This is a guest post by Paul Stott
On 20 October last year I saw former Guantanamo Bay inmate and Director of Cage Prisoners Moazzam Begg address the Norwich branch of Amnesty International, as part of Amnesty’s ‘Protect the Human Week’.
However well intention Amnesty International are, and I think they are correct in their call for due process and in their opposition to Guantanamo and similar institutions within Afghanistan, there is a real risk here in terms of their credibility.
Begg outlined the process that led him to be taken in what he referred to as extraordinary rendition – from Islamabad, to Bagram in Afghanistan, then to Camp Echo in Guantanamo Bay. He argued too much attention has gone on to the Cuban facility, when the bigger issues are around Bagram, secret detention and proxy detention using sites in countries such as Libya and Syria.
This message was appreciatively received by Norwich Amnesty, who had earlier campaigned hard for Binyamin Mohamed, also held by the Americans until February 2009. It is fair to say this was a well meaning, rather middle class audience but I fear one that is also slightly gullible.
Putting aside the case of Mohamed (who we are supposed to believe travelled to the centre of the world’s heroin trade in order to receive treatment for drug addiction) Begg and Cage Prisoners were not entirely straight with Norwich Amnesty.
Firstly lets take the Cage Prisoners promotional material at their stall that evening. It centred on their film and glossy leaflets promoting their work. Yet when I attended Islam Expo in June 2008, literature with official Cage Prisoners leaflets (upstairs at the Olympia event) – included prison details for that well known ‘prisoner of conscience’ Abu Hamza, convicted of eleven charges in February 2006, including soliciting murder.
This cannot be explained away as contrary to Cage Prisoners policy, as a glance at the prisoners list on their website demonstrates
Are would be shoe bomber Sajid Badat, arms importer Andrew Rowe or Abu Qatada prisoners of conscience? Not from where I am sitting. This aspect of Cage Prisoners work was entirely absent from the Norwich event. Put simply, Moazzam Begg and his group present one set of issues to a white middle class crowd from Norwich’s ‘Golden Triangle’, and another one to their fellow Islamists.
Secondly there is the issue of Begg himself. In Norwich he stated that his rendition was due to a UK intelligence services dossier re his visits to Bosnia in the early 1990s. This told the Americans he was a threat. Nothing more was said that evening, yet anyone with even a cursory glance of Begg’s book ‘Enemy Combatant’ can see this is far from being the whole truth.
In 1993 Begg visited a Jamaat-e-Islami training camp in Afghanistan, a camp still operating some four years after the Soviets had left the country. He then visited an adjoining Arab camp (p.50-57).
He explains to his future wife that something may happen to him if he goes to Bosnia (p.59) before going to a Mujahideen camp in the country (p.66-67). He subsequently plans a trip to Chechnya – not exactly the sort of place you go to for a Club 18-30 – but is stopped on his way out of the UK by the security services. He attempts to travel there anyway, but is refused entry to Georgia (p.87) so cannot reach his desired destination.
You do not have to be Sherlock Homes to take the view that following 9/11, Begg’s presence – in either Afghanistan or Pakistan – is likely to be of considerable interest to the security services.
Like Amnesty I disagree with how those same security services treated him – in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Guantanamo. But it is easy to feel just as uncomfortable with the sight of ‘progressive’ political activists queuing up to support someone who is by his own words a follower of the Salafi (early) way of Islam (p.331 of his book). What price ‘due process’ in a society run by Moazzam Begg?
In Norwich Begg made it clear that Cage Prisoners will continue, even if Guantanamo Bay closes. That in a way is no surprise – it has a wider objective. Some of those objectives are very far from the types of beliefs progressives claim to uphold.
The last word however, should go to Moazzam Begg himself, and this unintentionally hilarious exchange with two CIA interrogators from his memoirs (p.214):
‘I wanted to live in an Islamic state – one that was free from the corruption and despotism of the rest of the Muslim world’.
– ‘So you chose the Taliban?’
‘I chose Afghanistan. I admit I have made mistakes – but had it not been for 9/11, I think I would still be living happily in Afghanistan’
– ‘Probably as a member of Al Qaeda or the Taliban’
‘I knew you wouldn’t understand. The Taliban were better than anything Afghanistan has had in the past twenty-five years. You weren’t in Afghanistan – not before nor during the Taliban. Child sex, rape, looting, robbery, murder and opium production only ended when they took control. ‘
– ‘And in came amputations, floggings and executions..….’