Moazzam Begg

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Moazzam Begg
Moazzam Begg.jpg
Moazzam Begg
Born 1968 (age 45–46)
Sparkhill, Birmingham, England, UK
Arrested February 2002
Islamabad, Pakistan
Pakistani police (Inter-Services Intelligence)
Released 1st of October, 2014
Paddington Green Police Station, London, England, UK
Citizenship United Kingdom, Pakistan
Detained at Kandahar; Bagram; Guantanamo Bay detention camp
Charge(s) None
Status Rearrested[1]
Occupation Director of Cageprisoners
Parents Azmat Begg (father)
Children 4

Moazzam Begg (Urdu: مُعَظّم بیگ‎) (born 1968, Sparkhill, Birmingham) is a British Pakistani citizen who was held in extrajudicial detention by the U.S. government in the Bagram Theater Internment Facility and the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp, in Cuba, for nearly three years after being arrested in Pakistan in February 2002.[2][3] Arrested by Pakistani police at his home, he was transferred to the custody of US Army officers, who took him first to their detention centre at Bagram, Afghanistan.

The Pentagon claimed Begg was an enemy combatant and al-Qaeda member, who recruited for al-Qaeda, provided money for their training camps, and trained at their camps in Afghanistan to fight U.S. or allied troops.[4][5] Begg has said he spent time at two Islamic training camps in Afghanistan, supported militant Muslim fighters, bought a rifle and a handgun, and was acquainted with persons linked to terrorism, but he denies the remainder of the U.S.'s allegations.[3][6][7][8][9]

Begg says that when he was incarcerated at Bagram, he was abused, which the Pentagon denies. He has claimed that he witnessed two detainees being beaten to death while detained at Bagram. After an investigation, in 2005 United States officials concluded the detainees were murdered by American soldiers.[10]

The U.K. government intervened on behalf of its citizens detained at Guantánamo; most were released in 2004. President George W. Bush had Begg released without charge on 25 January 2005. The Pentagon, CIA, and FBI had objected, concerned that Begg could be a dangerous terrorist.[11] Begg and other British citizens who had been detained at Guantánamo sued the British government for complicity in their alleged abuse and torture while in the custody of the United States. In November 2010, the British Government announced that it had reached a financial settlement out of court with several men, including Begg.[12]

After his release, Begg became a commentator on radio and television on issues pertaining to the UK Muslim community, and UK and worldwide anti-terror measures. He toured as a speaker, lecturing about his time in Guantanamo and other detention facilities. Referring to 2010 Afghanistan, he said he completely supported the inalienable right of the people to fight "foreign occupation".[13] Begg co-authored a book, and has written broadsheet and magazine articles.[11]

In 2010, Gita Sahgal, then the head of Amnesty International's gender unit, publicly criticised her organisation for its association with Begg, who was speaking about Guantánamo and trying to persuade nations to accept its released detainees who could not return to their countries of origin. She said the association was "a gross error of judgment". She was suspended and later resigned.[14]

On 25 February 2014, Begg was arrested by the West Midlands police on suspicion of attending a terrorist training camp and facilitating terrorism overseas.[1] West Midlands Police said: "This is an arrest, not a charge, and ... our naming does not imply any guilt."[15]

On 1 March 2014, Begg was charged with providing terrorist training and funding terrorism overseas, regarding Syria, and appeared at Westminster Magistrates' Court, entering a plea of not guilty. He appeared along with a woman, Gerrie Tahari, 44, from Sparkbrook, Birmingham, also accused of funding terrorism overseas.[16] He was scheduled for a plea hearing on 14 July 2014, provisionally followed by a trial at the Old Bailey on 6 October 2014.[17] On 1 October 2014, It was announced that the seven Syria-related terror charges against him had been dropped, and that he would be released from HMP Belmarsh the same day.[18]

Early life and education[edit]

Childhood[edit]

Begg, born in England to Pakistani Muslim parents who immigrated to the UK, holds dual UK/Pakistani citizenship.[8] He was born in Sparkhill, a suburb of Birmingham, and his mother died when he was 6 years old. His father, Azmat Begg, a former bank manager, was born in British India and lived in Pakistan before emigrating to Great Britain.[3][11][19] Begg grew up in the Moseley area of Birmingham.[20]

His father sent him to the Jewish King David School, Birmingham, from age 5 to 11, because he thought it promoted good values and was the next best thing to a Muslim education.[3][20][21] Begg later attended Moseley Secondary School. During high school, he became a member of the Lynx Gang, a Birmingham street gang,[3][11] which he described as consisting primarily of teenage boys of Pakistani descent, but including others who were ethnic Algerians, Asians, Afro-Caribbeans and Irish.[citation needed]

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][11][22][23] He said "we did things that no good Muslim should", but claimed he rarely joined in the fights.[11][23] He appeared in court for taking part in a fight with skinheads.[24]

Begg attended Solihull College, and University of Wolverhampton.[25]

U.K./Afghanistan/Bosnia, 1993–98[edit]

On a family holiday to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in his late teens, Begg became interested in Islam.[11] 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. Begg met various groups of nationalist and Islamic rebels (mujahedeen).[8][11] He admits to having visited 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. People were being trained to use Kalashnikovs and handguns, and in mountain tactics and guerrilla methods.[3][8][9] 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."[6] Begg says he did not participate in the training.[8]

Inspired by the commitment of the mujahedeen, he later admitted to traveling to Bosnia in the early 1990s to help the Muslims during its civil war. He said he was "terribly affected by some of the stories ... of the atrocities taking place there", and supported militant Muslims.[5][8][11] In 1994 he joined a charity delivering aid to Muslims in Bosnia.[20] He traveled to Bosnian battle zones, and what he saw led to his conviction that armed resistance could sometimes be justified.[3][26] He admits to "very briefly" joining the Bosnian Army Foreign Volunteer Force.[23] He said: "In Bosnia, I did fight for a while. But I saw people horribly damaged, and I thought, This is not for me."[27] Begg first met Khalil Deek in Bosnia.[19]

Begg also tried to travel to Chechnya during its struggle with Russia. But although he says he "thought about it", and "fighting wasn't out of the question", he denies having taken up arms there.[8][19] He acknowledged supporting Muslim fighters by giving them financial support.[8][28][29]

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. He was charged with conspiracy to defraud the Department of Social Security.[29] His friend and fellow "Lynx Gang" member Syed Murad Meah Butt was also charged, pleaded guilty, and served 18 months in jail.[29][30][31]

In 1999, Butt was jailed for five years in Yemen along with the son of Abu Hamza al-Masri for planning a terrorist bombing.[11][29][30][32][33]

The fraud charges against Begg were subsequently dropped.[29] A search of his home by anti-terrorist police[20] reportedly found night vision goggles, a bulletproof vest, and "extremist Islamic literature".[29] His family claimed he had been collecting the items as a hobby, including 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 denied owning any "extremist Islamic literature" allegedly seized at the time[34] and noted the items seized were no different from what many aid workers operating in conflict zones might be expected to carry.[29][34]

In 2005, after Begg's detention at Guantánamo became public knowledge, the U.S. Justice Department alleged he had “received extensive training in al-Qaeda terrorist camps since 1993.”[7] Pentagon officials said that Begg trained at three terrorist camps associated with al-Qaeda.[11] While at the training camps, he reportedly trained to use handguns, AK-47 rifles, and RPGs and to plan ambushes.[7][9] The statement identified Begg as “a member of al-Qaeda and affiliated organisations”, who was “engaged in hostilities against the United States and its coalition partners” in Afghanistan and said he “provided support to al-Qaeda terrorists, by providing shelter for their families while the al-Qaeda terrorists committed terrorist acts”.[7]

Marriage and move to Pakistan[edit]

In 1995 Begg married. In early 1998, Begg moved with his wife and their two small children to Peshawar, Pakistan, on the Afghan border.[11] There, he and his wife socialised primarily with members of the town's Palestinian community, and some Arab and Afghan veterans of the anti-Soviet "jihad".[11] One was the Palestinian Khalil Deek. The U.S. 9/11 Commission later described him as an associate of Abu Zubaydah, believed then to be a senior al-Qaeda lieutenant, who they said was in Peshawar to recruit men to train at Afghan camps.[11] A U.S. counter-terrorism official said the CIA and MI5 suspect that Begg worked with Deek to create a CD-ROM of a terrorist manual, Encyclopedia of Jihad. Deek gave this to two Palestinians plotting with Zubaydah to bomb Jordanian tourist sites.[11] 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).[11]

Begg notes that he visited a second Afghan training camp, near Jalalabad, for two or three days during that time.[8][9] He claims it was run by Iraqi Kurds, not by al-Qaeda. They were training to use improvised incendiary grenades to fight Saddam Hussein. He donated a few hundred British pounds to that camp and a third training camp.[3][8][9] A Pentagon spokesman said Begg spent five days in early 1998 at Derunta, an al-Qaeda-affiliated Afghan training camp, learning about poisons and explosives. Defense Department officials said that in sworn statements Begg made to the FBI, he admitted having trained at Derunta and two other Afghan camps.[11] He disavowed having said that, but acknowledged signing some documents while in custody because he feared for his life.[11]

Guantánamo files leaked in 2011 reveal that the Department of Defense had secretly concluded that Begg was a "confirmed member of al-Qaida," and that he had been an instructor at the Derunta training camp, as well as having attended the al-Badr and Harakat aI-Ansar training camps.[35]

U.K., 1998–2001; arrest and raids[edit]

Begg returned to Birmingham in the summer of 1998, opening an Islamic book and video store.[11] The Maktabah Al Ansar bookshop in Sparkhill, Birmingham, became a gathering place, including of men who were identified on British and U.S. government watch lists. MI5 first raided it the following year.[26][36] A former employee of the bookshop and co-worker of Begg, identified only as 'D', was an Algerian illegal immigrant who was placed under a control order on 18 December 2001. D had previously been convicted in France for membership in the terrorist organisation Groupe Islamique Armé, and was alleged to have been in contact with numerous individuals convicted of terrorist offences, including Djamel Beghal, Brahim Benmerzouga, Baghdad Meziane, and Abu Qatada.[37]

In 1999, Begg through his bookstore commissioned and published a book by Dhiren Barot about his experiences in Kashmir, entitled The Army of Madinah in Kashmir.[38] Barot had undergone training in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and joined the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir against India. He was later referred to as bin Laden's "UK General", convicted in Britain of being an al-Qaeda terrorist, and sentenced to 40 years in jail.[38][39][40] In the book Barot, who used the alias Esa Al Hindi, accuses western troops of invading Muslim countries, and urges followers to strike back.[41] Barot wrote: "Terror works, and that is why the believers are commanded to enforce it by Allah."[42] The book was used as evidence against Barot at his trial for planning a "dirty bomb" attack on London, in which he was convicted.[38]

In February 2000, dozens of 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.[29][38] They found the bookstore offered titles such as The Virtues of Jihad and Declaration of War.[29][43][44] Begg was released without charge.[29][43] Begg's father said the British government retrieved encrypted files from his son's computer, and ordered Begg to open them, but Begg refused. A judge ruled in Begg's favour.[29]

Ruhal Ahmed was later a fellow Guantanamo detainee, one of the so-called 'Tipton Three,' young men from the same town in Britain. While incarcerated, he is alleged to have told investigators that he had first become interested in jihad in summer 2000 after purchasing numerous books on jihad from the Maktabah Al Ansar bookshop.[45]

Begg's home in the U.K. was raided by anti-terrorist police in the summer of 2001. They took a computer, five floppy disks, and two CD-roms, but did not press charges.[20]

Afghanistan/Pakistan, July 2001 – February 2002; arrest[edit]

With his wife Zaynab and three young children, Begg moved to Kabul, Afghanistan, in late July 2001.[9][11][29] At the time, the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. It protected Osama bin Laden, a Saudi; 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.[46][47] Despite this, Begg saw it as a good and inexpensive place to raise a family.[11] He 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."[47] Begg now says that was his perception at the time, and since then, he has criticised the Taliban for human rights abuses.[47]

He says that he moved to Kabul both because he was moved by the plight of the Afghan people living under the Taliban regime, and to fulfil his dream of being a teacher. Begg says while still in the UK, he had begun sponsoring a school for basic education, 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. He intended it to teach both boys and girls, although the Taliban regime opposed education for females and had not given him a license.[9][19][36] Begg claims he intended to build wells.[19][36]

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.[48]

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. The Pentagon asserts that he was “prepared to fight in the front line against allied forces.”[7][11] While in Afghanistan, he admits to buying a rifle and handgun in August.[5][9] But he said that he and his family evacuated to Islamabad in Pakistan for safety. He became separated from his family for three weeks on the way, and joined several men to be led by a guide over the mountains into remote tribal areas of western Pakistan, and only then reunited with his family by mid-November.[9][11][20][36]

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

Al-Qaeda's Derunta training camp, 15 miles (24 km) 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.[49] The money order photocopy was found alongside al-Qaeda training books, listed targets for destruction, hand-drawn sketches of bombs, and bomb-building manuals.[49] U.S. and Pakistani officials said at the time that they did not know who Begg was, but would try to find him.[49] Begg maintains that he is unaware of such a transaction, and that no one has shown him the document.[50][51]

In February 2002, Begg was arrested at his rented home in Islamabad, by Pakistani police officers on suspicion of links with the Taliban or al-Qaeda. His family maintains it was a case of mistaken identity.[3][29][52] After several weeks, the Pakistanis transferred him over to United States Army officers.[3][53] He was taken back to Kabul by car.[20]

Detention in Afghanistan[edit]

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, from February 2002 to February 2003. He claims he was tortured at Bagram, 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 extraordinary rendition to Egypt.[5][8]

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said at the time, 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][26] The Department of Defense conducted three investigations into Begg's abuse claims, and "found no evidence to substantiate his claims."[44]

In a July 2004 letter, Begg wrote of: "threats of torture, actual torture, death threats, racial and religious abuse", "cruel and unusual treatment", and that "documents ... were signed under duress".[54] 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".[54] 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][55] At the time DOD denied his account. In an investigation whose results were reported in May 2005, the Department of Defense confirmed Begg's account of the deaths of two Afghan detainee, and said they had been murdered by mistreatment by American soldiers.[10]

Detention in Guantanamo Bay[edit]

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

Conditions and purported admissions[edit]

Begg was transferred on 2 February 2003 to United States military custody at Guantanamo Bay detention camp.[53][56] In a February 2003 editorial in Gulf News, Linda Heard wrote 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."[57]

He was said to have:

"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."[57]

CNN reported in April 2004 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.[58]

Begg was held in Guantanamo Bay for just under two years, often in solitary confinement.[59] The US government considered Begg an enemy combatant, and claimed that he trained at al-Qaeda terrorist camps in Afghanistan.[60] He was not charged with any crime and reportedly was not allowed to consult legal counsel for the majority of the time he spent there.[61]

A 9 October 2003 memo summarising 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",[62] an exception allowed by the Geneva Conventions.

In a July 2004 letter, Begg 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.[63][64][65] The Pentagon maintains that torture was 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."[citation needed]

Begg's American lawyer, Gitanjali Gutierrez of the Center for Constitutional Rights, received a handwritten letter from him, dated 12 July 2004, addressed to the U.S. Forces Administration at Guantánamo Bay. It was copied to Begg's lawyers and the U.S. authorities agreed to declassify it.[54][66][67] 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".[54]

Known and suspected contacts with extremists and suspected extremists[edit]

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[11][30]
  • 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[11]
Khalil al-Deek
  • Lived in Peshawar, Pakistan, while Begg lived there; associate of Abu Zubaydah, a senior al-Qaeda lieutenant; recruiter of Adam Gadahn, the current Al-Qaeda media head.[68]
  • 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[11][69]
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.[70]
Abu Zubaydah
  • Begg claims never to have met him, but DoD says he admitted to it during interrogation.[11][69]
Dhiren Barot
  • Convicted terrorist
  • Wrote a book that Begg's bookshop commissioned and published in 1999[71][72]
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[11]
Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi
  • Trainer for al-Qaeda
  • DoD suspects links, but Begg claims never to have met him[11]
Abu Qatada
  • Al-Qaeda terrorist
  • DoD suspects links, but Begg claims never to have met him[11]
Shaker Aamer
  • Guantanamo Bay analysts allege that Begg met Aamer in Pakistan in 1998 and visited James McLintock (the so-called 'Tartan Taliban'),[73][74] and further allege that Begg told interrogators he went to Ireland with Aamer in 2000 to visit Ibrahim Boyasseer, listed by the United Nations as an "Individual Associated with Al-Qaeda"[75][76]
Mahmoud Abu Rideh
  • An al-Qaeda leader arrested and detained in the U.K. for several years under a control order.[77]
  • Previously worked with Begg on a school for Arabic-speaking children in Afghanistan whose fathers included "some of the world's most wanted men."[77][78]
  • After campaigns for his release by Cageprisoners and Amnesty International, Rideh was released in 2009, and then reportedly killed by an airstrike in 2010.[77][79]

Release[edit]

Following the United States Supreme Court decision in Rasul v. Bush (2004), in which the court ruled that detainees had habeas corpus rights and could challenge their detention, the US government quickly developed a system of Combatant Status Review Tribunals, Administrative Review Boards, and military commissions to provide the detainees with an "impartial tribunal" for reviewing their cases. Detainees could not call counsel, could not review the evidence against them, and had allegations made that were dependent on hearsay evidence. The British government protested subjecting their citizens to the planned Guantánamo tribunals, because due process rights were sharply limited.[11]

On 11 January 2005, the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw announced that, after "intensive and complex discussions" between the U.S. and the British government, the four British citizens remaining in Guantanamo Bay would be returned to Britain "within weeks".[80] While they were still regarded as "enemy combatants" by the U.S. government, it had brought no specific charges against them. Bush released Begg as a favour to Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was being harshly criticised for his support of the Iraq war, reported The New York Times (based on information from U.S. officials it did not name) and CNN.[11][81][82][83]

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 on an RAF aircraft.[80][84] 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.[80] By 9 pm on 26 January, all four had been released without charge.

Post-release; January 2005–present[edit]

US assertions of Begg's ties to terrorism[edit]

Bush released Begg over the objections of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the FBI, overruling most of his senior national security advisers, who were concerned that Begg could be a dangerous terrorist.[11] In 2006, the Pentagon maintained that he was a terrorist.[11]

After Begg's release, Bryan Whitman, a Defense Department spokesman, described Begg as follows: "He has strong, long-term ties to terrorism — as a sympathizer, as a recruiter, as a financier and as a combatant."[11] Whitman added, quoting from a single-spaced eight-page confession that Begg made while incarcerated, that Begg had 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][5][26]

Begg said in his confession that he sympathised 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][5][26][44] He maintains his confession is false, and that he gave it while under duress.[3][5] Evidence gained under torture or coercion is not considered admissible in a court of law. Whitman said Begg was trying to recant his confession, and U.S. intelligence officials maintain that Begg's statement is accurate.[5][26] The Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) investigated Begg's claim that the FBI forced him to sign his confession. The OIG "concluded that the evidence did not support the allegation that [FBI agents] coerced Begg into signing the statement."[44]

Christopher Hogan, a former military interrogator who oversaw some of Begg's early questioning, said: "He provided us with excellent information routinely ... I don't think he was the mastermind of 9/11, but nor do I think he was just an innocent."[11] The New York Times reported in June 2006, "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."[85]

In February 2005, British Home Secretary Charles Clarke refused to issue Begg a passport. He did so based on information obtained while Begg was in U.S. custody. He said "there are strong grounds for believing that, on leaving the UK, [Begg] would take part in activities against the United Kingdom or allied targets."[86][87]

In July 2014, Begg was charged[88] with terrorist activities related to his actions in the Syrian civil war, including attending a terrorist training camp. In October 2014, all charges against him were dropped.[89] According to The Guardian, the case against Begg was dropped after documents were disclosed showing that MI5 had been aware of and consented to his travels to Syria.[90]

Public positions[edit]

Since his release, Begg has claimed he is against attacks such as 9/11 and that he supported British soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.[91]

He founded the non-profit organization and advocacy group Cageprisoners, to represent those detainees still held at Guantanamo, as well as help those who have been released to get services and integrate into society. He has traveled on speaking tours, and worked with governments of countries to persuade them to accept former detainees for resettlement.[citation needed]

Alleged contacts with extremists after release[edit]

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was the president of the Islamic Society at the University College of London in 2007, when Begg gave a number of presentations.[92] The Times reported that Abdulmutallab invited Begg to take part in the 'War on Terror Week' UCL presentations, which Begg did.[93][94][95] The New York Times reported that Abdulmutallab helped organise the week as president of the college's Islamic society, and that Fabian De Fabiani, a student at the time who attended, said Abdulmutallab was seated "where the lecturer would usually sit, very close [to Begg]".[96]

The Daily Mail reported that a poster for the event, featuring Begg's lecture, bore the name "Umar Farook".[97] Begg said that he does not recall Abdulmutallab, and that he was told that the ‘War on Terror Week’ UCL presentations were organised by Qasim Rafiq, a friend of Abdulmuttalab’s. He was told Abdulmutallab did not attend any of the lectures.[98] Three other presidents of the society in the UK have either been convicted of or arrested for terrorism activity within the year prior to Abdulmutallab's arrest.[99]

Begg interviewed the al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki, a former imam in the United States, after the latter was released from jail in Yemen in 2007. [44][100] 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 entering the UK), and August 2009 at Kensington Town Hall; the local authority told the group it could not broadcast al-Awlaki's words on its property.[101][102] Cageprisoners has material about and by al-Awlaki on its website.[101]

Video[edit]

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.[71][103] The British government considers possession of this film to indicate possible radicalisation.[104]

Book; 2006[edit]

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 USA as Enemy Combatant: My Imprisonment at Guantanamo, Bagram, and Kandahar (ISBN 1-59558-136-7).[11][105] 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, D.C.[106]

The book received mixed reviews. Publishers Weekly described it as a "a fast-paced, harrowing narrative".[107] "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.[108] The Muslim News called it an "open, honest and touching account".[109] Begg was named "best British author" for the book, at the annual Muslim Writers Awards in March 2008.[citation needed]

The New York Times, however, 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.[11] U-T San Diego said: "Begg has been less than forthcoming about his criminal past ... his cooperation with interrogators ... and his ties to terrorism".[110] 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.[36]

Lawsuit against the British government[edit]

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 unlawful acts, negligence, and conspiracy in their abduction, treatment, and interrogation, and seeking millions of dollars in damages.[111] 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.[112]

In November 2010, the British Government announced that it had reached a financial settlement with a number of individuals, including Begg. He had accused British officials of complicity in his abuse and torture while in the custody of the United States. The British Government said there was no evidence that British officials participated directly in the abuse of prisoners; however, a Public Inquiry was conducted to determine the matter.[113] Similar suits have been filed against the governments of Canada and Australia by former citizen detainees who returned to those countries. Canada settled with Maher Arar in January 2007.[114][115]

Guantanamo video game; 2009[edit]

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.[116][117][118] 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.[118] Begg was to do three days of sound with the company, and then be 3D-rendered into the game.[119]

Begg had a financial stake in the game. 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."[118] T-Enterprise hoped to earn £3 million on its £250,000 investment, targeting the Middle East market.[119][120]

Conservative pundits such as The Weekly Standard's Tom Joscelyn and radio host Rush Limbaugh attacked the game and the company after the game and Begg's involvement in it were made public. The company received numerous e-mails from Americans expressing disappointment and outrage with the proposed game.[121] T-Enterprise did not complete the game due to U.S. press coverage, which it described as "inaccurate and ill informed speculation ... many conclusions were reached that have absolutely no foundation whatsoever."[117]

Speaker and activist[edit]

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, such as 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[122] and Newsnight[123] shows, PBS's The Prisoner,[124] Al-Jazeera's Prisoner 345, Taking Liberties, and Torturing Democracy, and National Geographic's Guantanamo's Secrets.[125] He has authored pieces which have appeared in broadsheets and magazines.[126][127][128][129]

He has toured as a speaker about his time in detention facilities, claiming the British response to terrorism as racist, and disproportionate to anti-terror measures and legislation during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.[130] In January 2009, Begg toured the UK with former Guantanamo guard Christopher Arendt, in the Two Sides, One Story tour.[131]

Begg campaigned against U.S. wartime policy with human rights organisations such as Reprieve, Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, PeaceMaker, and Conflicts Forum.[132][133][134][135][136]

Appeal to Iraqi kidnappers; 2005[edit]

On 9 December 2005, Begg made a video appeal to the Swords of Righteousness Brigade, the Iraqi kidnappers of four Christian peace workers.[137][138] Begg said seeing the peace workers in orange boiler suits reminded him of his own incarceration in Guantanamo Bay.[139] One hostage was killed, and the remaining three were freed in a military operation.[140]

Amnesty International controversy; 2010[edit]

Begg has spoken alongside representatives of Amnesty International at a number of events, and accompanied its people to a meeting at Downing Street.[141] In 2010, Gita Sahgal, then head of Amnesty's gender unit, publicly condemned her organisation for its collaboration with Begg, saying that it "constitutes a threat to human rights". In a letter to Amnesty's leadership, she said: "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."[142] Sahgal argued that by associating itself with Begg and Cageprisoners, Amnesty was risking its reputation on human rights.[143][14][144]

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.[145] Amnesty International posted a response by Widney Brown, Senior Director for International Law and Policy, on its blog "LiveWire".[146] Salman Rushdie was quoted as stating: "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."[147]

Some British politicians and journalists strongly criticised Amnesty's endorsement of Begg.[148][149][150][151][152]

See also[edit]

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External links[edit]