The Suspicious Arrest of Former Guantánamo Prisoner Moazzam Begg

26.2.14

A recent photo of former Guantanamo prisoner Moazzam Begg.I received the news yesterday that former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg had been arrested when I was sent an email from Juliet Spare, a journalist working for the Voice of Russia, asking me for a short interview by phone. Once alerted to it, I checked out the coverage (mainly, at that point, the BBC), and spoke to her for a show that was broadcast yesterday, but is not available online, explaining how, to me, it made no sense that, with three other people, he had been “detained on suspicion of attending a terrorist training camp and facilitating terrorism overseas,” as the BBC put it, for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, while Moazzam was held by the US, from January 2002 to January 2005, there was never any credible evidence that he was involved with terrorism in any way, and this is an analysis that I endorse from my reading of his autobiography, Enemy Combatant, and from my own knowledge of Moazzam, based on meeting him on several occasions over the years at events involving Guantánamo.

Secondly, Moazzam must be one of the most scrutinised Muslims in the UK, so — even without the proviso that he has no track record of being a terrorist sympathiser —  it seems ridiculous to me that he would get involved with anything that could be construed as terrorism, as it would obviously cause him trouble back in the UK. Moazzam has, on a few occasions since his passport was first returned to him after Guantánamo, spoken to me about his annoyance at being permanently harassed when he left or returned to the UK, but, while this was clearly irritating — and a form of harassment — it also meant that he was aware that he was permanently under scrutiny.

The Moazzam I met was, like many former Guantánamo prisoners, working to expose indefinite detention, “black sites,” “extraordinary rendition” and torture, and, with his background of also sympathising with Muslims struggling against oppression, it was no surprise to me that he had travelled to Syria, where, I presumed, he would be trying to find out about imprisonment and torture, especially as, in the early years of the “war on terror,” Syria had been one of a handful of countries — along with Egypt, Jordan and Morocco — where the US had sent prisoners to be tortured by President Assad’s feared mukhabarat.

In 2010, I reported the stories of nine men held and tortured in Syria — including two Canadian citizens, Maher Arar and Abdullah Almalki — for a major United Nations report on secret detention. Furthermore, since Syria’s horrendous civil war began in March 2011, there have been persistent stories of atrocities — on both sides — although, most recently, the UN has released a report about the “unspeakable” suffering of Syria’s children, and three former war have released a harrowing report suggesting that the government has tortured and executed 11,000 people since the uprising began nearly three years ago.

This evening I recorded an interview about Moazzam with the New York-based journalist Amanda Sears, which will be available soon on her website Left Voices. I’ll make it available as soon as it’s posted, but in the meantime, to add to what I wrote above, I’d also like to point out that Moazzam’s arrest comes one year and two months after his last visit to Syria in December 2012, although it clearly follows on from him having his passport taken away from him on his return to the UK from South Africa just two months ago. This struck me as intimidation, and an attempt to put off any Muslim intending to travel to Syria for any reason, and the arrest seems to be more of the same.

It was significant, I thought, that, as the BBC described it, “West Midlands police said naming Mr. Begg did ‘not imply any guilt,'” and also that Det. Supt. Shaun Edwards said the arrests “were pre-planned and intelligence-led. There was no immediate risk to public safety.” What I also found noteworthy, though, was the fact that “electronic equipment” had been “taken away for forensic analysis.” After the revelations of Edward Snowden, I thought the NSA and GCHQ had spying on our phones and computers sown up, but perhaps the arrests were also a pretext to gain access to contact details — people, for example, that Moazzam may have met who the UK, and presumably US intelligence services think may be of interest to them, even though the “war on terror” has generally demonstrated that the intelligence services don’t always know what they’re doing — reminding me that Moazzam once described them to me as the “not so intelligent intelligence services.”

In addition, as was explained in a press release yesterday by Cerie Bullivant, the Media Officer of CAGE (formerly Cageprisoners), for whom Moazzam is the Outreach Director, “Moazzam has been very open about his international travel and his objectives, including importantly exposing British complicity in rendition and torture. The timing of Moazzam‘s arrest given his travel to Syria took place in December 2012 requires a detailed explanation. The timing coincides with the planned release of a CAGE report on Syria and a major news piece that was due to be televised soon. As with David Miranda it seems those who are engaged in exposing abuse of powers are targeted and smeared to prevent disclosure of vital evidence.”

As CAGE also noted:

This latest action is designed to ensure that any travel to Syria is deemed suspicious. It follows a concerted campaign of harassment against Muslim individuals and charities involved in providing humanitarian aid to the victims of the Syrian crisis. Moazzam Begg is just the latest individual drawn by the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria who has been labelled a terrorist. The purpose is to intimidate and vilify the wider Muslim community so that they are prevented from delivering much needed aid to the Syrian people.

Moazzam is an internationally recognised figure on issues relating to due process and human rights. His advocacy on behalf of the Guantanamo Bay detainees has been recognised across the world, resulting in various governments accepting detainees who could not be returned to their countries of origin.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and 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. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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46 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Asif Rana wrote:

    He’ll be released soon. Crazy scare mongering going on!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Owen Llewellyn wrote:

    Headlines made, propaganda distributed. The system has it’s message out there- ‘all muslims are terrorists’. They need to sell the story so that they can continue to sell their weapons.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Asif and Owen. Lots of people are talking up the propaganda angle, which I find very understandable. What in the US is now referred to as the military-industrial-intelligence complex, trying to make sure it can keep its lucrative message of fear going. That plus some genuine racism, of course.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Lotifa Begum wrote:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this Andy.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, Lotifa. It was important for me to put down my thoughts about Moazzam. We did a lot of events together over the years (primarily from 2008 to 2011, if I recall correctly) and exchanged emails just a few months ago, even though I hadn’t seen him for a while.

  6. A Former Guantanamo Detainee Has Been Arrested in Britain | LeftVoices says...

    […] Begg along with three others was arrested Tuesday by British Police on suspicion of terrorism offenses. No official charges had been announced though there are reports […]

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Ghias Aljundi wrote:

    I think it’s completely unwise of him to go to Syria. In this mess what kind of research he can do and did not he think what the terrible Islamists in Syria would receive him? Can’t understand and i am not saying he is guilty but at least he’s unwise

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I think it probably unwise too, Ghias, but I can see why people wanted to see what was going on, and perhaps thought there was a proper resistance.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    It’s such a murky story, with so many different players, the covert influence of various major powers (both western and otherwise), and the regular use of the magic words “al-Qaeda” that I honestly can’t make sense of it all, and I’m not sure at what point people were supposed to see exactly what was going on, or, indeed, if much of it remains unclear on the ground even now.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Ghias Aljundi wrote:

    Someone in his position should have more understanding. Why even did he want to see the resistance?

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Well, Ghias, depending on when he travelled there, because the resistance may have appeared to fulfil the “freedom fighter” wish that appeals to some Muslims.

  12. Osman says...

    Thanks Andy, love reading your stuff. Your such a genuine guy, God bless you

  13. Mariam Lambert says...

    For those who said it was unwise to travel to Syria, he last went there in 2012, with the UK services knowing beforehand. In 2012, both US and UK governments were still supporting the revolution there. It was a complete different picture then than now.

  14. Patricia Sheerin says...

    He would clearly be an asset to the not-so-intelligent services and they will keep harassing him until they get him on their payroll. “We’ll leave you alone if you come and work for us”.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Osman. That’s wonderful to hear. Now let’s have a proper explanation from the police – or rather, the government and the security services – for their behaviour.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Mariam. That’s a very important point. Good to hear from you.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Very possibly, Patricia, given how much we know about their efforts to recruit people, and what they do to those who refuse. Thanks for the comment.

  18. No, Moazzam Begg is not David Miranda | Left Foot Forward says...

    […] was followed by filmmaker Andy Worthington, who claimed that Begg “has no track record of being a terrorist sympathiser”; while Socialist Worker has […]

  19. Henna says...

    Thank you Andy, may God bless you.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Henna. Thanks for the supportive words – although, to be honest, I am just trying to work out what’s going on, and point out reasons why official narratives might not be as straightforward as they are designed to appear.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Toia Tutta Jung wrote:

    People should feel free and should be free to travel anywhere they want to. Arresting people like the UK has been doing seems to be a method to intimidate and control people. That’s completely unacceptable and that’s why everyone with some sense of justice should react on these arrests.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Willy Bach wrote:

    Andy, it sounds like Moazzam Begg needs our support right now. Sharing, very worrying.

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Toia and Willy. Good to hear from you – and yes, I think it’s absolutely correct to worry about arrests when intimidation seems to be involved, because, as case after case has shown since the “war on terror” began, the British security services have a terrible history of intimidation when it comes to their counter-terrorism policies.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Dejanka Bryant wrote:

    Any further report why he is arrested? Yes, I agree, it was unwise of him to travel to Syria, country in brutal civil war, to do his research unless he thought those who are still alive can be murdered. Also, you might find this very strange, I strongly object British Muslims taking arms to fight in Syria. What if they become radicalised by dreadful religious fundamentalists who are fighting Assad but also FSA? Strange things happening these days. In the middle of civil war in Libya those Libyans from Britain, Ireland and other western countries fighting against Gaddafi were celebrated on our TV channels. Well, it must be because we were involved in military intervention, no? So, there were on our side. Now, we are not involved militarily in Syria. Bizarre. “You are either with us or you are with terrorists”, yet again repeated. We need an explanation why he is arrested. What on earth is going on?

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Ghias Aljundi wrote:

    People have the right to travel any where but not to kill other people and help Assad with his game that there are terrorists in Syria and he is a great hero of fighting terrorism. Islamists were executing civilians in in the streets of Aleppo and other cities. Many of the killers were British muslims unfortunately

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Dejanka Bryant wrote:

    Ghias, you might be right but to say that has implications. For example, how do we know that British Muslims were involved in killing innocent people of Aleppo and elsewhere. Do you have any source of info to back up that story please? I would really like to know. Majority of Guantanamo prisoners were not combatants, still finished there, that’s why we fight for their release. We need to know the truth why Moazzam is arrested. Official explanation, not hear-say.

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, Dejanka. As you ask, “What on earth is going on?” Still no official word, but I have just posted an update – a link to a radio interview abut Moazzam I did with Andrea Sears in New York, and excerpts from – and my analysis of – an article Moazzam wrote after his passport was confiscated in December: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2014/02/27/radio-andy-worthington-discusses-the-arrest-of-former-guantanamo-prisoner-moazzam-begg-with-andrea-sears/
    I too have problems with the notion of people travelling abroad to fight – not necessarily in theory, but when the groups they get involved with don’t seem any better than those they’re opposing. I think often there is a naivete involved.

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    Ghaliyaa Haq wrote:

    I’m still shocked! I mean.. by now nothing should shock any of us but this… this is just unbelievable! How can people be so STUPID? I mean to believe that he would be involved in any sort of terrorism anything…………who can believe that? It’s so frustrating!! He’s in my duaa… thank you for keeping us posted, Andy!

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, Ghaliyaa. Good to hear from you.

  30. Peace Activist says...

    I was shocked to hear the news of Moazzam Begg’s arrest; albeit I had read stuff that said “people will be coming from Syria trained and radicalized for terrorist attacks in Britain”. It would appear to me at first look that the British Authorities have absolutely no idea what they are doing; however I believe things are probably much more complex. There does not seem to be much comment in the media just now; but I think there has been a considerable amount of underhanded maneuvers to adjust the timing of things for maximum propaganda impact on the public. I think the mass of the public are easily led down any path the authorities want to lead them down, and that is a major part of the problem, exacerbating terrorism and creating problems everywhere. I most certainly do not believe Moazzam Begg to have any involvement with anything related to terrorism in any way. The three others I know little about, so will make no comment. I have written down my thoughts regarding Moazzam Begg in a protest letter and faxed then posted it to the Home Office. I don’t really know if this was the appropriate thing to do; but it seemed better than nothing.

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Peace Activist. Fortunately, most of the reporting so far hasn’t been noticeably negative, but of course the mere fact of all the major media highlighting Moazzam’s arrest will be sufficient for untold numbers of people to conclude that something untoward was taking place, even if that is never established. That’s why I keep thinking that intimidation is key to the whole story.

  32. Peace Activist says...

    Sorry to place this in a separate comment box; but I believe I’ve missed important points in my last comment. I am sure that there maybe a risk of some terrorist activities in Britain from certain groups that have passed though Syria. I cannot see any point in arresting someone who has nothing to do with terrorism; other than the fact that he is a humanitarian activist, writer and public speaker who is keen to know more about rendition, secret prisons and torture. The easy and cost effective way to greatly reduce the risk of terrorist attacks in Britain; is to have less involvement in war crimes, torture and so on. We must ask ourselves why we British are not taking that action? We must hope they all are released very soon. I have conveyed all of this opinion and information in my correspondence to the Home Office.

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks again, Peace Activist. Yes, I agree that a change in foreign policy – and, moreover, one that reflects the wishes of millions of British people – would be the most effective way of reducing the risk of terrorist attacks in the UK.

  34. paul siemering says...

    Moazzam Begg should get the Victoria Cross or whatever they hand out in UK for heroic service. He is one of the best and bravest of ex prisoners, and nobody has done more to help his fellow prisoners. He was the best guy in Bagram and Gitmo, and back home in support of released prisoners. Thank you Mr. Begg and thanks to you Andy for all you do.

  35. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Paul, for your comments. Very good to hear from you.

  36. Shirley says...

    I heard moazzam Begg speak in jersey after his film was shown by Amnesty International .
    I was very moved by this man and cannot believe he has been arrested for this! Anyone can see he is only trying to help the oppressed Muslim people.

  37. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Shirley. Yes, it is hard to believe, isn’t it, especially because, as I keep mentioning, Moazzam was under such close scrutiny, and he knew that. Therefore, it seems to me, this whole sorry affair is about the difference between what the UK government perceives, or perhaps, more cynically, the chilling message it hopes to send to all British Muslims, and what Moazzam himself has actually done, and it looks to me as tough there is a great gulf between the two.

  38. Joe says...

    One consistent thing we’ve seen is that actions like organizing against ‘black site prisons’ or ‘indefinite detention’ is regarded by a threat by western police in general and by the UK police specifically. Remember, the official explanation for the detention of Mr. Greenwald’s partner Mr. Miranda was essentially that they thought he might be carrying information that would ‘harm’ the UK if exposed. In general, we’ve seen this line of reasoning a few times where someone working for what I would term ‘human rights’ is regarded by US and UK authorities as essentially a terrorist for the basic reason that such political and educational activities might disrupt what the US and UK police and intelligences agencies are doing.

  39. g9g says...

    nothing is totally unfair things need to be addressed in peace negotiations and mutual respect

  40. Sat 1st March: Solidarity! Assange, Manning, Snowden, Moazzam Begg, Marches, Rallies & Mardi Gras | WISE Up Action – A Solidarity Network for Manning and Assange says...

    […] how long they can drag that out for… Other responses from Craig Murray and Andy Worthington here and here, with one expected from Jason Leopald […]

  41. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Joe, for that sharp analysis of what our governments are doing, and why human rights are being presented as terrorism. I think we probably need a broader definitions of justice and human rights to combat the governmental over-use of the word terrorism. Great to hear from you.

  42. Andy Worthington says...

    UPDATE March 3: On Saturday March 1, Moazzam appeared briefly at Westminster Magistrates Court with Gerrie Tahari, a 44-year old woman who was arrested at the same time as him. Still in police custody are two other men, Tahari’s 20 year old son, and a 36-year old man. As Channel 4 News reported:

    Begg is charged that between July 14 and August 8 2013 he became concerned in an arrangement as a result of which money or other property was to be made available to another person, knowing or having reasonable cause to suspect that it would be or might be used for the purposes of terrorism, and that between October 9 2012 and April 9 2013, he provided instruction or training knowing the person receiving it intended to use the skills for or in connection with preparation of acts of terrorism.

    Tahari is charged that between December 31 2011 and November 6 2013 she became concerned in an arrangement as a result of which money or other property was to be made available to another person, knowing or having reasonable cause to suspect that would be or might be used for the purposes of terrorism.

  43. anna says...

    What a flaming nightmare! I have no doubt whasoever that Moazzam did not ‘train a terrorist’. I am however, flabbergasted as to what anything he might have been doing during those six months could possibly -and even with the worse intentions- be construed as supporting terrorists.
    But there we are, nowadays absolutely everything seems to qualify for such a label and retroactively at that. Including I suppose one’s British granny having bought before WW II a icecream for the -then still Pakistani and three years old- grandfather of someone who now found himself on Obama’s kill list!

    Just when it seemed that at least in the US there’s a glimmer of hope for changes in the Guantanamo policy and in Europe Poland & Lithuania are easing up on their blanket black site denials, this … When will this madness ever end?!

  44. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Anna. Yes, when you’ve spent time with Moazzam, as both of us have, it’s impossible to make sense of the allegations. However, I think what the UK really wants – as well as taking Moazzam down, because of his prominent role criticising them – is to send out a clear message that it is unacceptable for British Muslims to travel to any war zone for any reason, full stop. Jason Leopold just wrote a good article about the case for VICE: https://news.vice.com/articles/moazzam-begg-is-officially-allegedly-a-terrorist-again

  45. John Goss says...

    My understanding is that Moazzam was involved in delivering a generator to an area of Syria that had no electricity and he informed HM Secret Services of this beforehand. Because of his own experience in Bagram and Guantanamo I understand he has been trying to gather information about torture in various places where the US had rendition stations (Syria being one of them). This latter, if my speculation is correct, is the real reason his passport was removed, and why he was later arrested.

    The complicity of our secret services in torture, with the full knowledge of Tony Blair and Jack Straw, is something they do not want in the public domain. That is why innocent people have their liberties removed. It is a sad state of affairs when the innocent are imprisoned and the guilty are the custodians of the imprisonment.

  46. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks John, for the useful information and powerful comments. I had not heard the details before about what Moazzam was supposed to have done, but a generator would fit the bill for the UK government – something they can pretend is terrorism-related, even though it isn’t, to stop Moazzam from embarrassing them further about their complicity in torture, as you point out, but also to send a clear message to all UK Muslims that they must never travel to any war zone for any reason.

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