing a meeting between General Geoffrey Miller and his staff and Vincent Cassard of the ICRC said that camp authorities were not permitting the ICRC to have access to Begg, due to "military necessity",[51] an exception allowed for by the Geneva Conventions.

In a July 2004 letter, he said he was not tortured in Guantanamo, though the conditions were "torturous".[8] Late in 2004, Clive Stafford Smith (a British-born lawyer working in the U.S.) visited Begg and said he heard "credible and consistent evidence" from Begg of torture, including the use of strappado.[52][53][54] The Pentagon has maintained that torture is prohibited at Guantanamo Bay, that all credible allegations of abuse are investigated, and that "the United States operates a safe, humane and professional detention operation at Guantanamo that is providing valuable information on the War on Terrorism."

His American lawyer, Gitanjali Gutierrez, received a handwritten letter from him, dated 12 July 2004, addressed to the U.S. Forces Administration at Guantánamo Bay and copied to Begg's lawyers, among others, which U.S. authorities agreed to declassify.[55][56][43] Its full text was passed to his British lawyer, Gareth Peirce. He insisted: "I am a law-abiding citizen of the UK, and attest vehemently to my innocence, before God and the law, of any crime—though none has even been alleged".[43]

Known and suspected contacts with extremists

Shahid Akram Butt
  • Leader of the 'Lynx Gang', in Birmingham, England; arrested in Britain for fraud with Begg, convicted, and convicted in Yemen of conspiring to cause death and destruction[6][22]
  • Known associate of Begg
Omar Saeed Sheikh
  • Volunteered on 1993 Convoy of Mercy trip; later convicted of kidnapping Western tourists in India, and is facing execution in Pakistan for murder of Daniel Pearl
  • U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) suspects links, but Begg claims never to have met him[6]
Khalil al-Deek
  • Lived in Peshawar, Pakistan, while Begg lived there; associate of Abu Zubaydah, a senior al-Qaeda lieutenant
  • DoD suspects they worked together to created CD-ROM of terrorist manual for terrorists; Also invested with Begg, who claims it was nothing more than that[1][6]
Abu Hamza al-Masri
  • U.S. and British counterterrorism officials had believed since 1999 that Begg had a connection to al-Masri at Finsbury Park Mosque.[57]
Abu Zubaydah
  • Senior al-Qaeda lieutenant; Associate of al-Deek
  • Begg claims never to have met him, but DoD says he admitted to it during interrogation.[1][6]
Dhiren Barot
  • Convicted terrorist
  • Wrote a book that Begg's bookshop commissioned and published in 1999[58][59]
Richard C. Reid
  • Al-Qaeda member convicted of trying to blow up a flight with a shoe bomb
  • DoD suspects links, but Begg claims never to have met him[6]
Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi
  • Trainer for al-Qaeda
  • DoD suspects links, but Begg claims never to have met him[6]
Abu Qatada
  • Al-Qaeda terrorist
  • DoD suspects links, but Begg claims never to have met him[6]

Enemy Combatant status

Review

Trailer where Combatant Status Review Tribunals were held.

The Bush administration asserted that:

the protections of the Geneva Conventions did not extend to captured prisoners who are not members of the regular Afghan armed force nor meet the criteria for prisoner of war for voluntary forces.[60]

Critics argued the Conventions obliged the U.S. to conduct competent tribunals to determine the status of prisoners. Subsequently, the U.S. Department of Defense instituted Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs), to determine whether detainees met the new definition of an "enemy combatant".

"Enemy combatant" was defined by the U.S. Department of Defense as:

an individual who was part of, or supporting, the Taliban, or al-Qaeda forces, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners. This includes any person who commits a belligerent act or has directly supported hostilities in aid of enemy armed forces.[61]

The CSRTs are not bound by the rules of evidence that would normally apply in civilian court, and the government’s evidence is presumed to be “genuine and accurate.”[62] From July 2004 through March 2005, CSRTs were convened to determine whether each prisoner had been correctly classified as an "enemy combatant".

Moazzam Begg was among the 60% of prisoners who chose to participate in tribunal hearings.[63] A Summary of Evidence memo was prepared for the tribunal of each detainee, listing the allegations that supported their detention as an "enemy combatant".

Moazzam Begg's memo accused him of the following:

a. The detainee:
  1. Is a member of al-Qaida and other affiliated terrorist organizations.
  2. Recruited individuals to attend al-Qaida run terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.
  3. Provided money and material support to al-Qaida terrorist training camps.
  4. Has received extensive training at al-Qaida-run terrorist training camps since 1993. He has been trained on the AK-47, rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), handguns, ambush theory, detection of land mines, and the manufacture of improvised grenades.
  5. Provided support to al-Qaida terrorists by providing shelter for their families while the al-Qaida members committed terrorist acts.
b. The detainee:
  1. Engaged in hostile acts against the U.S. or its coalition Partners.
  2. Was armed and prepared to fight on the frontlines against US and allied forces alongside Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.
  3. Retreated to Tora Bora Afghanistan along with other Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.
  4. Engaged in these hostile actions while neither he nor his fellow fighters wore distinctive military emblems on their clothes, nor followed a typical chain of command.
  5. Provided support to Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network with full knowledge that Bin Laden had issued a declaration of war against the U.S., and that the al-Qaida network had committed numerous terrorist attacks against the U.S. and its citizens.

[64]

His Combatant Status Review Tribunal was held on 13 November 2004. Begg was afforded the opportunity to contest his designation as an enemy combatant, but chose not to participate in or attend the Tribunal.[65] While the Tribunal was able to contact five potential witnesses who he requested be contacted to testify on his behalf, and who the Tribunal thought relevant to the proceedings, none of the five responded that they were willing to testify. One did, however, make a written submission. After considering 27 classified documents and 6 unclassified documents, the Tribunal confirmed in December 2004 that he was properly classified as an "enemy combatant". Begg's unclassified dossier was published in early 2005, and hosted by the Associated Press.

On 3 March 2006, the Department of Defense published a summarized transcript from his Tribunal, in response to a court order from U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of New York Jed Rakoff.[66] He was never brought before a non-Tribunal U.S. court.

Possible POW status

Begg did not claim Prisoner of War (POW) status, because he regarded himself as a civilian. However, he suggested that an employee of the International Committee of the Red Cross and a U.S. officer could testify that he been classified as a POW in Afghanistan by the U.S., and issued a POW card. The Tribunal President determined that the witnesses were not relevant. James Crisfield, the legal advisor to the Tribunals, wrote:

The detainee proffered that this witness was an ICRC employee who would testify that the detainee had previously been issued a POW identity card at a U.S. detention facility in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The Tribunal President initially determined that the witness was relevant, but after consultation with the Assistant Legal Advisor, she changed her determination. She based her decision on her conclusion that the Combatant Status Review Tribunals do not have the discretion to determine that a detainee should be classified as a prisoner of war—only whether the detainee satisfies the definition of "enemy combatant" as provided in references (a) and (b). In my opinion, this decision was correct.... [I]n a written statement prepared by the detainee especially for the CSRT, the detainee specifically says that he does not claim POW status (see exhibit D-e).[67]

Crisfield wrote further:

Even if we assume that the facts as stated by the detainee are true, the ... argument ignores several facts. First, a detaining power is not bound forever by the initial field determination .... Second ... a detaining power's determination that the Geneva Convention ... does not apply to a certain armed conflict or a certain category of belligerents is not trumped by the field forces providing a POW identity card to a detainee. In any case, whether or not the detainee was provided with a POW identification card in Afghanistan is irrelevant to the narrow mandate of the CSRT.[67]

Personal Representative's challenge to Tribunal's conclusions

Begg's Personal Representative read a brief statement by Begg.[68] His Personal Representative also, in a form commenting on the Tribunal's conclusions, asserted that Begg was denied due process in that the Tribunal incorrectly:

  • ruled that the witnesses Begg requested to show he had previously been classified as a POW were not relevant;
  • did not provide a means of rebutting the presumption that Begg was an enemy combatant; and
  • asserted that it did not have the authority to order a polygraph exam.[69][70]

Release

The British government protested the Guantánamo tribunals, because due process rights were sharply limited.[6] On 11 January 2005, the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw announced that after "intensive and complex discussions" discussions between the U.S. and the British government, the four British citizens remaining in Guantanamo Bay would be returned to Britain "within weeks".[71] While they were still regarded as "enemy combatants" by the U.S. government, no specific charges had been brought against them.

Bush released Begg as a favor to Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was being harshly criticized for his support of the Iraq war.[6]

On 25 January 2005, Begg and the three other British citizen detainees (Feroz Abbasi, Martin Mubanga, and Richard Belmar) were flown back to RAF Northolt in West London, the U.K. on an RAF aircraft.[71][72] On arrival they were arrested by officers from the Metropolitan Police, and taken to Paddington Green police station for questioning under the Terrorism Act 2000 by anti-terrorist officers.[71] By 9 pm on 26 January, all four had been released without charge.

Post-Release; January 2005-present

Post-release assertions of Begg's ties to terrorism

Bush released Begg over the objections of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the FBI, all of whom were concerned that Begg could still be a dangerous terrorist, overruling most of his senior national security advisers .[6] The Pentagon still maintains he was a terrorist.[6]

"He has strong, long-term ties to terrorism—as a sympathizer, as a recruiter, as a financier and as a combatant," said a Defense Department spokesman, Bryan Whitman, after his release.[6]

Whitman added, quoting a single-spaced eight-page confession that Begg made while incarcerated, that Begg admitted:

I was armed and prepared to fight alongside the Taliban and al-Qaeda against the U.S. and others, and eventually retreated to Tora Bora to flee from U.S. forces when our front lines collapsed.... [I] knowingly provided comfort and assistance to al-Qaeda members by housing their families, helped distribute al-Qaeda propaganda, and received members from terrorist camps knowing that certain trainees could become al-Qaeda operatives and commit acts of terrorism against the United States.[3][19][5]

Begg also said in his confession that he sympathized with the cause of al-Qaeda, trained in three al-Qaeda terrorist training camps in Afghanistan so that he could assist in waging global jihad against enemies of Islam, including Russia and India; associated with and assisted several prominent al-Qaeda terrorists and supporters of terrorists, and discussed potential terrorist acts with them; recruited young members for global jihad; and provided financial support for terrorist training camps.[3][19][5][34]

Begg maintains his confession is false, and that he gave it while under duress.[5][3] Whitman dismissed Begg's retreat from his confession as a clear lie, and U.S. intelligence officials maintain that Begg's statement is in fact accurate.[5][19] The Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) investigated Begg's claim that the FBI forced him to sign his confession.[34] The OIG "concluded that the evidence did not support the allegation that [FBI agents] coerced Begg into signing the statement."[34]

Christopher Hogan, a former military interrogator who oversaw some of Begg's early questioning, said: "He provided us with excellent information routinely," and added: "I don't think he was the mastermind of 9/11, but nor do I think he was just an innocent."[6] The New York Times reported in June 2006 that "Of nearly 20 American military and intelligence officials who were interviewed about Begg, none thought he had been wrongly detained. But some said they doubted that he could be tied to any terrorist acts."[73]

In February 2005, British Home Secretary Charles Clarke used the Royal Prerogative, historic powers enjoyed by the monarchy which have been passed to politicians, to refuse to issue Begg a passport. He did so based on information obtained while Begg was in U.S. custody leading to the belief that "there are strong grounds for believing that, on leaving the United Kingdom, [Begg] would take part in activities against the United Kingdom or allied targets."[74][75]

Since his release, while Begg has said he is against attacks such as 9/11, he said he supported fighting British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.[76]

Contacts with extremists after release

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab
  • Was President of the Islamic Society at the University College of London in 2007, when Begg gave a number of presentations.[77] Three other Presidents of the society also either have been convicted or are currently investigated for terrorism activity.
Anwar al-Awlaki
  • Begg was the first to interview al-Qaeda leader al-Awlaki after his release in Yemen, and Begg is one of his most vocal backers.[34][78] Al-Awlaki was invited to address Cageprisoners’ Ramadan fundraising dinners in August 2008 (at Wandsworth Civic Centre, South London; by videolink, as he is banned from the U.K.) and August 2009 (at Kensington Town Hall; the local authority told the group that it could not broadcast al-Awlaki’s words on its property).[79][80] Cageprisoners also carries a large amount of material about and by al-Awlaki on its website.[79]

Video

After his release, Begg appeared in the video 21st Century CrUSAders, saying that the War on Terrorism is really akin to a war against Islam.[58][81] The British government considers possession of this film to indicate possible radicalization.[82]

Book; 2006

Begg co-authored a book released in March 2006 about his Guantanamo experiences. It was published in Britain as Enemy Combatant: A British Muslim's Journey To Guantanamo and Back (ISBN 0-7432-8567-0), and in the U.S. as Enemy Combatant: My Imprisonment at Guantanamo, Bagram, and Kandahar (ISBN 1-59558-136-7).[6][83] It was co-written with Victoria Brittain, a former editor of The Guardian. The book followed a play that the two co-wrote, entitled "Guantanamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom", which played in London, New York, and Washington.[84]

The book received mixed reviews. Publishers Weekly described it as a "a fast-paced, harrowing narrative".[85] "Much of the Moazzam Begg story is consistent with other accounts of detention conditions in both Afghanistan and Guantanamo," said John Sifton, a New York-based official from Human Rights Watch, who interviewed former Guantanamo prisoners in Pakistan and Afghanistan.[86] "It is now clear that there is a systemic problem of abuse throughout the US military's detention facilities—not merely misbehaviour by a few bad apples." The Muslim News called it an "open, honest and touching account".[87] Begg was named "best British author" for the book, at the annual Muslim Writers awards in March 2008.[88]

But The New York Times reported "some notable gaps in Mr. Begg's memoir", in that he did not mention a previous arrest, nor some of his alleged ties to terrorism.[6] The San Diego Union-Tribune said: "Begg has been less than forthcoming about his criminal past ... his cooperation with interrogators ... and his ties to terrorism".[89] And Jonathan Raban, reviewing it for The New York Review of Books, wrote:

One has the sense of reading not a memoir but a résumé. Like most résumés, it feels airbrushed. It is a strategic (one might almost say a "campaign") biography ... Begg's travels [during the time the U.S. maintains he was with the Taliban] get confusing, and plotting them on an atlas only adds to the reader's puzzlement.... The gaps in his story—and they're more frustrating than downright suspicious—cease at the moment when Begg enters captivity.... Enemy Combatant has been praised in Britain for Begg's outstanding liberality of mind and evenhandedness toward his captors.... Unfortunately, these relationships are rendered in long passages of direct speech, and Begg and/or his coauthor are notably talentless at writing dialogue.... Perhaps Begg really did strike up a warm relationship with soldier Jennifer, but all one can say of the words on the page is that they are resoundingly phony. Only in bad fiction do people speak this way, and true though Begg's story may well be in its essential facts, it is very poorly served by line after line of rankly implausible writing.[27]

Lawsuit against the British government

In April 2008, Begg and other former Guantánamo detainees filed lawsuits at Britain's High Court against the British attorney general, Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary, MI5, and MI6, accusing them of for unlawful acts, negligence, and conspiracy in their abduction, treatment, and interrogation, and seeking millions of dollars in damages.[90] The defendants denied the claims, but admitted that MI5 interviewed some detainees and provided questions to be put to them by other interrogators, saying:

The security service undertook this role because, as the UK agency with the most experience of running intelligence-led counter-terrorist investigations in the UK, it was best placed to understand and utilise the information received about threats against the UK, or involving British nationals.[91]

Guantanamo video game; 2009

In 2009 Begg was a technical advisor, and slated to appear as himself, for Scottish software company T-Enterprise in the development of a video game entitled Rendition: Guantanamo, for Microsoft's Xbox 360. The game would have put the player in the place of the detainees.[92][93][94] The character had to shoot his way out of the detention camp to bring down his captors, before he was subjected to torture and scientific experiments.[94] Begg was to do three days of sound with the company, and then be 3D-rendered into the game.[95]

Begg had a financial stake in the game.[94] He said: ""This game will not demean the reality of Guantanamo, but will help to bring those issues to people who would not usually think about it."[94] T-Enterprise hoped to take in £3 million from a £250,000 investment, targeting the Middle East market.[95][96]

Conservative pundits such as The Weekly Standard's Tom Joscelyn and radio host Rush Limbaugh attacked the game and the company, when the game and Begg's involvement were made public, and a great number of e-mail messages to the company from Americans expressed disappointment and outrage.[97] T-Enterprise did not complete the game because of U.S. press coverage, which it described as "inaccurate and ill informed speculation", saying that "many conclusions were reached that have absolutely no foundation whatsoever."[93]

Speaker and activist

As Director for the prisoner rights organisation, Cageprisoners, Begg has appeared in the media and around the country, lecturing on issues pertaining to the UK Muslim community, imprisonment without trial, torture, anti-terror legislation and measures, and community relations.

He has appeared as a commentator on radio and television interviews and documentaries, including the BBC's Panorama[98] and Newsnight[99] shows, PBS's The Prisoner,[100] Al-Jazeera's Prisoner 345, Taking Liberties, and Torturing Democracy, and National Geographic's Guantanamo's Secrets.[101] He has also authored pieces that appeared in broadsheets and magazines.[102][103][104][105]

He has toured as a speaker about his time in detention facilities, characterising the British response to terrorism as racist, and disproportionate to anti-terror measures and legislation during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.[106] In January 2009, Begg toured the UK with former Guantanamo guard Christopher Arendt, in the Two Sides, One Story tour.[107] Begg also campaigned against U.S. wartime policy with human rights organisations such as Reprieve, Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, PeaceMaker, and Conflicts Forum.[108][109][110][111][112][113]

Appeal to Iraqi kidnappers; 2005

On 9 December 2005, Begg made a video appeal to the Swords of Righteousness Brigade Iraqi kidnappers of four Christian peace workers.[114][115] Begg said seeing the peace workers in orange boiler suits reminded him of his own incarceration in Guantanamo Bay.[116] One hostage was killed, and the remaining three rescued.[117]

Christmas Day bomber

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the al-Qaeda Northwest Flight 253 suspected Christmas Day bomber, invited Begg to give a presentation at a "War on Terror Week" event that he organized in 2007 when he was president of the Islamic Society at University College London.[79][118][34]

Amnesty International controversy

Begg has spoken alongside Amnesty International at a number of events, and accompanied it to a meeting at Downing Street.[119] In 2010, Gita Sahgal, then the head of Amnesty's gender unit, publicly condemned her organization for its collaboration with Begg, saying that it "constitutes a threat to human rights." In a letter to Amnesty's leadership, she warned: "To be appearing on platforms with Britain's most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment."[120][121] Sahgal argued that by associating itself with Begg and Cageprisoners, Amnesty is risking its reputation on human rights.[122][123][124]

After this was reported in the press, Begg filed a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission, and notified his attorney to pursue legal action against The Sunday Times.[125] Amnesty International posted a response by Widney Brown, Senior Director for International Law and Policy, on its blog LiveWire.[126]

Salman Rushdie said: "Amnesty ... has done its reputation incalculable damage by allying itself with Moazzam Begg and his group Cageprisoners, and holding them up as human rights advocates.... Amnesty and Begg have revealed, by their statements and actions, that they deserve our contempt."[127]

Denis MacShane, a Member of the British Parliament, wrote Amnesty that Sahgal: "rightly called into question Amnesty’s endorsement of Mozzam Begg, whose views on the Taliban and on Islamist jihad stand in total contradiction of everything Amnesty has fought for."[128] Writing in The National Post, journalist Christopher Hitchens said: "It's well-nigh incredible that Amnesty should give a platform to people who are shady on this question," and writing in The Spectator journalist Martin Bright said: "It is Gita Sahgal who should be the darling of the human rights establishment, not Moazzam Begg."[129][130] Journalist Nick Cohen wrote in The Observer: "Amnesty is living in the make-believe world ... where it thinks that liberals are free to form alliances with defenders of clerical fascists who want to do everything in their power to suppress liberals, most notably liberal-minded Muslims."[131][132]

See also

References

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