Alarm as Proposals Emerge to Send ISIS Prisoners to Guantánamo, and the UK Strips “ISIS Bride” of Her Citizenship


"ISIS brides" Shamima Begum and Hoda Muthana (composite image by Ozy).Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.


I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

17 years after the US tore up international and domestic laws and treaties regarding the treatment of prisoners, in the “war on terror” that George W. Bush declared in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and which led to the establishment of CIA “black sites” and the prison at Guantánamo Bay, those decisions continue to cast a baleful shadow on notions of domestic and international justice.

A case in point concerns foreign nationals seized during the horrendous war in Syria over the last eight years. 

From the start of his presidency, Donald Trump made it clear that he wanted to send new prisoners to Guantánamo, and those involved in Daesh (more commonly referred to in the West as ISIS or the Islamic State) were particularly singled out.

Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed, and the proposals came to nothing. Some of those advising Trump pointed out that it seemed probable that a new Congressional authorization would be required to send prisoners to Guantánamo who were not explicitly involved with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or the 9/11 attacks, and, in any case, others recognized that Guantánamo was no place to send anyone if there was any intention of delivering anything resembling justice.

Set up to be beyond the reach of the US courts, Guantánamo was a place where the Bush administration undertook torture and other forms of abuse in a failed effort to secure actionable intelligence, and has ended up warehousing men that it doesn’t fundamentally know how to deal with. In the meantime, its few efforts at pursuing justice at the prison have made it something of an international laughing stock. The military commissions, set up by Dick Cheney, discredited by the Supreme Court, and ill-advisedly revived twice by Congress — once under Bush, and once, to his shame, under Barack Obama — have proven incapable of delivering anything resembling justice at Guantánamo, while the federal courts, in contrast, have a long and uninterrupted record of successfully prosecuting those accused of terrorism.

However, since Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw US troops from Syria, there has also been discussion — again — of sending some of the foreign fighters held there to Guantánamo. A senior State Department official told ABC News, “Our preferred first option would certainly be repatriation and prosecution, keeping [foreign fighters] locked up in countries of origin when possible, where possible. But when countries aren’t willing to take responsibility for their own citizens that went and fought for the Islamic State, if they are high-value detainees, and members of ISIS leadership, then we’re going to make certain that they remain off the battlefield. One way of doing that might include sending them to Gitmo.”

While four Senators — including the notoriously aggressive Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark) — have written to Donald Trump urging him to send ISIS fighters to Guantánamo, many other voices are opposed. “The United States can’t be the world’s jailer,” Raha Wala, the director of National Security Advocacy at Human Rights First, said. He added that some countries have said that “they don’t want to cooperate with the US on counter-terrorism issues if the result is sending a detainee to Guantánamo,” as ABC News described it. Wala also spelled out how Guantánamo “has not only been a moral abomination but also a legal and policy disaster for the United States.”

To add to the alarm that mention of bringing new prisoners to Guantánamo brings, the chatter about the ISIS prisoners also raises fundamental questions about nationality and national responsibilities.

The UK and citizenship-stripping in the case of Shamima Begum

In Britain this week, there has been widespread concern after the home secretary, Sajid Javid, stated his intention to strip Shamima Begum of her citizenship. Begum, a British citizen, was just 15 when she traveled to Syria after being indoctrinated to join ISIS. Now aged 19, she is living in a refugee camp in Syria, has just given birth to a child, and has asked to be brought back to the UK.

Javid’s decision is so alarming not just because of Begum’s age, and therefore her lack of responsibility for her actions (adults are supposed to be held responsible for the decisions taken by juveniles — those under 18), but also because, by stripping her of her citizenship, he is making her stateless, a situation that is, to be blunt, completely unacceptable.

In case anyone needs reminding — not least Sajid Javid — it is illegal under international law to remove someone’s citizenship if doing so makes them stateless. As the barrister David Anderson, who previously served as a reviewer of the UK’s anti-terror legislation, pointed out to Al-Jazeera, “Those born as British citizens who are not dual nationals cannot be stripped of their citizenship in any circumstances” — and many, many other public figures, including lawyers, academics, politicians and journalists, have made their opposition to Javid’s decision clear. 

Shiraz Maher, the director of the International Centre for Study of Radicalization at King’s College London, told the BBC’s Newsnight, “I think it’s a very dangerous decision, it does create this perception that there is a two-tier system and a system that’s frankly racist. And this is the perception that occurring in Muslim communities across the country. It’s a dangerous situation the Home Secretary has created.” 

However, Javid evidently believes that a section of the 1981 British Nationality Act, and further legislation passed in 2002, allows him to remove citizenship if he can show that the person in question has behaved “in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK,” and that he has “reasonable grounds for believing that the person is able, under the law of a country or territory outside the UK, to become a national of such a country or territory.” 

In Begum’s case, that country is Bangladesh, but, although her parents are of Bangladeshi heritage, she has never even visited Bangladesh, and the Bangladeshi government has announced that it has no obligation — or intention — to accept her as a citizen. In addition, of course, there is something deeply disturbing about politicians claiming the right to extra-judicially strip someone of their citizenship because he or she regards their behaviour as “seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the U.K.,” without having to explain why he or she thinks that a girl who is not actually accused of horrific crimes herself, only of sympathizing with those regarded as terrorists, constitutes such a threat that she must be stripped of her citizenship.

Five years ago, I was disturbed to discover that Theresa May, when she was home secretary, was involved in enthusiastically stripping dual nationals of their British citizenship — and, in two cases, when they were in Syria, telling the US where they were so that they could be killed in drone strikes. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism established that 41 individuals had been stripped of their British nationality since legislation was passed enabling it in 2002, and that 37 of these cases had taken place under Theresa May.

That was thoroughly shocking, but in general, whilst it is appalling for the British government to suggest that they can strip dual nationals of their citizenship whenever it suits them — and without any judicial process being involved —  mention of stripping British citizens born in Britain of their nationality — in other words, making them stateless — has been both rarer and more contentious.

However, last year, when the last two members of a British quartet of alleged Daesh killers, dubbed “the Beatles,” were captured and stripped of their British citizenship, no one seemed to notice that, although one of the men, El Shafee Elsheikh, had moved to the UK from Sudan with his family in the 1990s, the other man, Alexanda Kotey, although generally described as having “a Ghanaian and Cypriot background,” was born in Britain, and was therefore made stateless when his citizenship was stripped.

What will happen to the ISIS fighters held in Syria?

In addition, Britain is not the only country playing dangerous games with the law when it comes to ISIS fighters, their wives and their children. As the so-called caliphate has collapsed, with ISIS fighters “making their last stand in an area smaller than one sq km in the eastern desert near the border with Iraq,” in the Guardian’s words, it has become clear that, as the paper described it, “About 500 battle-hardened fighters are thought to be defending the remains of the caliphate and most are highly motivated foreign nationals who are ideologically committed to fighting until the end. Most local Isis recruits from Syria and Iraq are believed to have slipped back into the general population.”

As the Guardian also explained, “At least 1,000 foreign nationals, including at least 14 British citizens, suspected of being Isis members are held in prisons and camps in north Syria, having been captured by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) over the last three years.” Furthermore, “About 1,500 with links to the group are being held at displacement camps, often in appalling conditions. They are from more than 40 countries and some have been held for at least two years.” When Donald Trump tweeted about the prisoners last weekend, he stated that “over 800” foreign troops were still held,  a number now reduced, as 150 Iraqi-born ISIS fighters were repatriated last week. As ABC News put it, US officials believe that “less than 10 percent of the current detainees” can be considered as “high-value” prisoners.

The situation on the ground is evidently complicated, because the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who are holding ISIS suspects, are “a major western ally but a non-state actor,” in the Guardian’s words. As a result, foreign governments are severely constrained in providing any kind of consular assistance.

Nevertheless, as the Guardian explained, “Some governments, including the US and Russia, have repatriated men, women and children for trial or rehabilitation programmes” (with the US to date bringing back 16 fighters, 13 of whom have been prosecuted in federal court), while the French government has said that it will assess its nationals on a case by case basis. Three weeks ago, the French justice minister, Nicole Belloubet, told French radio that, as the Guardian described it, “the government would rather keep track of jihadists than risk them evading justice.” As she said, “We’ve made a choice, which is that we prefer control, which means a return to France.” 

Last weekend, the US “called on European nations and other countries to repatriate and prosecute their citizens who travelled to Syria to join” ISIS, but, just days after, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signified that the US had jumped on the citizenship-stripping bandwagon, when he stated that Hoda Muthana, a US citizen who had traveled from Alabama to join ISIS, and now regretted her decision and wanted to return home with her 18-month old son, was not actually a US citizen. As Al-Jazeera explained, “A lawyer for Muthana’s family, Hassan Shibly, said the administration’s position was based on a ‘complicated’ interpretation of the law involving her father.” Shibly told the Associated Press, “They’re claiming her dad was a diplomat when she was born, which, in fact, he wasn’t.” As Al-Jazeera explained, “Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, a person born in the US to a foreign diplomatic officer is not subject to US law and is not automatically considered a US citizen at birth.”

However, this one example from the US, while significant in and of itself, doesn’t match the UK’s blanket hardline approach, which, in particular, smacks of the horrible kind of racism that has been so prevalent in Tory political discourse since the EU referendum in 2016, and that, as I explained when Theresa May became the party’s leader, is an intrinsic part of her thoroughly unpleasant personality.

Nevertheless, whichever way the situation develops over the coming weeks and months, it’s clear that everyone everywhere who cares about the rule of law and the inviolability of citizenship needs to keep a close eye on this evolving story.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in 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), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, the resistance continues.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

18 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    In my latest article, I examine the disturbing rumors that, as Donald Trump pledges to withdraw US troops from Syria, and hundreds of foreign fighters have been identified in the custody of anti-ISIS forces, his administration is, yet again, is suggesting that some of these prisoners might be brought to Guantanamo, which is, of course, an absolutely unacceptable notion.

    I also examine other alarming developments related to these prisoners – in particular, the citizenship-stripping measures taken by the UK, where home secretary Sajid Javid has stripped the citizenship of Shamima Begum, a young woman who was just 15 when, indoctrinated, she traveled to Syria and became a so-called “ISIS bride.” This is an outrageous and thoroughly alarming move, because Begum is a British national, and will be made stateless if Javid’s plans proceed, and it is illegal under international law to remove someone’s citizenship if doing so makes them stateless.

    Following on from this wretched display of contempt for citizens’ fundamental and inviolable rights, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has followed suit, seeking to prevent the return to the US of another “ISIS bride”, US citizen Hoda Muthana – despite the US, to date, having brought 16 US-born fighters back from Syria, and prosecuting 13 of them.

    If you care about justice, I hope you’re paying close attention to this still-unfolding story with its genuinely quite perilous sub-text about our rights.

  2. Tom says...

    Should Shamima Begum lose her citizenship? She’s been in interviews where she clearly says she has no problem with ISIS ideas (including beheading). Current law says “supporting” terrorist groups is a crime. Specifically how?:

    Participating in murders, torture. Of course.
    Expressing your beliefs. As sick as her views are, if you jail her only on these, what’s next? Many of the Tory right wingers would love to have this as legally broad as possible.

    Extradite her back to the UK. Prosecute her and have her do jail time. She did travel to Syria on a stolen passport. That’s a 10 year jail sentence. What’s the maximum possible sentence in this case? I don’t know.

  3. Tom says...

    Why does Congress continue to give Trump more defense money than he asks for? Because they’re scared to death of being labeled as “soft on terrorism”. In addition, all that matters to the Democrats is winning the White House and Senate. After Mueller’s report is released, it could be censored or released redacted by the new Attorney General. What then if Trump isn’t indicted and impeached? The “custom” is for current or former Presidents to never be prosecuted. Indict a sitting President? No chance. To the Democrats, nothing can be allowed to cost them the White House. If this means keeping Guantanamo open forever, so be it. Besides, bureaucracy never gives up their money.

  4. Tom says...

    Remember Jose Padilla? He was tortured and will now be insane for life.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom. I don’t know the maximum permissible sentence either, but it’s absolutely essential that she is brought back home, and that no more claims are made that certain people – Muslims, accused of supporting terrorism – are no longer singled out as being somehow sub-human. No one is.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    That’s a sadly accurate analysis of how politics operates in the US, Tom. But we still need to get to a place where there are people in power prepared to listen to those of us pointing out why it is so important for Guantanamo to be closed, which is simply not the case under Trump. Obama may not have close did, but for eight years there were some in the administration who knew at least what a conscience was.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Oh, I never forget Jose Padilla, Tom – a US citizen tortured by his own government as an “enemy combatant” on the US mainland until he lost his mind:

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m doing some additional research into citizenship-stripping, and wholeheartedly recommend this Guardian article from November by Kamila Shamsie – which includes the case of Mahdi Hashi, made stateless by the UK government in 2012, and which also explains, powerfully and eloquently, why, for far too many people, their UK citizenship is “contingent rather than assured”:

  9. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks Andy!

    As I was reading your article I was thinking about mentioning Hoda Muthana, and the highly questionable stripping of her US citizenship.

    One aspect of her story, and the stories of Jack Letts, Kimberley Gwen Polman, Nassima Begum, is it seems security officials, and practically everyone else, is prepared to summarily discount their descriptions of becoming disenchanted with ISIS, wanting to escape, and being unable to do so.

    I have long suspected that the Lackawanna Six weren’t real jihadists, that they may have simply been patriotic Americans first, and observant muslims second, who were tricked into enrolling at al Farouq’s training camp through the technique adverstizers call “bait and switch”. It sounded to me as if they thought they would be enjoying some male bonding, healthy exercise, get to shoot some guns, which all Americans love, and catch up on their prayers. Instead they found themselves in a hellhole where their instructors and some of their fellow trainees, expected them to turn traitor and denounce America.

    It sounds to me as if many of the teenagers targeted over social media were also victims of bait and switch. A couple of years ago I read about one UK teenager, who had been able to escape ISIS, who described being sorry almost as soon as she arrived.

    Like all teenagers, her smartphone was her constant companion. She had been persuaded to go to ISIS territory over her cell phone, through descriptions of the territory as almost a muslim paradise on Earth. She had no idea that her smartphone would be confiscated and that she would be confined in a guarded barracks of potential brides for the foreign jihadi fighters.

    Hoda Muthana didn’t have her cell phone confiscated, at first. She married her first jihadi fighter, and, not long after he was killed, she sent out messages over social media, calling on her fellow Americans to commit atrocities. Would those tweets make her vulnerable to a charge of “material support for terrorism”? Probably. She says she is prepared to face those charges.

    But she also says she is repentant. She was sick, and pregnant, and alone, and felt homesick for America, and became disenchanted with America. She says later tweets sent from her social media accounts were sent by others, after her phone had been confiscated.

    In some ways some of these women are like Patty Hearst. Some of them seem to have started off as victims of a cruel bait and switch, then went through a Stockholm Syndrome phase, where they identified with their captor’s ideology, and learned to spout it, as if it were their own. Some of these women, including maybe Shamima Begum, are still stuck in this phase. Others genuinely seem to have realized how cruel and indefensible the ISIS ideology was.

    People who were sympathetic to young vapid socialite Patty Hearst, when she was kidnapped by leftist kooks were mystified when she appeared on the video of a bank’s security camera, toting a gun, during a bank robbery, as if she had joined them. Her kidnappers died, when an attempt to capture them was made. But Hearst was elsewhere, was eventually captured, charged, tried, and convicted, for her role in the bank robbery.

    I was going to write that Hearst was convicted, but given a light sentence. However, I looked it up. She got out after 22 months because Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence. Clinton pardoned her, freeing her of remaining restrictions on her freedom, on his last day in office.

    Well, if individuals who were in ISIS territory, for whom there is evidence they recruited more followers, or performed other acts that are short of being a jihadi fighter, brutal guard, or executioner, are going to be charged with “material support for terrorism”, what kind of sentence best serves public safety?

    I realize that a lot of people would like to see those for whom there is no proof they commited a crime nevertheless have their freedoms restricted, as if they were on parole. They would like their mail, email, and social media to be monitored, their phones tapped, etc. I don’t see any legal mechanism, any legal justification, for that.

    For its first few years the Saudi rehabilitation program was seen as overwhelmingly successful, until a half dozen of the Saudis in the tenth block of repatriatees were key founding members of AQAP… But in Saudi Arabia the King was able to force all Guantanamo repatriatees to attend that program, and submit to monitoring, even though they had not been convicted of any crime.

    If we stick by 800 years of common law freedoms, those returning from ISIS territory, for whom there is no evidence, or insufficent evidence, to justify laying charges, will they go free, with no explicit restrictions?

  10. arcticredriver says...

    I am frankly shocked at the willingness to strip young people of citizenship, when they seem to have become radicalized while living in the UK, or the USA.

    Since World War 2, every so often, there is a case where an elderly man who immigrated to Canada, or the US, from Europe, is accused of hiding the fact that he worked as an SS prison guard, or committed some other war time atrocity. Stripping them of citizenship, prior to extradition, is one of options we considered. It is a choice I thought was justified, as they would have had to lie on their citizenship application. We would never have given citizenship to an SS prison guard. They got their citizenship under false pretense, a valid reason to rescind that citizenship. Plus lying on your citizenship application is a crime, another valid reason to rescind citizenship.

    But it is pretty common now to read arguments for rescinding the citizenship of ethnically Arab young people who immigrated with their parents, when they were kids, and the crimes they are accused of occurred long after they became citizens.

    A couple of decades ago the USA deported tens of thousands of young offenders, who were born in Latin America, back to the countries were they were born. Some of these young men didn’t even speak Spanish. It was a disaster for their home countries, as these young men founded some of the most violent gangs on Planet Earth.

    I may have mentioned that some hot-heads have demanded that the Khadr siblings should all be stripped of citizenship, and sent back where they came from — apparently unaware that except for Abdurahman, all the Khadr siblings were born in Canada.

  11. Tom says...

    Hopefully this won’t result in some type of right wing crackdown on having multiple citizenships. I’ve met and heard of people with 3 citizenships. How is that possible? As long as there are no legal conflicts, it will continue to happen. My experience has been citizenship is a very private thing. Aside from Immigration, it’s nobody else’s business.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, as ever, for your considered thoughts, arcticredriver.

    I’d particularly like to thank you for mentioning three other people caught up in the West’s indefensible lack of interest in securing the return of their citizens:

    – Jack Letts, 23, an Oxford-raised, suspected ISIS fighter, who is half-British, half-Canadian, and is currently in a Kurdish prison:
    – Kimberley Gwen Polman, 46, half-American, half-Canadian, an “ISIS bride” who had studied legal administration in Canada:
    (The Times article noted that, in interviews, both Hoda Muthana and Polman “said there was a family of four sisters from Seattle, with four children, who were being detained in a separate camp,” and the Times also noted, “A small number of Americans — as few as 59, according to data tracked by the George Washington University Program on Extremism — are known to have traveled to Syria to join ISIS. Nearly all the American men captured in battle have been repatriated, but it is unclear why some of the American women and their children — at least 13 known to The Times — have not been.”)
    – Nassima Begum, 29, a mother-of-four from London, interviewed by the Daily Telegraph, who traveled to Syria with her husband. “Some of the women here believe in Isil ideology, I can promise you I am not one of them,” she said, adding, “My husband didn’t want to stay in the UK, he wanted us to live in an Islamic country. The plan was to go to Saudi Arabia but then he decided on Syria. I had no choice but to follow him.” The Telegraph also reported, “She claimed to have been a housewife, who ‘couldn’t even point to Syria on a map’ when the family moved here in 2012 – before Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s caliphate was declared two years later.”
    (The Telegraph also spoke to Reema Iqbal from Newham, in east London, who “left her home in June 2013 with her Portuguese husband and sister Zara, 28, who is now being held in a nearby camp.” The Paper added, “Reports suggest her husband Celso Rodrigues Da Costa, a former Harrods sales assistant, appeared in Isil propaganda videos and was a member of a notorious cell involved in the kidnapping and murder of western hostages.” Iqbal said, “The security services came to speak to me and I was honest, I told them my whole story so now it’s up to them to judge.”)

    So I notice that in two of these cases there are dual nationality issues, allowing the governments in question to, presumably, pass the buck to each other if they don’t want their citizens back. I do find it completely unacceptable, though. I think there’s no question that the wives should be repatriated, and prosecuted if there are grounds for doing so, and that the former fighters should also, in general, be returned and prosecuted, unless they’ve been tried and imprisoned in the Middle East – although in those cases too they should be returned when their sentence ends. There’s simply no justification for Western countries washing their hands of their own citizens, and, of course, simply abandoning foreign fighters, by stripping them of their citizenship, only makes it much more likely that they will end up being a threat in the future, as the French government seems to have recognized.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. Yes, lying to secure citizenship remains the only legal route to citizenship-stripping that I recognize. The recent, 9/11-derived additions – of “not being conducive to the public good” or similar phrases – are, in contrast, an open invitation for authoritarian politicians to act like tyrants.
    For as long as I can remember, those “send them home” racists have looked ridiculous when they targets of their attacks have been born in the county whose citizenship they bear. Sadly, this new trend suggests that this security now only applies if you don’t travel abroad, because if you do travel abroad, and a politician doesn’t want you to return, he can extrajudicially strip you of your citizenship.
    To return to the “ISIS brides” and the fighters in Syria, the situation we’re at now is that some countries are treating citizens’ very presence in Syria as “proof” that they should all be made stateless – and that really is too alarming a position to be allowed to stand.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Tom. I think the right is already cracking down – in the UK, at least – by presenting, quite openly, a position in which they regard dual nationals as inherently suspicious and inferior to those who are “purely” British (in other words, whose diverse ethnic origins are more clouded by the passage of time, because, of course, we’re all immigrants!). I really do recommend the article I linked to yesterday by Kamila Shamsie, ‘Exiled: the disturbing story of a citizen made unBritish’:

  15. arcticredriver says...

    Andy, I wasn’t sure if I had mentioned Australian Zaky Mallah’s story before. I started to recount it, but then used google, to confirm I had mentioned him, in 2017.

    Uh-oh. The version of his story I offered today differed slightly, from the version I offered two years ago.

    The key point is that he suggested, and the Australian Justice system eventually concurred, that someone could go to a warzone, for humanitarian purposes, without breaking Australia’s law barring Australians from going to warzones to become a fighter.

    If I understand Jack Letts’ story, he claims he didn’t travel to Daesh/ISIS occupied territory to be a fighter. He wanted to be citizen-journalist blogger. He said he tried to escape, and failed. I find his story believable. And, I think it is pretty clear, there is no evidence that he had ever been a fighter. His poor parents face charges because they sent him money so he could try to bribe his way out of there. Prosecutors claimed that this bribe money “supported terrorism”.

    How many military age foreigners do those camps contain, who claim to have been duped, who claim they never served as fighters, similar to Jack Letts? Couldn’t some of them, maybe a majority of them, be lying, be former foreign fighters who are gambling they never appeared in a war video? Yes, if there are guys in a similar position to Letts they may be lying about whether they were ever fighters. Security officials may be sure they are lying, and be unable to prove it.

    In retrospect, the job of security officials would have been a lot easier if, instead of passing a law like Australia’s, that barred travelling to a war zone, to engage in hostilities, the UK, the USA, Austalia, NZ, European countries, had all passed laws that barred their citizens from traveling to ISIS/Daesh territory, for any purpose. Then, when individuals returned, if there was no evidence they were fighters, or had participated in atrocites, they could receive a suspended sentence, be under the supervision of a parole officer. All the returnees could be compelled to attend a de-radicalization centre.

  16. arcticredriver says...

    I don’t know how to say this, without seeming insensitive, but some of those who volunteer to travel to places like Syria, well, seem to have a mental health issue.

    Al Qaeda and ISIS recruiters seemed to specifically target the the lonely and vulnerable, the young person who is vulnerable, because they aren’t accepted by their peers, the vulnerable new immigrant who is undergoing culture shock, the vulnerable recently released convict, who is having trouble coping, the alienated drug addict, who wants to reform? People in each of these groups has a mental health issue, that makes them vulnerable.

    I’ve known people who have been successfully targetted by a cult. While their sudden conversions seem so ardent, so strong, that it could never be shaken, in fact their new faith can be suddenly washed away, as rapidly as they were infected. I think this is a key point that really should be born in mind by those trying to make sure the returnees don’t suddenly start attacking our system from within.

    Jack Letts’s parents seem to have said he had a form of autism. Kimberly Gwen Polman’s siblings said she had had a troubled life, and they hadn’t been able to help her. The young women who say they were never sympathetic to the ISIS ideology, or who travelled there, without really understanding how cruel the regime was, or who had the scales fall from their eyes, once they had arrived?

    To the extent the conversions of these individuals was due to a mental health issue, I think public safety would be best served by a response with a strong measure of mental health help, both overt and behind the scenes.

    If we can’t prove these returnees committed atrocities, I think public safety is best served by treating them with kindness. We believe our system is better than ISIS’s interpretation of Sharia Law? Let’s prove it by being kind. That the ISIS regime has collapsed, and the excesses of that regime’s leadership – like keeping dungeons full of sex-slaves – is being revealed, should really shatter the faith of shallowly converted, unless we show we too are cruel, by subjecting them to harsh imprisonment, and allow them to be guarded by guards who think they can bend the rules to dish out private vengeance, as happened at Guantanamo.

    Infamously, Joseph Stalin is supposed to have said, “It is better to kill ten innocent men than risk one guilty man going free” Since we know at least some of the returnees were harmless dupes, punishing every returnee seems too much like Stalin’s Justice, to me.

    To my eyes, re-integration into our society is more important than punishing every individual who was involved in an atrocity, by punishing everyone found there, even those dupes who didn’t commit atrocities. Some dupes, who got caught up in the mob mentality, and did commit atrocities, who we do not end up punishing, because we have no evidence against them, may end up being re-integrated anyway, if we treat them with kindness, and basic decency. They may harbour a feeling of guilt, as our kindness convinces them they had been wrong, all along, and that our society was basically the just one, all along.

    Some of those for whom we have evidence, try, convict, may end their sentence as dangerous as ever. Some returnees who we don’t convict may remain as dangerous as ever, even if they are treated with kindness.

    But we can never protect ourselves from all risks.

    After the World Trade Centers were destroyed some people’s reaction was “We must take every possible measure to make sure there is never another innocent American life lost to terrorism”. This was a hysterical over-reaction. But some people are still in the grip of it. They don’t realize that taking “every possible measure” requires everyone to submit to a draconian surrender of their privacy. The cure is worse than the threat.

    No amount of security measures can ever guarantee we will be completely secure from all terrorist attacks.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your thoughts on Jack Letts, arcticredriver. I too find his story plausible, but our governments are obsessed with tarring everyone who goes to a so-called no-go zone as “terrorists”, without wanting to make any case-by-case analysis. it’s really not very different from Guantanamo, is it? No lessons have really been learned about the damage caused by sweeping and heavy-handed generalisations.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. It is of huge significance to me that those who recruit people to be suicide bombers, or to commit other atrocities on the behalf, more often than not prey on people with mental health issues, and should be condemned – as was clear, in the early days of the “war on terror”, with how mentally damaged people like Richard Reid, Zacarias Moussaoui and Mohammed al-Qahtani were recruited. Unfortunately, because of the way we over-reacted to 9/11, torturing people and holding them indefinitely without charge or trial at Guantanamo, we lost any moral high ground that we could and should have had, to be able to tell the world how disgusting are those who, in the name of God, prey on the mentally vulnerable to get them to be suicide bombers and to “behead” infidels.
    Unfortunately, we continue to undermine ourselves, through our now obsessive Islamophobia, in which we have turned all Muslims into the bogeyman, with, in this dangerous and false climate, every Muslim literally trying to come and kill us in our beds at night (I had heard of some Americans who literally live in fear of this on a permanent basis). How can we rationally assess the threat posed by the variety of people drawn to ISIS’s horrible ideology when we have given vent to such outrageous bigotry and truly shameful generalisations?

Leave a Reply



Back to the top

Back to home page

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).
Email Andy Worthington

CD: Love and War

The Four Fathers on Bandcamp

The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

Outside The Law DVD cover

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo


Posts & Comments

World Wide Web Consortium



Powered by WordPress

Designed by Josh King-Farlow

Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist:


In Touch

Follow me on Facebook

Become a fan on Facebook

Subscribe to me on YouTubeSubscribe to me on YouTube

The State of London

The State of London. 16 photos of London

Andy's Flickr photos



Tag Cloud

Afghans in Guantanamo Al-Qaeda Andy Worthington British prisoners Center for Constitutional Rights CIA torture prisons Close Guantanamo Donald Trump Four Fathers Guantanamo Housing crisis Hunger strikes London Military Commission NHS NHS privatisation Periodic Review Boards Photos President Obama Reprieve Shaker Aamer The Four Fathers Torture UK austerity UK protest US courts Video We Stand With Shaker WikiLeaks Yemenis in Guantanamo