They call me a terrorist

1 February 2008

oazzam Begg was one of nine British Muslims who were held at Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba. Begg was first detained in a detention facility in Pakistan for a year and then transferred to Guantanamo Bay for a further 2 years of imprisonment.

Begg, a father of four, was released after three years of mental and physical torture on January 25th 2005.

He told The Cambridge Student (TCS) of his horrific experiences as well as his opinions on some of the most pressing political questions facing the world today.

How did you react to 9/11? Were you worried about what might follow?

“I was in Afghanistan on September 11th…so I didn’t see pictures or anything and didn’t understand the full scale of it…it didn’t really hit me until the Americans began the invasion of Afghanistan and I saw the other side of the consequences of 9/11. I saw people being killed as a result of these attacks. When I arrived in Pakistan I did see pictures of what had happened, and it was then that I realised the magnitude of it all”

How would you define the term terrorist?

“There are many dictionary definitions of terrorism…all of them recognise that it’s not just individuals who carry out terrorism but it’s also states and governments. Terrorism in my understanding is the use of terror on anybody through the use of violence or threat of violence.

“I believe I was terrorised during my period in detention camps. It’s not just individuals who run into cafes and bars and tubes to blow themselves up: terrorists can be B52 bombers as well. I believe that I was terrorised when I was taken from my home at gunpoint, in front of my wife and children.”

So how have these events affected your family?

“Well when I returned back from Guantanamo, I returned to a family that was 3 years older.

“My youngest was almost 10 by the time I returned, so I couldn’t throw her in the air and catch her like when she was younger.

“I had to re-introduce myself to a family who had carried on without me for three years. It’s also really difficult that I made a conscious decision to campaign about it all, which of course has to be done very publicly”

Have you ever found out what the charges against you were? Were they ever proven?

“Charges, proof, evidence and explanations are luxuries that are not offered to people in Guantanamo Bay. I did not know what I was charged with through all three years. I never saw any legal records.

“I think the charges against my captives are very provable, like torture and cruel treatment, unlike the charges against me which have never been made available, and have never been codified in law.”

Were you exposed to torture throughout the three years of being detained or did you witness any other captives being tortured?

“The greatest torture that I have seen? I’ve seen people tied up with their hands behind their heads, being punched and kicked. That had happened to all of us including me.

“In my own experience I’ve been tied up, poked in my back and legs, punched and kicked, shouted at, stripped naked, threatened with being sent to Egypt.

“I’ve been shown pictures of my wife while a woman screamed in the room next door. And been tied and put in a room that was 3 ft by 2ft.”

What was the attitude among those who worked in Guantanamo Bay like?

“It’s strange because they sometimes spoke to you normally and when they found out what was going on in Abu Ghraib they were disgusted at what their colleagues were doing.

“Most of the guards, I think were decent people who were put in extreme circumstances. In some cases the guards would speak to me and smile and at the same time they would be screaming and shouting at another detainee who had just been abused.

“They often talked about how they got their orders to kill and torture people”.

Can institutions like Guantanamo Bay be justified, do you think?

“Yeah, it can tell us what our dark side is like. It can show us how we can descend from being the protectors of democracy and freedom to being the complete opposite of that.

“To know what is meant by good, you have to first know what is meant by bad, and that people in the West are capable of doing stuff like this. And as a result of all of this the opinion of the average American is growing resentful towards Guantanamo Bay.

“Now you see somebody like Colin Powell say that he would close down Guantanamo this afternoon if he could. The tide is turning very sharply against Guantanamo, because everybody, even including the neo-cons, is beginning to think that it’s turning people against the country which should have sympathy instead”

So what are your goals now?

There are immense numbers of people out there who are not Muslim but sympathise with what is happening. This makes me feel that there is hope with trying to get people to understand what is going on.

“If we can’t have an accepting society we can at least have one which tolerates.

“My goals are to help eradicate people’s ignorance about what is going on.”

Moazzam Begg is speaking at The Cambridge Union on Wednesday February 6th from 7pm-9pm.

oazzam Begg was one of nine British Muslims who were held at Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba. Begg was first detained in a detention facility in Pakistan for a year and then transferred to Guantanamo Bay for a further 2 years of imprisonment.

Begg, a father of four, was released after three years of mental and physical torture on January 25th 2005.

He told The Cambridge Student (TCS) of his horrific experiences as well as his opinions on some of the most pressing political questions facing the world today.

How did you react to 9/11? Were you worried about what might follow?

“I was in Afghanistan on September 11th…so I didn’t see pictures or anything and didn’t understand the full scale of it…it didn’t really hit me until the Americans began the invasion of Afghanistan and I saw the other side of the consequences of 9/11. I saw people being killed as a result of these attacks. When I arrived in Pakistan I did see pictures of what had happened, and it was then that I realised the magnitude of it all”

How would you define the term terrorist?

“There are many dictionary definitions of terrorism…all of them recognise that it’s not just individuals who carry out terrorism but it’s also states and governments. Terrorism in my understanding is the use of terror on anybody through the use of violence or threat of violence.

“I believe I was terrorised during my period in detention camps. It’s not just individuals who run into cafes and bars and tubes to blow themselves up: terrorists can be B52 bombers as well. I believe that I was terrorised when I was taken from my home at gunpoint, in front of my wife and children.”

So how have these events affected your family?

“Well when I returned back from Guantanamo, I returned to a family that was 3 years older.

“My youngest was almost 10 by the time I returned, so I couldn’t throw her in the air and catch her like when she was younger.

“I had to re-introduce myself to a family who had carried on without me for three years. It’s also really difficult that I made a conscious decision to campaign about it all, which of course has to be done very publicly”

Have you ever found out what the charges against you were? Were they ever proven?

“Charges, proof, evidence and explanations are luxuries that are not offered to people in Guantanamo Bay. I did not know what I was charged with through all three years. I never saw any legal records.

“I think the charges against my captives are very provable, like torture and cruel treatment, unlike the charges against me which have never been made available, and have never been codified in law.”

Were you exposed to torture throughout the three years of being detained or did you witness any other captives being tortured?

“The greatest torture that I have seen? I’ve seen people tied up with their hands behind their heads, being punched and kicked. That had happened to all of us including me.

“In my own experience I’ve been tied up, poked in my back and legs, punched and kicked, shouted at, stripped naked, threatened with being sent to Egypt.

“I’ve been shown pictures of my wife while a woman screamed in the room next door. And been tied and put in a room that was 3 ft by 2ft.”

What was the attitude among those who worked in Guantanamo Bay like?

“It’s strange because they sometimes spoke to you normally and when they found out what was going on in Abu Ghraib they were disgusted at what their colleagues were doing.

“Most of the guards, I think were decent people who were put in extreme circumstances. In some cases the guards would speak to me and smile and at the same time they would be screaming and shouting at another detainee who had just been abused.

“They often talked about how they got their orders to kill and torture people”.

Can institutions like Guantanamo Bay be justified, do you think?

“Yeah, it can tell us what our dark side is like. It can show us how we can descend from being the protectors of democracy and freedom to being the complete opposite of that.

“To know what is meant by good, you have to first know what is meant by bad, and that people in the West are capable of doing stuff like this. And as a result of all of this the opinion of the average American is growing resentful towards Guantanamo Bay.

“Now you see somebody like Colin Powell say that he would close down Guantanamo this afternoon if he could. The tide is turning very sharply against Guantanamo, because everybody, even including the neo-cons, is beginning to think that it’s turning people against the country which should have sympathy instead”

So what are your goals now?

There are immense numbers of people out there who are not Muslim but sympathise with what is happening. This makes me feel that there is hope with trying to get people to understand what is going on.

“If we can’t have an accepting society we can at least have one which tolerates.

“My goals are to help eradicate people’s ignorance about what is going on.”

Moazzam Begg is speaking at The Cambridge Union on Wednesday February 6th from 7pm-9pm.