Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses the Arrest of Former Guantánamo Prisoner Moazzam Begg with Andrea Sears

27.2.14

Yesterday evening, in my article, “The Suspicious Arrest of Former Guantánamo Prisoner Moazzam Begg,” I mentioned how I had just been interviewed by the journalist Andrea Sears in New York. I spoke to Andrea about the arrest of Moazzam Begg, discussing and expanding upon my interpretation of the story as later published in my article.

The show, 11 minutes in length, is here (or via the Left Voices website here), and I hope you have time to listen to it, and to share it if you find it useful. As I explained, “it’s implausible to me that a man so well known and obviously under scrutiny … is going to become mixed up in anything that could be construed legitimately as terrorism, because that would make him such an obvious target of the British government.”

I also spoke about how profoundly alarming it is that Theresa May, the British home secretary, has taken upon herself the power to strip British citizens of their citizenship — and in some cases then letting the US know where these people are so that they can be killed in drone strikes — if she suspects that they are somehow involved in terrorism, even though this involves no due process or objective scrutiny, and even though, as I also pointed out, both the British and American governments have an extremely poor record when it comes to identifying people who are genuinely involved in terrorism, as opposed to, say, humanitarian aid or missionary work, as is evident from the cases of numerous men held at Guantánamo.

There is still no further news about Moazzam from the authorities, except for an update from the BBC yesterday evening, in which it was stated that the police “have been given an extra five days to question” Moazzam and the three people arrested at the same time, a 44-year-old woman, and two men, one aged 36 and another who is 20.

In looking for further information, however, I checked out what Moazzam himself wrote after his passport was confiscated in December, which I believe is useful for understanding how he has regularly been targeted by the British authorities for many years, and how that harassment escalated in recent months, culminating in his arrest.

Moazzam Begg’s own account of his harassment by the British authorities

In the article, Moazzam explained that, in the summer of 2012, he wrote about his first visit to Syria — the first of two visits — which, as he explained, was “to investigate leads into cases of British and American complicity in the rendition of terrorism suspects to the regime of Bashar al-Assad.” He added, “This followed on from something I learned first-hand from CIA and US military intelligence agents who threatened to send me to Egypt or Syria if I failed to co-operate with them during my time in the Bagram prison. I made British MI5/MI6 agents, who were present at every leg of my unlawful imprisonment, fully aware of these threats. Their response was that I had to co-operate with their US counterparts.”

After his release from Guantánamo in January 2005, Moazzam – and the men released with him — were informed that their “ability to apply for a passport had been restricted by the Home Secretary under the powers of the ‘Royal Prerogative,'” which, as the BBC explained, had only been used 13 times since 1947, with the most recent example being in 1976.

After his release, Moazzam began working with Cageprisoners, “campaigning for prisoners detained at Guantanamo and others held in secret detention sites or who had disappeared after being rendered to countries like Libya, Egypt, and Syria.” he added, “We conducted numerous investigations into recurrent reports of extreme torture carried out by the Syrian regime and discovered the complicity of the governments of the US, Canada, France, Sweden, Germany, Denmark and Britain.”

In 2009, after being constantly “invited to speak all over the world about issues pertaining to Guantanamo, torture, the rule of law and the war terror,” he successfully applied to get his passport returned to him, and subsequently toured various European countries trying to secure new homes for Guantánamo prisoners who couldn’t be repatriated safely — and, on one occasion, being refused entry into Canada, where he had travelled to meet Canadian victims of rendition — including Maher Aarar — who had been sent to Syria and tortured.

As Moazzam also explained — and as I heard from him on several occasions — he was also regularly harassed when he returned to the UK. As he stated, “Returning to the UK airports was often an ordeal in its own right as I would be stopped almost every time and questioned under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. This happened even on visits to Brussels where I was invited to speak at the European Parliament by British MEPs as well as trips to Malaysia where I had been giving evidence in war crimes tribunals set up by the former prime minister there. Often British police would ask me if I had gone to these places to further my claims about British complicity in torture.”

And so to 2013, and Moazzam’s first visit to Syria, where, as he stated, “I met numerous former prisoners who had been held by the Assad regime as well as a few victims of US and UK rendition. One of the men, a Libyan who had resided in Syria, had been rendered to Libya after a phone call by a British Libyan dissident had been intercepted by MI5 and its contents disclosed to Assad’s Mukhabarat (intelligence agency). Documents found in the headquarters of Gaddafi’s Mukhabarat after the fall of Tripoli clearly prove British involvement.”

And then it gets really interesting, as, in October 2012, an MI5 officer approached Moazzam, who, he wrote, “said they wanted to talk to me about my views on the situation in Syria after having read my article.”

He added:

I told them that they must be aware that I was investigating several leads regarding British and American complicity in rendition and torture in Syria. They called back after consulting with their lawyers and said they understood that and would still like to meet. I agreed to speak to them and meet at a hotel in East London. Both MI5 and I had our lawyers present.

He also wrote:

MI5 was concerned about the possibility of Britons in Syria being radicalised and returning to pose a potential threat to national security. I told them that Britain had nothing to worry about, especially since British foreign policy, at the time, seemed in favour of the rebels. At the end of the meeting I was assured by MI5 that my proposed return to Syria to continue my work would not be hindered, and it wasn’t. Subsequently, I travelled to Syria without incident. I spent much time accumulating testimony and information for a report on the situation of the current prisoners as well as the accounts of those who had been detained and tortured in the past.

He also explained that he “returned home without hindrance, except for the customary Schedule 7 stop,” where he was “briefly questioned about my visit by border police and returned home shortly after,” but added, “Since then I have been ‘randomly’ stopped more times than I can recall under Schedule 7 while travelling.”

Prior to his passport being taken away, the most recent example was when he was supposed to be speaking at a conference in Turkey “about the mass-imprisonments and torture occurring in Egypt following the military coup.” He wrote that the British police suggested that he might be going to Syria, even though he showed them details of his itinerary and his return flights for the following weekend. Asa result, he miss his flight, but although the police offered to re-book his flight, he decided to return home as he would have missed the conference.

Crucially, it seems to me, Moazzam added that the police “took possession of my iPad and phone and kept them for a week,” and also stated that they “contained sensitive information and documents pertaining to CagePrisoners’ investigations on both complicity in torture and responses to the British government’s measures in tackling extremism.”

Moazzam also stated that he then began legal proceedings “to challenge the constant harassment at airports under Schedule 7 and informed the Home Office, the border police and British airports about my intended travel via my lawyers,” but, in December, after a visit to South Africa, “I was met upon arrival at Heathrow by officials who served me with a notice to seize my passport under the ‘Royal Prerogative’ stating that it was assessed my previous visits to Syria had constituted involvement in terrorism. No explanation other than that was given.”

He added:

I am certain that the only reason I am being continually harassed — something that began long before any visit to Syria — is because CagePrisoners and I are at the forefront of investigations and assertions based on hard evidence that British governments, past and present, have been wilfully complicit in torture.

How logical is it to stop me from travelling anywhere in the world simply because they want to prevent me from going to Syria? Numerous British citizens have been prevented from entering Turkey (the key entry point to Syria) at the behest of the British authorities. They could have done the same with me.

It is these government-shaking issues that are the real reason why I have been continually harassed and targeted by the authorities in this country. I am not and never have been in anyway a threat to them, unless words seeking accountability are a threat.

At a time when Islam and the Muslim community is facing an unprecedented attack via politicians, the media and ultimately some sections of the public susceptible to this onslaught, it has been the aim of CagePrisoners and myself in trying to empower the community that is being purposefully undermined.

The struggle for reason and justice is clearly a longer one than I once imagined but since our aim is a good and just one, I do not believe our detractors will succeed.

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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11 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, David Knopfler wrote:

    I called BS on this one too… but they’ve now detained Begg for a further 5 days before we’ll know if they’re actually going to charge him, or if its just harassment, intimidation and “research.”

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, David. Yes, that announcement that the police have five days to interview Moazzam and the others seized doesn’t reassure me either. Sounds like a long “fishing” trip.

  3. Thomas says...

    Maybe going to Syria, a war zone, was not the most clever thing for Moazzam to do.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Had he done so in 2013 I think that would certainly be the case, Thomas, but in 2012 we in the west were backing those fighting Assad, so it’s difficult to see how it was unacceptable at the time.

  5. Elsa Collins says...

    To USA and UK Governments, My Family and I , demand JUSTICE for MOAZZAM BEGG, if we live in a Democracy , MR BEGG must be Free Immediately!
    Thank you!

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

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

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for that comment, Elsa. Unfortunately, Moazzam isn’t going to be freed immediately. As I’m sure you’ve seen, he was remanded in custody on Saturday, and will next appear at the Old Bailey on March 14.

  8. 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.

  9. Elsa Collins says...

    Mr Moazzam Begg has been under scrutiny most of the time and has regularly been targeted and harassed by the British authorities for years and we were shocked to hear that Moazzam Begg has been arrested.

    In the name of democracy we demand justice for Moazzam Begg. Fighting for justice is not a crime!

    Theresa May, the British Home Secretary, could be abusing her power without impunity when stripping British Citizens of their citizenship. We strongly oppose to it.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Elsa, for the supportive words for Moazzam. I expect there will be a big turnout of supporters for him at the Old Bailey next Friday, March 14.

  11. Charges Against Moazzam Begg Dropped; Why Was He Ever Held In First Place? | MasterAdrian's Weblog says...

    […] article at the time, “The Suspicious Arrest of Former Guantánamo Prisoner Moazzam Begg,” and in a radio interview with the US reporter Andrea Sears, it was impossible to believe that Begg, one of the most scrutinised Muslims in the UK, would have […]

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