Defending Moazzam Begg and Amnesty International


Moazzam BeggJust when it seemed that Republicans in America had a monopoly on Islamophobic hysteria, the Sunday Times prompted a torrent of similar hysteria in the UK by running an article in which an employee of Amnesty International — Gita Sahgal, head of the gender unit at the International Secretariat — criticized the organization that employed her for its association with former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg.

Before getting into the substance — or lack of it — in Sahgal’s complaints, it should be noted first of all that her immediate suspension by Amnesty was the least that should have been expected. What other organization would put up with an employee badmouthing them to a national newspaper on a Sunday, and then allow them to return to work as usual on Monday morning?

That Sahgal’s many defenders have all chosen to ignore this point suggests that they believe that her allegations were so significant — the actions, indeed, of a self-sacrificing whistleblower — that this blatant unprofessionalism was acceptable, whereas, in fact, it was no such thing.

That Sahgal also chose to air her complaints in the Sunday Times, a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, is also significant, particularly because the Times first attempted to smear Begg and Cageprisoners a month ago, in connection with the failed plane bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, in an article by the normally reliable Sean O’Neill, entitled, “Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had links with London campaign group.” To me, this suggests that Sahgal may have been used as part of an ongoing attempt to vilify Begg that was part of a specific editorial policy.

It is also significant that Sahgal confided in Richard Kernaj, a reporter who, as Rick B explained at Ten Percent, enjoys his work “specialising in exposing shortcomings, crime and corruption in the Muslim community” to such an extent that, when he exposed child abuse in an Australian Islamic council in 2006, he boasted afterwards — using a distinctly inappropriate analogy — that being handed the documents that led to his scoop “was like a journalist’s wet dream.”

So what of the allegations? According to Kernaj’s article, Sahgal stated her belief that collaborating with Begg “fundamentally damages” Amnesty’s reputation. Kernaj added that, in an email “sent to Amnesty’s top bosses,” she suggested that “the charity has mistakenly allied itself with Begg and his ‘jihadi’ group, Cageprisoners, out of fear of being branded racist and Islamophobic.” He also explained that she described Begg as “Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban.”

Kernaj also claimed that Sahgal had “decided to go public because she feels Amnesty has ignored her warnings for the past two years about the involvement of Begg in the charity’s Counter Terror With Justice campaign,” and quoted more extensively from the email written on January 30, which stated:

I believe the campaign fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights. To be appearing on platforms with Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment.

Right-wingers — and other thinly-disguised right-wingers described, laughably, as the “decent left” — seized on the article with glee, and responded to Sahgal’s inevitable suspension not with recognition of her lamentable lack of professionalism, but by providing her with a platform for further misplaced allegations, and by writing opinion pieces drawing on their rarely submerged hostility towards Islam.

In the Spectator, Martin Bright posted a statement by Sahgal on his blog, David Aaronovitch followed up with an article in the Times, Nick Cohen set up a ridiculous Facebook group, “Amnesty International You Bloody Hypocrites Reinstate Gita Sahgal,” and even the Guardian allowed a friend of Sahgal’s, Rahila Gupta, to write an opinion piece that failed to justify the descriptions of Begg and Cageprisoners, and that also failed to address the question of why Sahgal should keep her job after criticizing her employers in a national newspaper. Gupta also suggested, erroneously, that Amnesty International had “filtered out” negative comments responding to a statement that the organization issued on its website, whereas, in fact, a cursory glance at the comments should convince anyone that Islamophobia is as alive and well in Amnesty’s supporters as it is in the world of Kernaj, Bright, Aaronovitch, Cohen et al.

On Cageprisoners, Begg defended himself admirably, asking Kernaj why, after discussing his planned article with him, and asking him detailed questions, he chose to ignore all his responses. Begg also criticized Sahgal for not talking to him first, noting, “Whilst it gives me no personal pleasure to hear of the suspension of Ms. Sahgal for holding her view, the newspapers were not the right place to air them without first putting them to Cageprisoners or me.”

In key passages addressed to Kernaj, he wrote:

When asked specifically about the Taliban I told you my view: that I have advocated for engagement and dialogue with the Taliban well before our own government took the official position of doing the same — only last week — although I did not say, like the government, we should be giving them lots of money in order to do so.

I also clearly told you, though you deliberately chose to ignore, that I had actually witnessed what I believe were human rights abuses under the Taliban and have detailed them in my book, from which you conveniently and selectively quote. I added that the US administration had perpetrated severe human rights abuses against me for years but that didn’t mean I opposed dialogue with them.

I even told you that Cageprisoners and I have initiated pioneering steps in that regard by organising tours all around the UK with former US guards from Guantánamo and men who were once imprisoned there. Cageprisoners is the only organisation to have done so. One of these soldiers, in response to your article, sent this message to me: “They are attacking you and your causes … don’t forget you have real support by some of us ex-soldiers who have seen the light.” […]

Had you — and Ms Sahgal no doubt — done your homework properly you’d have discovered also that I was involved in the building of, setting up and running of a school for girls in Kabul during the time of the Taliban, but of course, that wouldn’t have sat well with the agenda and nature of your heavily biased and poorly researched article.

Cageprisoners, for whom I write on a regular basis, describes itself, accurately, as an organization that “exists solely to raise awareness of the plight of the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and other detainees held as part of the War on Terror.” In his letter to Kernaj, Begg also mentioned that Cageprisoners would not “be forced into determining a person’s guilt outside a recognised court of law.” This happens to be a view that I share, and it has motivated me for the last four years as I have assiduously chronicled the stories of the men and boys — all Muslims, in case anyone has overlooked this particular point — who have been redefined as a category of human beings without rights in a post-9/11 world of hysteria in which apparently intelligent non-Muslims regard the indefinite detention without charge or trial of Muslim “terror suspects” as somehow appropriate.

I know from personal experience that Moazzam Begg is no extremist. We have met on numerous occasions, have had several long discussions, and have shared platforms together at many events. He also features in the new documentary about Guantánamo, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” directed by Polly Nash and myself, talking about Afghanistan, and his hopes, in 2001, that civilized intervention from other Muslims would help the country to engage with the modern world.

Along with other representatives of Cageprisoners, Moazzam and other released prisoners have all welcomed me — a non-Muslim — with nothing less than friendship, support and openness at all times, as they have with numerous other non-Muslim supporters of universal human rights. Is this really what we should expect from extremists or supporters of the Taliban?

I also know, from my conversations with Moazzam, that he is capable of far more open-minded discussions than many of his critics mentioned above (of the kind that sustained him in his conversations with guards throughout his long ordeal in US custody), and that his calm and considered response to the treatment he received is a far more moderating and moderate influence than that of his divisive critics.

It also seems clear to me that the manner in which this story has been stirred up by the media actually has less to do with Moazzam and Cageprisoners than it does with illiberal attempts to smear Amnesty International’s reputation, and to advance an all too prevalent anti-Islamic agenda.

This is supposedly disguised through the purported defense of an Amnesty employee who had no excuse for speaking to the press as she did, but instead, I would suggest, Gita Sahgal is largely being used by those whose only aim is to stir up hostility towards a man who was imprisoned without charge or trial for three years, who has never been charged with a crime, and who dares to defend the rights of other Muslims not to be held without charge or trial.

Note: Moazzam Begg, Omar Deghayes and Andy Worthington will attend a screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” at Amnesty International’s Human Rights Action Centre in London on Tuesday February 16, at 6.30 pm, and will take part in a Q&A session following the screening, moderated by Sara MacNeice, Amnesty’s Campaign Manager for Terrorism, Security and Human Rights. For further details, see here. Tickets are free, but booking is required. Please visit Amnesty’s site for booking details, and see here for details of other UK tour dates for the film.

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, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

87 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington responds to Gita Sahgal’s claims about Moazzam Begg « Earwicga says...

    […] used as part of an ongoing attempt to vilify Begg that was part of a specific editorial policy.   More […]

  2. eawicga says...

    I am very glad to see your response here. I cannot see Gita Sahgal’s words and actions as any less than Islamophobic. The Facebook group you refer to is disgusting.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Absolutely, and it’s why I didn’t even provide a link to the Facebook group.
    I wasn’t going to comment on this, but after reading numerous articles and comments last night, I concluded that I shouldn’t remain silent.
    This whole thing is a disgrace. I don’t know Gita Sahgal, but on a professional basis it makes no sense to rail against her suspension (any organization would have done the same), and in terms of her specific complaints, it seems pretty apparent to me that Moazzam and Cageprisoners were used as vehicles for a broader attack on the “Islamic Right.” Debating these issues would have been a useful way forward, instead of spouting racist-friendly soundbites to the Sunday Times.

  4. Elena says...

    I struggle to understand why people would villify a man who, to even the most casual observer, has sought an end to violence and injustice — through dialogue and through education. He sets an example for us all.

    Moazzam Begg, Cageprisoners, Amnesty, and Andy — thank you.

    In solidarity, from Maryland,

  5. HarpyMarx says...

    I just find the whole thing utterly disturbing and it really exposes the right-wing press and their scant need for evidence just half-baked assertions, and awful damaging consequences for the individual concerned. I am appalled by this.
    I admired and respected Gita Sahgal for many years, have heard her speak and supported Gita and her work Women Against Fundamentalism (I attended the first conference way back in ’89).

    Gita’s accusations are flimsy to say the least, instead it gives the right-wing media and the laughably known as the, ‘decent left’ (neither left nor decent in my own opinion) a chance to attack Moazzam Begg and Cage Prisoners unnecessarily. She is also creating a hierarchy of deserving/undeserving for human rights because take Gita’s contradictory logic to its conclusion and it is human rights…for some not for all…and certainly don’t become a human rights activist….

    And the people who have sided publiclly with Gita are pro-war, total scant disregard for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or the human rights and injustices of Afghans and Iraqis instead they supported the jackboot of imperialism occupying both these countries. I would be severely worried if I discovered that lot being my allies!

  6. luke neave says...

    Anwar al-Awlaki addressed cageprisoners. You conveniently fail to make any mention of him.

  7. Parag Adalja says...

    All this fine work on behalf of those at Guantanamo, all this hard work, all the fine sentiments and beliefs given up in a flash. Poured down the drain.

    By describing Ms.Sahagal as an, quote, employee, unquote, you seem to be conveying something? A mere employee, as opposed to the great crusader Andy Worthington? I would like to think that Ms.Sahagal has achieved a thing or two, strived for something over the long years, that we do not dismiss her as a mere employee. Wonder why you felt the need to do this.

    And because this has become a cause celibre for the right wingers should not automatically imply that it is wrong cause. By carrying your criticism to Ms.Gupta and her piece in the UK Guardian CiF, you are going in the wrong direction.

    Ms.Sahagals larger point, that just because ones human rights were violated should not entitle one to be referred as a human rights defender, is still valid.

    Mr.Begg unfortunately for him, cannot wish away his past actions, or statements (which there are aplenty). And, just because Mr.Begg is not an extremist (as you attest), does not mean he (Mr.Begg) has that high degree of respect for human rights, respect that would allow one to a “non specific” relation ship with an organization of AI reputation.

    Next time you get this emotional, do remember : He or she may be your adversary, but they still deserve to be addressed appropriately, not as “mere employee….”

  8. William Hudson says...

    Quite disturbing to find such a sensitive issue surfacing in such a shocking way. To cut to what I see as the quick; this only highlights, in an appalling way, the blur we have come to expect from the ‘war on terror’. That being the ever decreasing dividing line between protecting individuals who, quite simply cannot be tried or convicted for any offence, and disassociation with individuals who can. That someone could conceive that association with incitement to hatred, or terrorist offences might slip beneath Amnesty’s radar, which the article is quite clearly suggesting, is utterly reprehensible, I cannot see how Amnesty could reinstate someone after such comments.

  9. Defending Moazzam Begg and Amnesty International « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] Andy Worthington Featured Writer Dandelion Salad 10 February, […]

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Parag,
    No slight was intended. My point was that no organization would accept an employee badmouthing them to a newspaper without taking action. In that context, the job description is accurate, I believe.
    At no point did I refer to Ms. Sahgal as a “mere employee.” You have added that yourself. I am aware that she was head of the gender unit at the International Secretariat, and stated that in the opening paragraph.
    As for Moazzam’s relationship with AI, I can see no evidence that he is anything but a human rights defender. Moazzam calls for an end to imprisonment without charge or trial, speaking from first-hand experience of it, and, as far as I can see, his fortitude in the face of the treatment he received in US custody, and his refusal to express any anger about it, sends out a powerful moderating influence that actually works to combat extremism rather than to foster it.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, HarpyMarx. I really appreciate your comments.

  12. Andy Worthington On Amnesty, Gita Sahgal & Moazzam Begg « Ten Percent says...

    […] On Amnesty, Gita Sahgal & Moazzam Begg 10 February, 2010 — RickB I think this can reasonably be called expert opinion and is required reading to anyone interested in this issue (and not just because he references one […]

  13. clivex says...

    So no one finds it the slightest bit strange that an organisation supposedly fighting for human rights and (laughably) claims to be “non political” is promoting a strong unabashed supporter of possibly the least liberal regime since pol pot?

  14. Radish says...

    Thanks Andy for these article. I really admire ur bravery to stand for the truth and equality of humanbeings regardless of race, religion or opinion.
    I believe Gita’s comments were uncalled for, and i suspect that its either she was used by the islamophobes or she overstepped her duties to get attention.
    Thanks anyway for ur support.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    I think you missed the point that Moazzam’s not “a strong unabashed supporter” of the Taliban. I may have my doubts about the wisdom of trying to bring enlightenment to the Taliban, but then I’m not able to look at this from a Muslim perspective. Moazzam’s attempts to engage with the regime, as he has explained them, do not make him a “strong unabashed supporter” of it, and I think that a certain ambivalence has been clear ever since his book was published four years ago. There’s nothing new here.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Radish. Much appreciated.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    No, Luke, I just chose not to go there in the article, because I knew that it would drown out the main points I wanted to make. Moazzam has addressed this here:

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Elena. Very well expressed. I thank you for your support.

  19. ahmed errachidi says...

    hello andy
    thanks for allowing people to give their comments…. as for the times online they no longer allow people to give their comments if defending mozzam,they only screen those comments who are unfairly against mozzam, i think that David Aaronovitch calling a man who suffered 3 years of illegal inprisonment and brutal treatments in the hands of the us army and then who became a loud voice for “cry justice” rising awarness about human rights violations taking place in guantanamo and elsewhere.he is calling him just a “poster boy”and calling george galloway who wanted to end the suffering of one and half million people in gazza and who ownes the respect of millions of people aroud the world for his humanitarian efforts. David Aaronovitch calling him a “dangerous idiot”.however the times is allowing him to disrespect people and yet when a reader want to post his view challenging the article he doesn’t get access on line,i think the times is been used as a tool to smear against cageprisoners and moazzam who are growing popular .as for amnesty they were wise to distance the organisation from gita saghal someone whithin who is trying to silence the victims of the us army violations and long brutality .i think that someone like mozzam is a real asset when it comes to rising awarness of human rights violations,he has been through it for david Aaronovitch ,gita saghal and their alikes.i think people around the world are grown mature enough to believe that islamphobia tactics is no longer a fair trade…..

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Ahmed. It’s particularly good to hear from you, and I’m disappointed to hear that the Times appears to be blocking comments.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    And here are some comments from Facebook:

    Maryam Hassan wrote:

    Thank you, Andy! I expect you’re now working on a piece about the ruling in Binyam’s case.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Samira Q wrote:

    excellent article Andy

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    This was my reply:

    Thanks, Maryam and Samira. And yes, Maryam, I’m in the middle of writing something about Binyam!

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Stephen Grey wrote:

    Andy – aren’t you in danger of shooting the messenger? OK I write for the Sunday Times but all that stuff about Murdoch is a) predictable and b) pretty irrelevant. It was an obvious news story that ANY newspaper would run if there is a split inside Amnesty. As for suggesting “she was being used”, that is patronising – and her statement reproduced on Martin Bright’s blog: indicates quite the contrary. I’m not buying in any way the suggestion that Moazzam is some kind of Talib (strikes me since he left Gitmo he has been a champion of decency) – but Amnesty, which has got to be neutral, is entitled to debate who they link up with. All I’m saying there is no need to froth up the row even more by launching counter-attacks!.. best Stephen

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    This was my reply:

    Hi Stephen,
    Always good to hear from you, but I can’t agree with you on this one. The article was horribly one-sided, as Amnesty were not consulted, and Moazzam’s contributions were ignored. I agree that a “split” in Amnesty would be an attraction for any media outlet, but this was absolutely the worst way to report on it.
    Hence the suspicion of an agenda, esp. after all the cheap muckraking following the failed plane bombing.
    Feeble attack on Murdoch, though? Yes, well, you may be right, but old habits die hard!

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Jaq White wrote:

    I’ve shared this on a site where there are a few raging Islamophobes… and I’ve been asked what kind of woman Gita Sahgal is and whether she was some kind of plant. Any help on how I can answer?

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    This was my reply:

    Hi Jaq,
    As I explained, it appears to me that the Times has an agenda, and that therefore she was being used, and it also appears that she has, to my mind, mistakenly equated her justifiable dislike of fundamentalist religions — she’s a member of “Women Against Fundamentalisms” — with the aims and beliefs of Moazzam and Cageprisoners.

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    Jaq replied:

    Thanks Andy – I took it that the guy she spoke to had an agenda, and I wasn’t sure how come she had criticised Amnesty so pointedly with regard to Moazzam Begg, based on his own words that you quoted in your article, in that she seemed to totally ignore his stance, and spoke out further against him and Amnesty. It’s confusing. But you’ve cleared that up somewhat now, thanks!

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    Maryam wrote:

    Jaq, you may find the following interesting. It’s a summary of Gita Sahgal’s appearance on the same platform as Moazzam Begg on Hecklers: Interestingly she condemns those who are normally branded moderate – or even, by some – modernist Muslims.

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    Maryam also wrote:

    Andy I hope you also submitted this to the Guardian Comment is Free as they may publish it as a counter-argument? I think the Times is rigged as I have posted 5 comments (not under my name), none of which were offensive or impolite but they have not been published. I know this has been the case for at least 5-6 individuals who have complained to me, commenting on both the articles they published. I would advise people to post their comments on the Guardian as I would be surprised if there is censorship at the same level.

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    William James Hudson wrote:

    So; I am supposed to think of cageprisoners as a ‘jihadist’ organisation, and Moazzem Begg as a ‘supporter’ of the Taliban[violence] ~ I don’t think so somehow…

  32. Andy Worthington says...

    William also wrote:

    In response to Stephen ~ is it any wonder that any (illusionary) split appears in what Amnesty represent and fight for, when the concept of association with Terrorism becomes so vague ~ and so many innocents are accused?

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    Sophia Shafi wrote:

    Thanks for the article, Andy. 🙂

  34. Andy Worthington says...

    Hilary Homes wrote:

    Indeed, Amnesty is entitled to debate a whole range of issues about partners and directions. And it does. Consensus isn’t always achieved — that’s challenging within an int’l movement. But attempting to have any organizational debate or discussion via the media or blog-o-sphere is never going to end well. To hear that there is some sort of “split” on this is just piling on the rumours.

  35. Andy Worthington says...

    Willy Bach wrote:

    Thanks Andy for keeping the balance in hand. The Times and The Spectator are likely to have an agenda of fanning any whiff of Islamophobia into a storm if they get the chance. Thanks for keeping them on their toes by closely reading what they say.

  36. Andy Worthington says...

    Asim Qureshi wrote:

    Great article Andy – thanks a lot!

  37. Andy Worthington says...

    Malcolm Bush wrote:

    Dear All, May I say I believe this is a bit of a ‘storm in a teacup’. I do not think that Gita Sahgal’s actions were pernicious, she just did what in her opinion was the thing to do. I support Moazzam Begg and Amnestsy in all their actions. All this is part of the price we all must pay because the British Authorities secretly decided to abandon law and order. I also would say that I like the Times, but the Sun gives me terrible nightmares and I fall out of bed in my sleep.

  38. Andy Worthington says...

    Amina Husna wrote:

    Andy I love the article you wrote [about] the two articles written in the times, I emailed complaint to the newspaper and the complaint commission and still haven’t heard anything!

  39. Andy Worthington says...

    earwicga also wrote to say:

    Hi Andy,

    I have transcripted the two BBC Gita Sahgal interviews.

    World Service Newshour with Asim Qureshi 09 February 2010:

    Today programme 10 February 2010:

  40. Andy Worthington says...

    And Maryam pointed out the following bandwagon-jumping by Joan Smith in the Independent:

    It’s the Indy’s turn now:

  41. the talking dog says...

    Quite a spirited discussion.

    I’ve talked to Moazzam myself, and he’s no one’s extremist (as if the thought of a man building a girl’s school in Taliban controlled Afghanistan, and who has been remarkably conciliatory despite years of unjust incarceration by my governement, was some kind of maniacal jihadist has any credibility). And I’ve talked to Stephen Grey, one of the most careful and intelligent journalists in the world (a description that unquestionably applies to my friend Andy
    as well).

    So what can we to make of all this? I don’t know what’s going on in the UK specifically to have warranted this. Certainly, terrorism hysteria is being stoked in our USA media circles after the Christmas underpants bomber, even as poll after poll show the public really isn’t buying the “enhanced threat”. As if the elites care what the public thinks, anyway. And so here on my side of the pond, our esteemed senate is now engaged in trying to cut off funding for even the pathetic “slam dunk” civilian show trials of KSM and company (which are evidently too much trouble to hold here in New York), along with other sundry diversions… “divide and conquer” is always a useful diversion strategy… and it sure looks like that’s the strategy for our elites, at least.

    Stephen Grey is, without doubt, correct, that there is a story here– an A.I. figure seemingly identifying an internal rift is a story to be sure, and it would probably be journalistic malpractice not to cover it… And I suspect Stephen has an excellent point about adding fuel to this particular kerfuffle.

    BUT… then, one of the 5 “W’s” of journalism is “Why?” Why is Gita Sahgal doing this? And why NOW? Not sure if that is essential to the story as published, but I certainly want to know the answers.

    Perhaps this is her sincere opinion, although, I’ll just say, from where I sit, I strongly disagree with it– and not just because Cage Prisoners regularly publishes my own interviews, but because from where I sit, it has been remarkably measured in its responses to what I consider egregious injustices inflicted by my government and others allied with it, and like Moazzam himself, invariably conciliatory and measured in tone.

    Of course… this doesn’t jibe well with the back story that an outspoken Muslim– any outspoken Muslim– just has to be a jihadist… which, at the end of the day, is probably the message that, I fear, will be received by most. I’m just wondering what particular interest of the elites will be served by it, other than, of course, to keep the public in the usual tizzy of fear that has served the elites so well so far.
    Maybe that’s enough.

  42. Andy Worthington says...

    I also received the following message from Jan Strain:

    As I posted on DIGG under your post, Andy:
    Andy – I find it interesting that AI in the UK would allow the continued absurdity illustrated by their recent behavior and ridicule of Cageprisoners and Moazzam Begg. Moazzam is one of the few with the bold strength to stand for his brothers who have been abused at the hands of the US and UK military, CIA, MI5 and others. Cageprisoners is a leader in the education of the world as to the mistreatment of thousands through rendition, torture and denial of basic human rights.
    AIUSA is working on the closure of Gitmo, the human and humane treatment of undocumented people in the US and holding those accountable who were and still are responsible for the abuses perpetrated in OUR NAME by the last administration. They have called for accountability even after other organizations went slithering back into the shadows…
    To have AI UK allow its member a pass after ripping on AI, Cageprisoners and Moazzam in Rupert’s neocon rag based in the UK actually sickens me.

    Though we seem to have no real courage by our current president to do the right thing in the matter of accountability, and the courts always hide behind “state secrets” and “security”, Moazzam Begg may be the one who actually leads the way to assure accountability in some way. His continued education of the masses, refusing to be quiet in the face of power, will assure that the world will always know the names and the actions done over the last decade….

    The criminals will be held accountable by history forever.

  43. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan also wrote:

    I know they let her go but they really needed to come out with a strong statement that she did not speak for AI and that AI stands for Human Rights for all, including and especially those who have been abused in the name of “national security”.

  44. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to all who posted comments on Facebook, and thanks also to TD. Your considered opinions are much appreciated, as ever. Perhaps this has all blown over now. Certainly, there is a weird dissonance between this ridiculous focus on Moazzam and Cageprisoners, and the torture story unleashed by the Court of Appeal yesterday in the case of Binyam Mohamed. My article about this will be up on Truthout later today.

  45. Faisal says...

    We understand why Amnesty International takes a human rights position against illegal detention, torture and renditions. But in doing so, how does Amnesty International justify working “alongside” supporters of Jihadi terrorism?

  46. Andy Worthington says...

    To put it simply, Faisal, I would suggest that it’s because neither Moazzam nor Cageprisoners are “supporters of Jihadi terrorism.”

  47. Faisal says...

    If that is true, why is Cageprisoners diligently showcasing the views of Anwar al-Awlaki in this interview of the Jihadist cleric by Moazzam Begg himself on their site:

    It’s an interview of the jihadist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki by Moazzam Begg. Begg asks Awlaki no difficult questions, in fact he is completely in fawning supplicant mode.

  48. Andy Worthington says...

    “Fawning supplicant mode” is a particularly loaded comment. It seems to me that Moazzam was discussing, with a fellow prisoner, pertinent aspects of detention. There’s no reference to jihad anywhere in this interview, and I have no reason to dispute Moazzam’s explanation of al-Awlaki’s reputation, and why Cageprisoners spoke up for him when he was imprisoned, as he explained in an article here:

    I thought this, for example, was important:

    “A cursory look at Awlaki’s pre-incarceration lectures would clearly show just why he became so popular. He was not a radical ‘preacher of hate’ by any stretch of the imagination. Whilst teaching Islamic principles in an erudite and articulate way — he neither shied away from talking about the Islamic concept of jihad (in military terms) nor from condemning the September 11 attacks and terrorism in general.”

    And this statement about Cageprisoners’ beliefs is pretty crucial as well:

    “Cageprisoners never has and never will support the ideology of killing innocent civilians, whether by suicide bombers or B52s, whether that’s authorised by Awlaki or by Obama. Neither will we be forced into determining a person’s guilt outside a recognised court of law.”

  49. Faisal says...

    Another interview of Awlaki by Begg here:

    Begg recently explained:

    Interviewing Awlaki was important on many levels for Cageprisoners, not least because he was a prisoner held in the Middle East at the behest of the US. This was noted even by Human Rights Watch who also sought our assistance in trying to secure an interview with him, as well as several western media outlets. After his release, I am told, Anwar’s position on issues pertaining to US foreign policy had started to become more hostile. Cageprisoners went on to invite Awlaki to deliver audio-recorded addresses at two of our annual dinners, speaking solely on the issue of prisoners’ rights as prisoners and their families would find solace in hearing from a scholar who was a former prisoner and could relate to their experience.

    Indeed, Awlaki was invited to deliver messages at Cage Prisoners events in 2008 and 2009.

    Begg goes on to say:

    A cursory look at Awlaki’s pre-incarceration lectures would clearly show just why he became so popular. He was not a radical ‘preacher of hate’ by any stretch of the imagination. Whilst teaching Islamic principles in an erudite and articulate way – he neither shied away from talking about the Islamic concept of jihad (in military terms) nor from condemning the September 11 attacks and terrorism in general.

  50. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s Amnesty International’s statement on its work with Moazzam and Cageprisoners, by interim Secretary General Claudio Cordone, available here:

    There has been a lot of controversy in the media surrounding Amnesty International’s work with Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners, in light of statements by Gita Sahgal, an Amnesty International staff member.

    Contrary to Gita Sahgal’s assertions to the media, she was not suspended from Amnesty International for raising these issues internally. In fact, we actively welcome vigorous internal debate. Up to now we have maintained confidentiality in line with our policy but wanted to correct this misrepresentation. This is not a reflection of the organisation’s respect for her work as a women’s rights activist and does not undermine the work she has done over the last few years as the head of Amnesty International’s gender unit.

    Our work with Moazzam Begg has focused exclusively on highlighting the human rights violations committed in Guantánamo Bay and the need for the US government to shut it down and either release or put on trial those who have been held there. Moazzam Begg was one of the first detainees released by the US without charge, and has never been charged with any terrorist-related offence or put on trial.

    When President Obama promised to close Guantánamo, Amnesty International hoped that we could wind down our campaign and focus more broadly on human rights abuses related to security and terrorism. However, as that promise remains unmet, Amnesty International continues to work with Moazzam Begg and other former detainees to ask European governments to accommodate those who cannot be returned to their country of citizenship without risk of torture or ill-treatment.

    In this complex and polarised world, we at Amnesty International face the challenge of communicating clearly the scope of our work with individuals and groups. Amnesty International champions and continues to champion Moazzam Begg’s rights as a former detainee at Guantánamo. He speaks about his own views and experiences, not Amnesty International’s. And Moazzam Begg has never used a platform he shared with Amnesty to speak against the rights of others.

    Amnesty International has a long history of demanding justice — in the case of our Counter Terror with Justice Campaign we called for both an end to human rights abuses at Guantánamo and other locations, and called for those detained there to be brought to justice, in fair trials that respected due process.

    However, our work for justice and human rights spans a far wider range of issues than counter-terrorism and security. Amnesty International has done considerable research on the Taleban and campaigns to stop violence against women and to promote women’s equality. We continue to take a strong line against abuses by religiously-based insurgent groups and/or governments imposing religious strictures, Islamic or otherwise, in violation of human rights law. Sometimes the people whose rights we defend may not share each other’s views — but they all have human rights, and all human rights are worth defending.

  51. Faisal says...

    Here’s Joan Smith from today’s Indy:

    Begg’s enthusiasm for the Taliban is shared by another British Muslim who went to see the regime for himself: “They were amazing people. People who loved Allah. They were soft, kind and humble to the Muslims, harsh against their enemies. This is how an Islamic state should be.”

    That is the verdict of Omar Khyam, now serving life for his part in a plot to blow up the Bluewater shopping centre and the Ministry of Sound nightclub (chosen, don’t forget, because it was likely to be full of “slags” enjoying themselves). Khyam appears on the Cageprisoners website, which says it exists “solely to raise awareness of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and other detainees held as part of the War on Terror”. He is in illustrious company: the site also lists Abu Qatada – once described by a Spanish judge as Osama bin Laden’s spiritual ambassador to Europe – and the notorious preacher of hate, Abu Hamza.

  52. Faisal says...

    In response to Amnesty’s statement, it is true to say that are more than willing to take cover behind a false dichotomy. Amnesty can easily highlight abuses against human rights without cuddling up to people who are seeking to abuse human rights themselves. Would you say that that is true?

  53. Andy Worthington says...

    So we were largely quoting the same things there, Faisal, and I don’t see anything that would require me to interpret Moazzam’s interest as anything other than hearing from “a prisoner held in the Middle East at the behest of the US,” which is central to Cageprisoners’ concerns regarding prisoners of the “War on Terror.”

  54. Faisal says...

    Failing to acknowledge concerns that Gita Sahgal and others have raised about those who sympathise with or have close connections with anti-democratic religious right forces in all religions including the Taliban, signals the view that Amnesty International is not concerned about the rights of women and sexual minorities or freedom of expression.

    From the Southall Black Sisters‘ and Women against Fundamentalism’s statement.

  55. Faisal says...

    Andy, yes we are quoting similar passages by Begg but there seems to be a world of difference in interpretation.

    You seem to find no problem with the fact that Begg legitimises al-Awlaki because he “neither shied away from talking about the Islamic concept of jihad (in military terms) nor from condemning the September 11 attacks and terrorism in general” and uses that as a cover for lionising him in public meetings, arranging for video hook-ups with Awlaki from Yemen and quoting him deferentially on the CP site.

    Other people, not least mainstream Muslims like myself, find that very disturbing indeed.

  56. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Faisal,
    Re: “Amnesty can easily highlight abuses against human rights without cuddling up to people who are seeking to abuse human rights themselves. Would you say that that is true?”

    Yes, but your inference is that Amnesty is “cuddling up to people who are seeking to abuse human rights themselves,” and I don’t believe that to be the case.

  57. Faisal says...

    Yes, but your inference is that Amnesty is “cuddling up to people who are seeking to abuse human rights themselves,” and I don’t believe that to be the case.

    Depends whether you hold the human rights position against torture and renditions trumps the humans rights of women and sexual minorities.

    It is of some concern if leading activists inside Amnesty International have erected some sort of hierarchy of human rights violations, with torture being a more heinous crime against humanity than, for example, deprivation of rights on the basis of gender. This sort of “triage” approach to human rights is perfectly mistaken and very dangerous.

    And in any case, that goes against Amnesty’s own position of a universalist human rights approach.

  58. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Faisal,
    Yes, but we’re not on the same page here. Your presumption is that Moazzam/Cage defend oppressors of women, whereas I don’t agree that that’s the case. We’re going round in circles. I’m happy to discuss this, but I can’t see that we’re going to end up anywhere.

  59. Keep up the good work says...

    I read Joan Smith’s appallingly misleading hack piece in today’s Indy and while researching the background to this issue came across your article on the

    I have attended two public events in Manchester where Moazzam Begg has spoken–I filmed both for Stop the War. I was impressed by his cool, calm, rational approach and so I was not taken in by Smith’s ridiculously misleading portrayal of Begg or by the highly selective and self-serving quotes (ripped out of context) from his book–which I bought. Unfortunately others may well be taken in by her nonsense through ignorance. I do hope that Moazzam responds.

    Of course, such a piece appearing in the Indy on the day as the Appeal Court decision on MI5 complicity in torture is purely coincidental you understand. Why wasn’t it on page 1? It is more important than the tedious revelations about Brown’s bad temper for God’s sake!

  60. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, “Keep up the good work.” I’m sure that Moazzam will respond, but I know that he has more pressing concerns at the moment. While all this has been going on, he’s been in Ireland, hoping to persuade the government to take more cleared prisoners from Guantanamo. Here are some relevant passages from a report in the Irish Times:

    THE GOVERNMENT has acted as a “beacon of light” in Europe for taking in two inmates from Guantánamo Bay, a former inmate turned human rights activist has said.

    Moazzam Begg, who was held in the US-run detention centre for about two years, told TDs on the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday that he would like to thank Ireland on behalf of Guantánamo inmates for opening its doors.

    Speaking to The Irish Times before the informal meeting, Mr Begg said Ireland was a role model and it should persuade other EU states to take in inmates to enable the detention centre to close.

    He said it was necessary to bring inmates into the country to “rehumanise them without great fanfare, without great publicity and help them pick up the pieces of their terrible shattered lives”.

    He criticised the use of Shannon airport for enabling the US and third countries to transport people illegally to detention centres where they often faced torture.

    “Whichever countries that have been involved in this process, they carry a burden, a share of the blame,” he said. “These countries need to be forthright and at the forefront of rectifying this.” […]

    Mr Begg denied he was a supporter of the Taliban or had engaged in terrorist activity, allegations made in some US news reports [and in the UK]. “I’ve always called for a dialogue with the Taliban. I’ve always said the only way forward — and the British government knows very well because of its experience in Northern Ireland — is negotiation.

    “Do I support terrorism? The answer is an unequivocal no,” Mr Begg added.

  61. ahmed errachidi says...

    hello andy
    i quote
    “Cageprisoners never has and never will support the ideology of killing innocent civilians, whether by suicide bombers or B52s, whether that’s authorised by Awlaki or by Obama. Neither will we be forced into determining a person’s guilt outside a recognised court of law.”
    thanks for these golden words.if the people in the uk read this quote with a free mind like yours then there will be peace and and equality in this world .
    i idmire your free mind and intelligence your comments are real educational thanks for that….as always..

  62. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Ahmed. I’m so glad you know where I’m coming from!

  63. Faisal says...


    “Yes, but we’re not on the same page here. Your presumption is that Moazzam/Cage defend oppressors of women, whereas I don’t agree that that’s the case. We’re going round in circles. I’m happy to discuss this, but I can’t see that we’re going to end up anywhere.”

    We’re not going to go anywhere because you have chosen, like Amnesty to view women’s rights to be of a lower qualitative value than human rights of the tortured. You have done that because you have wilfully chosen not to look into the view of Anwar al-Awlaki, who have been promoted by Cageprisoners.

    It is also interesting to note that Amnesty now acknowledge Moazzam Begg’s politics are problematic. Which is why their line of defence has changed from a defiant call to stay with Begg to this:

    He speaks about his own views and experiences, not Amnesty International’s. And Moazzam Begg has never used a platform he shared with Amnesty to speak against the rights of others.

    In other words, however appalling Begg’s views are, he didn’t advocate them on an Amnesty platform. However, what Amnesty has done is to promote the man itself, in spite of being aware of his views. And that is why Gita Sahgal was right to alert us to this appalling development.

  64. Andy Worthington says...

    Not at all, Faisal. That’s why we’re going round and round. I haven’t “chosen, like Amnesty to view women’s rights to be of a lower qualitative value than human rights of the tortured,” and I haven’t “wilfully chosen not to look into the view of Anwar al-Awlaki.” I’ve explained myself above, but the problem with this essentially adversarial type of argument is that you think you’re right, and attempt to justify your views, and I think I’m right, and attempt to justify mine. Who’s the arbiter? Well, your friends agree with you, and mine agree with me.

  65. Faisal says...

    I think this is bigger than either you or I, Andy. I think the best comment on this so far has been by Rahila Gupta:

    This is no ordinary spat between two individuals and an organisation. It is an attempt to tease out the contradictions that bedevil the human rights debate in this country. In the campaign to achieve human rights, whose human rights get privileged? In the attempt to redress the balance, liberal-left thinking correctly identifies Muslims as the underdogs, especially those who have been terrorised by the state in its war on terror agenda. But beyond that, we need a more sophisticated response so that the human rights of even more powerless groups, such as women and sexual minorities, do not get trampled once again.

  66. Deepak Tripathi says...

    Gita Sahgal has had her moment of ‘glory’. Moazzam Begg’s story concerns much bigger issues and he will continue to be in public life. A tragic error of judgment on Sahgal’s part.

  67. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for getting in touch, Deepak. Your perspective is appreciated.

  68. Tom Friedman, Yemen the new Waziristan | Tea Break says...

    […] Report Blames White House’s First Year Failures on Emanuel and the Obama’s Inner Circle Defending Moazzam Begg and Amnesty International Altogether … the big push in Afghanistan Black sites in the empire of bases THE ROVING EYE : […]

  69. Tom Friedman, Yemen the new Waziristan | Tea Break says...

    […] Report Blames White House’s First Year Failures on Emanuel and the Obama’s Inner Circle Defending Moazzam Begg and Amnesty International Altogether … the big push in Afghanistan Black sites in the empire of bases THE ROVING EYE : […]

  70. Amnesty, Moazzam Begg, Gita Sahgal – Link roundup « Earwicga says...

    […] February 2010 Defending Moazzam Begg and Amnesty International  Andy […]

  71. Andy Worthington says...

    This was posted by Tim on The Public Record:

    I thought this article was brilliant. I would like to pick up on one point:
    ‘’Nick Cohen set up a ridiculous Facebook group,
    “Amnesty International You Bloody Hypocrites Reinstate Gita Sahgal,”
    Below is a cut and paste of from that very group:
    (it will still be on the group if you search on FB)

    To Nick and Martin – can ground rules be placed to prevent schneurs cluttering the place up. This is a Group in *defense* of Sahgal. Individuals are welcome to respond to such posts, but to post repeated naysaying posts, they come across as the sort of freeloaders who think the freedoms they consider their rights are negotiable for Muslims.
    Wed at 1:33pm • Comment •LikeUnlike • View Feedback (2)Hide Feedback (2) • Report
    Nick Cohen
    Done comrade
    Wed at 10:30pm •

    Nick Cohen responds – Done comrade. Then the majority of posts against Gita actions are deleted. (hypocrites?) What gets me is the phase:
    ”freeloaders who think the freedoms they consider their rights are negotiable for Muslims’’
    (‘freeloaders’ being the people who didn’t agree with the group, whose posts were deleted.)
    I keep reading it, again and again, thinking do they mean all Muslims, everywhere? What if some of these ‘freeloaders’ are Muslims? What about Muslims who work for AI who defend the same freedoms and rights as the freeloaders or the people who posted the post? Is a blatant anti-Muslim statement about what Muslims consider rights? Or is a very lazy attack on fundamentalism? It’s obviously what Nick feels is right as he later pastes the exact same as I have above into his own explanation as to why the deleted posts.
    To be honest, I don’t understand it, but it does leave a very bitter taste in my mouth, not sure why…anyone care to comment?

  72. Rachel Davenport says...

    Andy, I hope you will take a good look at the petition in support of Gita Sahgal on the site
    yes, Nick Cohen signed it, and no doubt some others of questionable reputation, but notice how many, many of the signatories are South Asian, and if you look at some of the websites, represent human rights and secular groups. Take some time to look at some of these sites. These are not ‘Islamophobes’. These are the people whose voices are rarely heard, but who know Gita Sahgal through her decades of work. They are capable of holding a nuanced position, as Gita does: defending the victims of the War on Terror but also taking a critical stance against authoritarian religious movements. Yes, it took some time for the news to spread around the world and to set up this petition and in the meantime rightwingers rushed to associate themselves with Gita. But they will be disappointed. If you read the statement you will see the it is far from rightwing, Islamophobic, racist-friendly, and all the other ill-informed insults you flung at Gita. I hope you will acknowledge your mistake.

  73. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Rachel,
    My issue is not with Gita Sahgal’s integrity, nor with that of other South Asia experts. Rather, my problem with her criticism is that I know, from my experience of Moazzam, that he is not an extremist, and that, most crucially, his work aims at defusing extremism. He was always the biggest nightmare for the Bush administration, because he has always been calm and eloquent, and has refused to suggest that anger is an adequate response to the “War on Terror.” I sincerely believe that those criticizing him and Cageprisoners need to reflect on that.
    Furthermore, the compilers of the petition might also want to reflect on the fact that the support of Nick Cohen, Rod Liddle etc. undermines the credibility of those supporting Gita Sahgal, as these people have a clear anti-Muslim agenda that can only lead objective commentators to conclude that Gita and her supporters do too — and that,as a result, human rights are not for Muslims.
    I’m afraid that, when it comes to alliances, criticism cuts both ways, and whatever Gita hoped to achieve will fail if she does not distance herself from being a “poster girl” for these people.

  74. Rachel Davenport says...

    I hope that Gita will distance herself from Rid Liddle, Nick Cohen, etc.

    But I need to ask you who is allowed to speak for Muslims – only the groups you associate with, not the individual Muslims and groups who have signed the petition? You do good work, but maybe you need to broaden your experience of Muslims to discover that many do not believe that criticism of conservative Islam is the same as being anti-Muslim.

  75. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Rachel,
    Of course I understand that criticism of conservative Islam is not the same as being anti-Muslim, and I would not, for a minute, want to pretend that I have any right — or need — to ask Muslims not to criticize various manifestations of their faith. Where I think the confusion arises is in Cageprisoners’ work defending the rights of all Muslims held in the “War on Terror” versus the personal beliefs of those in the organization, and it is here that serious errors are being made. I know for a fact that Moazzam, Asim and other members of Cageprisoners do not represent repressive elements of “conservative Islam” in their personal lives.
    What we’ve ended up with here is a situation in which Moazzam and Cageprisoners are being regarded as hard-line Wahhabis — or, even more worryingly, Salafists — when there is simply no evidence that this is the case.

  76. Richard Crossin says...

    I have read Sahgal’s piece and now, your response. She is right. You and Amnesty are being duped, acting as apologists for a man actively supports armed jihad, sharia and dar islam.

  77. Freeman says...

    I’ll never give another cent to Amnesty International following this incident. To share a platform with an extremist who’d grossly abuse the rights of women, religious minorities and gays if ever given the chance represents such a low point for AI that one wonders if they even understand what the term “rights abuses” even means. Begg represents a Far Right totalitarian ideology (gussied up as religion) that has more in common with nazis than with progressivism. AI has shot itself in the foot. It is more interested in getting a jab in at America than it is with defending human rights. Shame on them.

  78. Salman Rushdie Accuses Amnesty International of “Moral Bankruptcy” « Prison Photography says...

    […] Worthington looks at every angle, but states at the outset that Sahgal and the Rupert Murdoch owned Times may have been pursuant of an “editorial policy”: That Sahgal also chose to air her complaints in the Sunday Times, a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoc… […]

  79. Uditi Sen says...

    Dear Andy,

    “I may have my doubts about the wisdom of trying to bring enlightenment to the Taliban, but then I’m not able to look at this from a Muslim perspective.” This is shocking. Are you suggesting that ‘Muslims’ due to their different ‘perspective’ are more suited to repressive regimes? Or does the mere fact of being ‘Muslim’ give you a different perspective? Or a deeper understanding?

    Hundreds of Muslims have said many times, that there is nothing ‘Islamic’ about the Taliban. Highly respected Islamic scholar Sarfraz Naeemi was murdered by the Taliban for daring to say so openly. How dare you suggest that a ‘Muslim’ perspective might make the Taliban more appropriate, understandable? If you are indeed involved in an issue, take the trouble to educate yourself, to know the difference between religious faith and an invented tradition, which is the abuse of faith.

    Such an argument is a slight on the religion of Islam, a slight on the people of the region who have suffered this abomination. There is no one true ‘Muslim’ perspective- to even suggest that there is one, is to essentialise a rich and diverse religion and give more power to the fundamentalists. And ‘I am not a Muslim’ is the weakest excuse I have ever heard for a refusal of full engagement!

    Such liberal ‘tolerance’ in the name of religious plurality smacks of racism to me, which reserves liberal values as a ‘Western’ concept and chooses to ignore those who have globally fought and died for the cause of liberty and equality, and continue to do so, and many amongst them are Muslim!

    Why does Amnesty not champion Malalai Joya? Or is her perspective not ‘Muslim’ enough?


  80. Left of the Taliban « Action for a Progressive Pakistan says...

    […] Some have taken the view that Sahgal is an upstanding activist wrongly penalized by Amnesty while others argue that she is leveraging rampant Islamophobia for her […]

  81. Left of the Taliban | The Mob and the Multitude says...

    […] Some have taken the view that Sahgal is an upstanding activist wrongly penalized by Amnesty while others argue that she is leveraging rampant Islamophobia for her […]

  82. Pummy says...

    Andy Worthington starts and ands his article with ad-hominum attacks and fills it with other logical fallacies.

    When US Army soldiers become wistle blowers they are heros but when an supposed voluterr of a morally bankrupt organization blows wistle she is accused of violating the terms of employment. Sehgal owes her job to people who donate to AI and not to its management and its donors expect its employes people to stand for human rights and righteousness.

  83. Links 11/2/10 « Enemies of Reason says...

    […] Andy Worthington – Defending Moazzam Begg and Amnesty International. […]

  84. John Magne Trane says...

    Its prison-break season: Iraq, Libya and now Pakistan: Taliban militants storm prison and free hundreds. #GTMO next, please!

    Moazzam Begg 30 Jul 13

    Small wonder Salman Rushdie thinks Amnesty only deserve contempt.

  85. arcticredriver says...

    Andy you must have seen that Moazzam Begg and three other individuals were arrested in the last couple of days, with various allegations connected to the terrible civil war in Syria.

    Five or six years ago there were four Christian missionairies who were kidnapped and held captive. One Brit, one Yank, and two Canadians. Both Moazzam Begg and Abu Qatada called upon the kidnappers to let the captives go. I thought that went a long way to countering those who claimed that Begg really had been a dangerous militant, all along, who had been released anyhow due to ill-informed public pressure. I was sorry that Zaynab Khadr hadn’t also called upon those kidnappers, with a plea based on her personal experience of having family members disappear into secret detention.

    I just googled his name, and although almost all the recent news reports were about his recent arrest, one report that showed up was from the Birmingham Mail, entitled Government set to make payments to former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg: Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg is set to receive a compensation payout totalling millions of pounds from the British government.

    It says that the confidential terms of a settlement worth millions of pounds had been agreed to and his first payment was imminent. Is it possible this is a frivolous charge from rogue elements in the UK justice system, trying to frame him, and unfairly ruin his reputation, out of anger over this imminent settlement?

    Wait a second, google hiccuped, the dateline on that story was November 2010.

    With regard to which kinds of interest in and support for anti-Assad elements in Syria constitute terrorism — during the Spanish Civil War, Germany and Italy openly provided troops for the right-wing Franco rebels. But the UK, France, and other countries put legal or administrative road blocks in the way of foreign volunteers who traveled to Spain to fight fascism. George Orwell had to jump the border in order to volunteer with POUM. I had a sweet old Professor emeritus, who had volunteered in Spain and fought with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

    Are there grounds for countries to restrict their citizens from enlisting to fight in foreign wars as private citizens? I don’t know. But I question making a blanket characterization that any such volunteering is equivalent to terrorism. I sat down with my Professor, and asked him about what it was like fighting with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, and, as I recall, he didn’t observe any atrocities. So, he wasn’t a terrorist.

    About six years ago the dreadful Ann Coulter was interviewed by a seasoned CBC journalist. Like almost all Americans, she showed she hadn’t done her homework on Canada. Among her provocative comments was one where she said something like, “What’s wrong with Canada? Why aren’t you our ally in Iraq? You used to be one of the good guys. You were on our side during the War in Vietnam”

    The interviewer corrected her, informing her that Canada was neutral, during the war in Vietnam.

    Typical for a right-wing commentator from the USA, she became even more pompous, and said she knew Canadian troops had fought beside American units in Vietnam.

    The next day that Canadian news covered her gaff, and her spin doctors claimed her statements had been edited out of context, and that what she meant was that tens of thousands of Canadian citizens had privately traveled to the USA, and enlisted in the US Armed Service, and had seen duty in Vietnam.

    I would assert that unless a Canadian volunteer had actually participated in an atrocity in Vietnam, or had helped cover one up, it would be completely unreasonable to characterize him as a terrorist.

    Is it possible that little old Swiss widow might donate part of her widow’s mite to aid widows and orphans in Syria, only to have some tricky guy subvert what she thought was a legitimate charity, to support fighters in Syria. Sure. Donors have to be on watch for this. And if Moazzam Begg was helping manage charitable funds that was supposed to be providing humanitarian aid to Syria, he should have been on watch for this kind of subversion. I would argue with anyone claiming her donation made the widow a terrorist, although I would agree the Swiss tax man should deny her a charitable deduction.

    I have seen discussions where donors were trying to claim that donations of tents, or medical supplies, were humanitarian aid, and those trying to demonize them either claimed that fighters might sleep in those tents, benefit from those medical supplies, or that fighters would sleep in those tents, benefit from those medical supplies.

    Should the UK have made it difficult, or illegal for George Orwell to try to help the Republicans, Spain’s legitimate elected Government, fight against Franco, a fascist coup leader? I think there are probably still people who would argue that the UK had an obligation to try and stop Orwell, and others like him, and a failure to try could have enabled Franco to declare the UK an enemy.

    But there is an aspect of the whole Spanish Civil War, and the large commitment Germany and Italy made to help Franco, that I have never seen commented upon. Italy wasn’t Germany’s only ally to field troops in Europe. Finns and Romanians and a couple of other right wing European nations fielded Divisions on the Eastern Front. So why didn’t Franco, who had the largest obligation to Hitler and Mussolini, join the Axis? Why did Spain remain neutral?

    My guess is that Franco remembered what tough determined fighters the American, Canadian, UK and French volunteers had been during the Spanish Civil War, remembered that there had only been ten or twenty thousand of them, and that they had not had modern equipment, and that he was genuinely afraid of the consequences of engaging Spanish troops against whole armies of well equipped American, Canadian, UK and French soldiers.

  86. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. I have to say that I don’t believe it’s appropriate to making any kind of blanket characterizations of what people are doing when they visit war zones or generally demonized countries, as is clear from what happened at Guantanamo, when there were definitely humanitarian aid workers and missionaries, in significant numbers, amongst the Taliban foot soldiers.
    I’ve been speaking about Moazzam over the last few days – to Voice of Russia yesterday, and to Andrea Sears today, and will post links when available, but basically I find it hard to believe that someone so scrutinised would engage in anything that could be construed as terrorism, and nor does my knowledge of Moazzam indicate that such a thing is likely.

  87. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks, that is reassuring.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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