Forgive me, dear readers, for bombarding you with articles about the financial settlement recently reached between the British government, 15 former Guantánamo prisoners and Shaker Aamer, the remaining British resident in Guantánamo, and for repeating, over the last week, since this story first broke, that sustained pressure must be exerted on both the British and American goverments to secure the return of Shaker Aamer to the UK, to be reunited with his family.
I do so because, for those of us who have been studying the story of Guantánamo, of US torture and of British complicity in torture for many years, the financial settlement is a huge story, an admission of guilt on the part of the British government, prompted by judges whose commitment to the truth — and to the necessary revulsion at revelations of torture — has taken precedence over the narrow objections of ministers trying to cover their backs for their involvement in criminal wrongdoing by bleating about the importance of national security.
I also do so because I have been writing about Shaker Aamer for many years, and was recently reminded that the first event that I attended, which sought his release from Guantánamo, was in July 2007, in Balham, to mark his 2000th day in US custody without charge or trial. In April this year, I attended a protest to mark his 3000th day in US custody, and as he approaches the start of his tenth year in US custody it is unforgiveable that he is still held, when neither the American government nor the British government has any credible evidence to continue holding him.
I have also been writing about him with some urgency this past week, because he needs to be here in the UK to take part in a Metropolitan Police investigation into his allegations that British agents were present when he was subjected to torture in US custody in Afghanistan, and to take part in the judicial inquiry, announced by David Cameron in July, that will begin once that investigation is complete.
As my latest contribution, I am cross-posting below an article from the Independent, in which former Guantánamo prisoner (and Cageprisoners director) Moazzam Begg discusses the financial settlement, writes with great insight about the torture, threats and abuse to which he and other prisoners were subjected, and calls once more for Shaker Aamer’s return to the UK.
Moazzam Begg: We settled so we could get our lives back
The Independent, November 21, 2010
Eid ul-Adha is the most important Muslim celebration of the year. It is a time when Muslims commemorate the great test undergone by the prophet Abraham when he was ordered by the Almighty to sacrifice his son. It is a time for joy and for spending quality time with the family. This year, it fell on Tuesday 16 November. It is inconceivable that politicians and journalists would be unaware of the significance of that date — the same day the Government announced that it had reached an out-of-court settlement with 16 Guantánamo detainees, British citizens and residents, who were detained by US forces.
In the morning, my daughter was in tears in front of press photographers. By the evening, Islamophobic blogsites were posting statements such as: “Somebody post any of these innocent victims’ addresses and I will save the British taxpayers millions.”
None of this mattered to the scores of reporters who incessantly called me, and others, from the moment news of the imminent government announcement was “leaked” to ITN News on Monday. Neither did it prevent numerous journalists with their cameras and satellite vans turning up outside my house, desperate for a scoop on where the taxpayers’ money had been spent and to know if our voices — once so outspoken against the abuses we had sustained and which we alleged had happened with the complicity of our government — had now been silenced in return for a grubby pay-off.
Of the 16 men involved in the case against the British secret intelligence services, five were held for two-and-a-half years; five served three years; four others served six years; one served eight, and another, Shaker Aamer, is still in Guantánamo, nine years on. Collectively, we have spent over 66 years imprisoned without charge or trial.
Many of us allege that British intelligence was directly involved before and during our rendition. Others maintain they were tortured and abused in front of MI5 agents. All of us affirm that British agents regularly interrogated us, with full knowledge of the torture and conditions. Nine of the claimants in this case are British citizens; the others have long-term connections to the UK and in some cases had been legally resident here for decades.
All of the men allege that they were forcibly stripped naked, paraded like animals in front of others, regularly beaten, kept for extended periods in isolation and held incommunicado for the duration. This is just a tiny sample of what some of the claimants are alleging. There is much more — so much more that the Government decided to settle with us rather than see its reputation as an upholder of human rights tarnished even more.
I spent three years in Bagram and Guantánamo. I was subjected to the sounds of a screaming woman whom I believed was my wife being tortured. I witnessed the beating to death of two prisoners, and spent two years in solitary confinement, before returning home to meet the three-year-old son I had never seen before.
According to the terms of the settlement, no claimant knows what the other has been offered, and we are certainly not permitted to discuss it. But it would be safe to say none of us got even a fraction of the £6.5m awarded by the Canadian government to Maher Arar, who is the only comparable litigant. Despite the grand claims being made in the press, I’m no millionaire.
We understand the aversion some people have to us receiving anything, but the Government was always going to lose this case. They had to settle, because, as with the two unjust and immoral wars in which untold numbers of innocent people have been killed, wounded and displaced, the Government subjugated itself to the policies of other countries.
Earlier this month, the former US president George W. Bush released his memoir and defended waterboarding. He insisted that waterboarding of suspected terrorists by the CIA saved British lives by preventing terrorist attacks on Heathrow and Canary Wharf. He offered no credible evidence for his claim.
In 2002, the CIA told me about the fate of a man they had interrogated before me, saying that I would meet the same end if I failed to comply. When Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was captured by the US, he was trumpeted as the most senior al-Qa’ida figure in custody at the time. He was then rendered to Egypt where he was waterboarded and made a confession that was used as a major justification to invade Iraq. Al-Libi told his US interrogators that he was working with Saddam Hussain on obtaining chemical and biological weapons. This information was presented by Colin Powell as “credible evidence” to the UN Security Council in 2003 as a tangible link between al-Qa’ida and the Iraqi regime. It was a fabrication — and, eventually, the UN knew it. There were no WMDs in Iraq and no al-Qa’ida presence there before the invasion.
I told MI5 agents what I had been threatened with. They responded by saying that they could do nothing, and that I should just co-operate with the Americans. What would they have done if I had been waterboarded into giving such a confession? Waterboarding is a crime. The man who ordered this in our times was Britain’s closest ally, even as we were being abused. I have no doubt that he — and his henchmen — ordered that, too. And I have even less doubt that the Government knew exactly what was happening, because British intelligence agents were there at every leg of the journey on the road to Guantánamo.
We started this action not for the money, but to get our lives back, to repay our friends and relatives and to remove the stigma of being “terrorism suspects”. Most of all, we wanted the last remaining British prisoner, Shaker Aamer, reunited with his family. That is why he is one of the claimants in absentia — and why we told the Government that having Shaker back was more important to us than any amount they were offering in settlement. We are pleased to see the Government has now agreed to step up its efforts to bring home the last Briton held at Guantánamo as a priority.
We agreed to settle because we do not want to have to relive this episode indefinitely for years on end. To me, this is at least a partial victory. They would not have paid up if they thought they could win. British complicity in torture goes well beyond the Guantánamo cases. Cageprisoners intends to submit its findings of 29 such cases to the Gibson inquiry.
Note: A longer version of this article appears on the Cageprisoners website.
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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. 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 July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
It was a very clever move (on the part of those who have the most to gain) to stain the image of Islam. By convincing the world that Islam is evil, there will be little empathy left in people when crimes are committed against Muslims.
Because of the conditions of war, people who would normally be outraged by crimes against humanity, are turning a blind eye, believing that perhaps torture and such horridness ares the only way to protect themselves, families, and countries.
By creating a state of fear in the world, fear against Islam, fear against terrorists, others are able to slip under the radar, committing acts of horror and terror themselves.
It is a sad, sad, sad, state of affairs. We need to erase fears before we can get people to open their hearts. If we continue down this path of fear and doubt, we are headed to darker places (and that is my fear for humanity as a whole).
Thanks, Tashi, for the heartfelt and powerful comments.
On Facebook, Mujahid Ul-Haq wrote:
[...] film is based around interviews with former prisoners (Moazzam Begg and, in his first major interview, Omar Deghayes, who was released in December 2007), lawyers for [...]
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