Former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Moazzam Begg has been tortured and hounded by the state, and vilified by the media. He never let it stop him speaking out.
At a recent meeting in central London organised by detainee rights group Cage, Moazzam welcomed the US’s admission that the CIA has engaged in torture.
He added, “Usually Britain follows America in everything and I think they should follow them in this too.”
Moazzam said, “What hasn’t come out is the bigger picture. The 119 prisoners spoken of in this report are just a small fraction of the number held by the US and its proxies.
“There were thousands. And then there have been numerous prisoners who have been sent out to around 54 different countries including Thailand, Morocco, Libya, Egypt and even Syria.”
And he pointed out that no one involved in the crimes listed faces prosecution.
Moazzam reminded people of the reality he had experienced in occupied Afghanistan.
“When I was held in Bagram,
I was stripped naked by US soldiers, with a knife tearing off my clothes. I was spat at, punched and kicked. Dogs were brought in to salivate over us.
“I was told that if I didn’t cooperate, I would be sent to Egypt or to Syria. They placed a hood over my head. They lifted the hood and waved a picture of my children in front of me.
“There was the sound of a woman screaming next door which I was led to believe was my wife.
“So when they told me I was going to Guantanamo I was looking forward to it.”
Moazzam was released from Guantanamo without charge in 2005, and has been campaigning for detainees rights ever since.
But this February he was arrested on seven terrorism charges as part of the British government’s clampdown on people travelling to Syria.
Moazzam explained that the Arab spring had allowed him to go to the Middle East, and meet people who had been handed over to various governments with British complicity. One of these was the Assad regime in Syria.
MI5 called Moazzam in 2012. He said they agreed not to block him visiting Syria. Yet over a year after he came back he was arrested.
Moazzam said, “The accusation was that I supplied a generator. Britain, we know, supplied over 1,000 generators to the Free Syrian Army, which fought alongside every other group in Syria until 2014.”
He was released when the case collapsed after eight months.
Reports at the time suggested this was because MI5 had finally revealed to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) what it knew.
Moazzam doesn’t believe this.He said, “The case failed because it would have set a precedent in British law. That whatever I’m accused of having done was not terrorism.”
He thought the government may also have been embarrassed about its actions over executed hostage Alan Henning.
“Once I realised Islamic State were beginning to execute hostages after dressing them in orange suits I sent letters to the foreign office asking them to allow me to make a televised call in Arabic,” said Moazzam.
“I was in prison accused of supporting the Mujahideen. I am a former Guantanamo prisoner and know what it’s like to wear an orange suit. The foreign office rejected my offer.”
Telegraph journalist Peter Oborne, chairing the meeting, asked if this didn’t make the authorities sound “bonkers”. Moazzam answered, “They are”.
“I wish I was as tough as they make me out to be. What I did do was bring together groups of soldiers and doctors to set up a programme for these fighters who yesterday had been protesting on the streets and shot down.
“I heard people were bleeding to death because of not being able to apply basic triage. I heard people didn’t know basic safety rules for weapons.
“British intelligence had a bug in my car and I have the transcripts. These private conversations were the greatest evidence of what I was actually doing in Syria and what my beliefs are.
“For example, I was talking to someone about the generator and said it had some parts with it. But they translate this as “The generator has many uses.”
He thinks the government’s actions are part of a wider agenda, “The first arrests of people who went to fight happened just after Cameron lost the vote in parliament to hit Syria with airstrikes.”
Moazzam said talk of targeting Islamic State is a “red herring”, as the majority of people in jailed in Britain over Syria were not fighting with the group.
One man from Derry, Eamon Bradley, even fought against it—and was arrested for terrorism as soon as he got back.
“I couldn’t tell a British Syrian, Jordanian or Palestinian not to go and defend their families,” said Moazzam. “But, I wouldn’t advise anyone to go.
“It isn’t what it used to be. People went to fight oppression. But some of those fighting oppression have become oppressors. What is happening there is butchery the like of which you have never seen.”
But the West’s war offers no way out of this butchery. Moazzam said, “If you want to stop ISIS stop bombing them. That’s their biggest recruitment tool.”