Saturday, 2 June 2012

Moazzam Begg

Channel 4 paid Moazzam Begg an undisclosed sum to attend an interview to discuss his imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay which was aired at 7pm on 24th February 2004. Begg, one of nine British men who were held at the military camp in Cuba, was released on 25th January 2005 along with Feroz Abbasi, Martin Mubanga and Richard Belmar. Five others were released in March.

Moazzam Begg from Sparkbrook has admitted that he did attend training camps in Afghanistan in 2001 in order to teach as a charity worker at a school. However, this was not the first time that Begg had travelled abroad to war torn hot spots. He has openly admitted to supporting the Chechnyan rebels which might raise some eyebrows and memories of Beslan.

Begg was seized in September 2001 by the CIA. Whilst captive at Guantanamo Bay he signed a statement admitting to financial payments with possible connections to Al-Qaeda. His family claim that this is a case of mistaken identity. This statement could have been signed under duress. No access to legal representatives was allowed by the US authorities who regard the prisoners as detainees of a war against terrorism and therefore outside the jurisdiction of normal USA law and rights.

After his arrest in Islamabad Begg was held at Bagram Airbase for about a year before his transfer to Guantanamo Bay where Begg claims he was treated badly and witnessed torture and two possible deaths whilst in captivity. Claims that he was tied up, a sack placed over his head and then kicked and beaten were made all the more confusing by his statement claiming that the US did not actually torture him personally.

This story raises a number of important issues. Firstly, Begg was already under surveillance and attracting the attention of the British Government as early as 1998. He was arrested in 2000 under British anti-terrorism laws during a raid on his Islamic Bookshop in Birmingham. Moazzam Begg, by his own admission has met several extremist muslim clerics such as Abu Hamza, cheerleader for Osama bin Laden. Begg was quick to point out that he did not necessarily agree with all their views but was not specific and neither did he deny that he had instigated a meeting with them.

Just what makes a man take his family and children to a troubled country, visit terrorist training camps and then end up getting embroiled in a war, the end result of which he finds himself in prison for three years? Moazzam Begg has to a great extent controlled his own destiny. Whilst claiming to be as British as you and I he has clearly set his loyalties in his religion rather than his country. You and I, and the majority of British Asians would not have rushed off to Pakistan on a mission.
Moazzam Begg might have received more sympathy if he had not charged Channel 4 to be interviewed. Considering that this is the same man that wanted to be left alone to recover from psychological trauma he did come across as very calculating and calm in his narrative. Many reasons for his actions seem to have been intentionally omitted. If Begg had intended to seek sympathy and understanding for his actions then this clearly failed. His explanation raises more questions than answers.

If what Moazzam Begg has confirmed about torture and ill treatment of prisoners is correct, then the USA has a huge moral obligation to put its house in order and clarify the position with regard to prisoners held in no mans land in Cuba. International law dictates that people deserve better than this whatever their crime. The day the world accepts intimidation and imprisonment without justice as the norm, is a day we must all strive to make sure will not happen internationally. The US government needs to address this issue in order to re establish its credibility and long standing tradition of freedom and justice for all.

Moazzam Begg was released by the Americans under the guarantee that he would be monitored by UK authorities and his right to travel outside the UK would be withdrawn.

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