This evening, Amnesty International is screening “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” the new documentary, directed by Polly Nash and myself, which tells the story of the Bush administration’s despicable post-9/11 flight from the law through interviews with former prisoners Omar Deghayes and Moazzam Begg, lawyers Clive Stafford Smith and Tom Wilner, and myself.
The film focuses, in particular, on the stories of Omar (released in December 2007), Binyam Mohamed (released in February 2009), and Shaker Aamer, who is still held. Further information about the rest of the UK tour can be found here.
For this evening’s screening, Omar Deghayes and I were supposed to be joined by Moazzam Begg for a Q&A after the film, but following a mistaken campaign opposing Amnesty International’s relationship with Moazzam and Cageprisoners (the organization of which he is director), Moazzam has decided not to take part, and has issued the following statement, explaining that he is only doing so to ensure that the focus of the evening “is not about my personal beliefs or Amnesty’s internal issues but [so] that the lives of men who have suffered human rights violations for so many years, as discussed in ‘Outside the Law,’ are not overshadowed.”
I fully understand Moazzam’s reasons for not wishing to allow anything to detract from the film’s message, which is perfectly in keeping with the measured and constructive manner in which he has always used his experience to shine a light on the horrors of Guantánamo, and has always sought to promote awareness, and to defuse anger through understanding — something that, above all, thoroughly refutes claims that he is some sort of extremist.
I am, of course, disappointed that it has come to this, and hope that those who have been so swift to vilify Moazzam recently pay close attention to his words, and reflect, in particular, on his statement that he has tried to “develop a nuanced approach to fostering understanding, between communities that are increasingly becoming polarized, through the language of education, understanding, acceptance and reconciliation.”
I also hope that those seeking to detract from the film’s message either stay away, or leave their prejudices at the door, and echo Moazzam’s question about why “this argument is occurring now, especially at a time when revelations are being made that UK intelligence was fully aware that Binyam Mohamed was being abused,” and also at the same time that Moazzam, supported by Amnesty International, was visiting other countries in Europe “asking governments to give sanctuary to cleared Guantánamo prisoners who are unable to return to their homes.”
A statement by Moazzam Begg
It has been my pleasure to have worked closely with Amnesty since my return from Guantánamo on highlighting the cases and campaigning against the human rights abuses that have occurred in the name of fighting terrorism since the outset of the “War on Terror.” The relationship I have with Amnesty goes back to the years when I was incarcerated in US custody and my father was receiving immense moral and practical support from the organisation — something both he and I will never forget.
It is very unfortunate that this relationship is now being severely tested by both internal and external forces that would like nothing better than to see that work damaged, or even terminated. Since my return I have spoken about and written my views more times than I can remember. My goals for doing this have been to expose the reality of detention without trial, torture, cruelty and dehumanisation and, at the same time, develop a nuanced approach to fostering understanding, between communities that are increasingly becoming polarized, through the language of education, understanding, acceptance and reconciliation.
I do not claim to have all the answers to every question on human rights; five years ago I could not even answer if I was going to live or face execution. But, I truly cannot understand why this is all happening now, since nothing that has been said in the media is new at all — no new and sensational revelations, no new controversial comments, at least not by or about me.
I have just returned from a pan-European tour asking governments to give sanctuary to cleared Guantánamo prisoners who are unable to return to their homes, so I find it odd that this argument is occurring now, especially at a time when revelations are being made that UK intelligence was fully aware that Binyam Mohamed was being abused. This is something I have said about my own case since my return too — and, I believe, the same will also be revealed about Shaker Aamer, on whose behalf I hope most people tonight will campaign.
I apologise for not attending this evening’s event but I have decided to abstain from taking part only so that the focus is not about my personal beliefs or Amnesty’s internal issues but [so] that the lives of men who have suffered human rights violations for so many years, as discussed in “Outside the Law,” are not overshadowed.
If people are interested in knowing my views regarding all the controversies discussed in the national press last week they can be seen on Cageprisoners.
I wish this evening’s event and Amnesty UK and Andy Worthington every success.
Note: Moazzam’s statement will be read out at the screening tonight. Although I was provided with a copy, I had no intention of publishing it in advance, but have done so because Sunny Hundal published it on Pickled Politics, stating, “I managed to get a statement by Moazzam Begg on why he pulled out of the Amnesty event,” and adding, “I’ll have more on this tomorrow.”
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
Mr Begg shows an understanding and maturity in the face of continued controversy, that is rarely seen these days. I am sure his difficulties throughout the past decade have gone far in assisting him to remain above the frey and retain a perspective that those of us who can only imagine those hardships find difficult to maintain.
His dignity and purpose outweigh any potential anger and hurt. He is a fine example to all who would see that this issue more than just a few men held against their will.
The Guantanamo Story is a story of the loss of humanity in the world. A trading of moral compass for power, a trading of honor for a sense of entitlement.
The US and the UK have lost their way.
It is up to the people to find that path and to drag our governments with us (kicking and screaming if it must be)
We must regain the respect for our own humanity.
Mr Begg, Mr Worthington and those who support them are leaders in a movement and educators to the cause.
The message is an old one but is every bit as valid today as it was 5000 years ago.
WE are our brother’s keeper and to be that keeper, it is our duty to protect and defend all people equally, without malice, without jealousy and without fear.
I’ve been thinking about the state of discourse in the world these days, whether the subject is global warming, or “national security,” or the economics of health care, or I suppose, anything else– and it seems that on one side, we have the Dick Cheneys, Sarah Palins, et al., who seem utterly unconstrained by matters such as honor, ethics, or for that matter, reality, and just seek confrontation for its own sake, as well as to squash all opposition in their path… on the other hand, we have people like Moazzam, who try to be “reasonable” and “conciliatory” and behave honorably and ethically at all times, even when egregious injustice is heaped upon them, and confine themselves to available facts and evidence… any guesses as tp which side will likely get the media attention in a shouting match (a shouting match often of the media’s creation)?… Any guesses as to which side will get a non-particularly well-informed public to start thinking that their side “makes sense” because they shout the loudest?
The greatness of men like Moazzam is equanimity: while, like all deeply spiritual men, I have no doubt he is feeling this (probably more deeply than we can know), he is not going to allow the controversy to in any way shake his faith, including his faith in what he is doing. It’s unfortunate that we are living in an ever more superficial world that seems less and less appreciative of actual virtues and values.
Thanks, Jan and TD. Your comments reflect TD’s observation about how much of the media has degenerated into a self-created shouting match. Reading the comments that followed the many disgraceful articles published in the last week or so in the mainstream media, I’ve been struck by how — especially with the Times’ censorship of sane voices of dissent in the face of the prevailing hysteria — the interaction with the public serves only to reinforce the impulses of biased journalists, and to encourage yet more people to make sweeping and insulting comments without any evidence to back it up.
Welcome to 2010: the year of evidence-free aggression from random members of the public — and here was I thinking that sort of nonsense should have been consigned to the Bush years.
I think it’s very sad, but completely understandable that Moazzam Begg has decided not to attend tonight’s Amnesty event. I was asked to speculate yesterday, before the statement, as to why he had pulled out and my speculation matched Moazzam’s statement.
I was utterly shocked by the original ST article and Gita Sahgal’s claims, and remain shocked. I have looked at Richard Kerbaj’s journalism and criticisms of it right back to when he worked on Murdoch’s The Australian and also The Oz, and for Sahgal to go to such a known and documented Islamophobe says it all to me.
I wish everyone well with tonight’s screening and for the tour. I know some people did get tickets for tonight to specifically attack Moazzam and I sincerely hope the power of the truth they see tonight affects them as it should us all.
Amnesty campaign to bring Shaker Aamer home: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions_details.asp?ActionID=675
Check your MP has signed up to the EDM which ‘urges the Government to make renewed representations to the US to secure his [Shaker Aamer’s] release and return to this country.’: http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=40125&SESSION=903
Thanks, Earwicga. I too hope that we don’t have too many unnecessary distractions from the film’s message tonight. We are in danger of allowing people with a clearly malign agenda to succeed in distracting attention from the fact that 192 men remain held at Guantanamo without charge or trial, in defiance of all recognized norms of detention in the civilized world.
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