A British citizen who was kept in custody and tortured at the infamous Guantanamo Bay detention centre by the US government in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks says he is still struggling for justice.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency on the 20th anniversary of the opening of the prison located in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Moazzam Begg, one of the directors of the London-based advocacy group CAGE, said: “We’ve been campaigning since the beginning against Guantanamo and also the Islamophobic policies that exist within the Western world.”
Begg, who was detained in Islamabad, Pakistan on Jan 31, 2002, said he “tried to seek accountability” after his unjustified detention of two years at the International Criminal Court in The Hague and through the police by giving evidence about the role of British intelligence in torture, which is a crime.
He said that after giving evidence at a war crimes tribunal and meetings with ministers of the UK government, he “sat with people who have ordered … an inquiry into the role of the British in torture.”
“And every single step of the way, we find that the governments of the United States of America and all of its allies that were involved in torture are above the law,” Begg said.
“None of them are accountable for their role in the war crimes, in the war on terror.”
Begg said his attempt was a legal case “against those who were involved in torture”.
He said British police visited the US, Guantanamo, and Libya for investigations, but “every time they found that the governments of Britain, America, and elsewhere would not cooperate with the police investigation.”
“And so, that again, tells me that the government is above the law.”
Begg said there are still 39 prisoners who are in custody without indictment at the detention camp.
“American President George (W) Bush opened the place, but he also released … over 500 prisoners,” he said, adding that his successor Barack Obama failed to keep his promise to close the center and to prosecute those who were involved in torture.
Quoting former president Donald Trump as saying “I believe torture works,” Begg said: “Imagine if somebody of any other country said ‘I believe torture works, and I will torture prisoners,’ and then for somebody to say ‘I will torture American prisoners,’ what the world would think.”
Begg said US President Joe Biden has been in power for one year and has so far released one prisoner only.
“And that is a Moroccan prisoner called Abdul Latif Nasir.”
Begg still remembers how he was detained and started his two-year-long journey of custody, torture, and rendition at the hands of the US government.
He said that on Jan 31, 2002, “unidentified individuals who stormed into my house put a gun to my head, tied my hands behind my back, put a hood over my head, and carried me off into the back of a vehicle. There, I realised that these are CIA agents.”
“And they threatened to send me to Guantanamo. At first, they sent me to a series of secret detention sites, first in Pakistan and then into American custody, where they took me to Kandahar prison, then Bagram prison, where I stayed for about one year, and then eventually to Guantanamo, where I would remain for another two years, after which I was released without charge or trial.”
Torture and killings
Begg told Anadolu Agency that he “witnessed and endured many types of abuses myself, but the worst thing that I saw was a prisoner. He was brought to the front of me. His hands were tied to the top of the cage-like this, and he was suspended. He had, placed over his head, a sack and he was kicked repeatedly. And eventually, he was killed.”
“This is a death that the Americans have accepted. And the reason why they killed him was that they found it amusing that every time they kicked him on his leg, he said ‘Allah, Allah,’ so they kicked him so that he could say ‘Allah, Allah,’ and he did that. Over 100 times he was kicked on his leg.”
Remembering another beating to death of a separate prisoner after he tried to escape, Begg said they were “innocent prisoners, they were never charged with any crime”.
“So watching the abuse and the murder of these prisoners has been something that has remained with me all of this time.”
Begg said probably the worst thing that happened to him was in Bagram.
“I heard the sound of a woman screaming in the next cell, which they led me to believe was my wife being tortured,” he said.
“They brought pictures of my family, my children in front of me, while my hands were tied behind my back to my legs, and they said: ‘Well, where are your children? Where’s your wife? What do you think happens to them?
“Now, by Allah’s Mercy, (she) wasn’t my wife, but it was somebody else’s wife. It was somebody else’s daughter, it was somebody’s sister. They had a woman in that prison. I know that for a fact, and still I’m trying to discover who that woman was.”
An American project
“Well, let’s remember one thing. Guantanamo is an American project. It’s Republican. It’s Democrat. It’s Black. It’s white. It’s East Coast. It’s West Coast,” Begg said.
He explained his ordeal as he was detained in 2002.
“Two soldiers sat on top of me, one on my head, one on my back. They took out a knife and they slipped off my clothes with a knife and I could feel the cold steel against my skin. And then they dragged me in the mud, screaming and shouting, spitting in my face, spitting on my body, spitting on other prisoners, kicking me, punching me, bringing dogs, and then photographing me in this state, and then shaving my beard off, shaving my hair off, and then interrogating me naked, shivering in the cold.
“And (through) all of this, they were saying: ‘This is our right to do this.’ And I started to remind myself that America has a very brutal history against weaker nations, and I had to remind myself of history, that they may say one thing, but they do quite the other.”
Rights group Amnesty International described the 20th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo as “an anniversary that should never have been reached.”
“Since the Bush administration, there has been agreement among national security experts and across the political spectrum that the Guantanamo prison — a notorious site of torture and unjustifiable indefinite detention — should be closed,” Daphne Eviatar, Amnesty International USA’s director of Security with Human Rights, said in a statement.
“President Biden must uphold his commitment to close Guantanamo once and for all,” she said.
“The longer the prison remains in use, the longer it continues to undermine US credibility globally on human rights.”