Begg: Cageprisoners Interview (Part 2)
CP: How and when were you told you were going to be released? What was your reaction?
MB: It was on one of these occasions when they had been taking me to interrogation so often, when I was with the other brothers in Camp Delta, they were telling me ‘you are the worst of the worst, you’re a terrorist, Americans don’t care about the complaints that you have made.’ They would do this to me every single day, they were taking me to interrogation more and more, I think about 15 times in one week. So the brother Ali Hamza, who was very perceptive said to me, ‘You’re going home soon, this is what they did with the Tipton brothers too.’
So one morning, I was told I was going to interrogation, when I wasn’t, they took me to Camp Echo, where I spent my last days. So I didn’t get to say goodbye or salaam to any of the other brothers at all. One day, a man came in and told me that, ‘We the United States Government have decided to release you to the British authorities and to drop any charges that have been put against you.’ I said to him, ‘I don’t believe you. I think that you are a liar just like all your military and how you have been operating before.’ He said, ‘I’m not in the habit of lying, you will find out soon enough’. And he was correct.
CP: Could you tell us about your return to the UK?
MB: I was put in a coach, myself, Martin Mubanga, Feroz and Richard Belmar, so we were these four, shackled, dark skinned people in orange with beards, on a bus load of fifty American soldiers, and I don’t exaggerate when I say fifty. Overkill to the max. This is the first time ever I saw Martin Mubanga, I had never seen him before. He said ‘Assalamu Alaikum, I’m Martin, I’ve heard about you, you are the brother from Birmingham.’ We were speaking Arabic with one another so the American soldiers sent an Arabic translator to sit amongst us. But then he started speaking in London Cockney street slang, which had them all confused, as none of them knew what he was talking about., Eventually we got across the ferry, to where the British were waiting for us, we were all shackled with padlocks on our shackles. And they had forgotten the key. So the Americans, completely incompetent, tried to get a wire cutter to cut the shackles off, and they couldn’t do it, they bent the wire cutter. Then they went to get another one, and cut it all off, and it was very embarrassing for them in front of the British. When we got over to where the British were, they took us without shackles. But as long as we were in American custody, we were shackled, so the moment the British took us the shackles were off.
When I saw all the police over there, I thought its going to be better than before but it’s going to mean police station, court. I thought, the ordeal is not over. But the treatment by the British police was not anywhere as half as paranoid as the American soldiers were. They bought over newspapers which I read all of, as much and as quick as I could. They had prepared food for us, snacks, bars of chocolate, things that we never had for the past three years. They prepared Qur’ans and Prayer Mats for us, I think it was a whole public relations thing.
As soon as we landed a woman from Scotland Yard came in and said that we were under arrest under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. They put me and Feroz into the back of a police van. It was a tiny little space, on which they closed this Perspex door, and it was worse than anything I had been in in Guantanamo, it was horrible. The whole journey, which lasted an hour and a half from Northolt to Paddington Green, it was so depressing.
CP: Your solicitor Gareth Peirce described your arrest on return as "an extravaganza for the purposes of press and publicity, with no proper investigative purpose whatsoever." What is your view of that?
MB: Absolutely. When I saw Gareth Peirce there, I was very happy. But when they did the questioning, there was another person called Hussein who was from Gareth’s office. They started asking me the most ridiculous questions, these questions had definitely come out of Guantanamo! One of the things they asked me was did I know the whereabouts of certain alleged members of Al Qaeda. I said, ‘Subhan’Allah! I have been in prison by the Americans for the past three years, and you are asking me these questions?’ I started laughing. They said, ‘Are you finding this funny?’ I said, ‘Yes, I find it absolutely hilarious!’ My lawyer who was there with me said, ‘I find it hilarious!’ At the end of the interrogation, they said, ‘We are sorry for asking these questions, but there is someone breathing down out necks and we had to ask them.’
CP: How soon after were you able to contact your family?
MB: They said that my father was outside the police station, I said ‘No, I haven’t come all this way for them to see me in a police cell.’ I wanted to see them on my own terms.
CP: Could you describe the emotional scenes in which you were reunited with your family?
MB: I was taken to Gareth Peirce’s house, myself and Richard Belmar. I walked in and saw my father and my brother there. I think all that time separated from them, I think it was more emotional for them than for me, I think I had become a little colder and more distant. But for them, I could see the emotion in all their faces.
Even with my
wife and children, it was all very difficult. It’s hard to describe how
I felt at that time, because 24 hours earlier I had been in a solitary
CP: You said soon after your return “I do not think I can ever be back to normal." What are the mental and physical scars of your detention?
MB: I can’t be back to normal, knowing that as long as there are still people over there – when I speak to family members of Shaker Aamer, and Jamil El Banna – it comes back to me, I feel a sense of guilt that I am here and they are there and going through the same thing as I did, if not worse. Two of them had children born whilst they had been in custody and I know exactly what that is like. I don’t think anything can be back to normal again, because things have changed in Britain and the whole world. One of the things I saw in the newspaper how the detainees in Iraq were being treated by British soldiers, not just American soldiers. I heard about Belmarsh, I heard about Babar Ahmad’s case, the hundreds of arrests taking place in Britain. Nothing had happened in Britain at all, it had happened in America but not in Britain. Now the atmosphere that has been created, it’s so different, it’s very hard to come to terms with that.
Physically, because one of the things I used to do in Guantanamo was work out every day, I think physically I am in a lot better shape than I have been in a long time, as far as stamina goes. As for mental scars, I get flashbacks of Guantanamo all the time, especially when I am on my own, with my family around it’s not so bad.
When I first arrived, a brother invited me to his house saying another brother wanted to meet me. But they ended up inviting another ten people there, I could not stand it, I had to walk out. For the first month or so, I found it hard to be around large groups of people. I knew I had to address this and be around people, and eventually I went to an Amnesty International Meeting, and spoke in front of 500 people. Since that point, it has been a lot easier.
CP: How has this ordeal changed you?
MB: I think particularly in relation to the world, Britain’s position has really surprised me. I really did not think Britain would be as bad as the Americans. But it seems like we are getting there. As far as the Muslim community is concerned, I see that the Muslim community is being forced to come together, even though we are always at one another’s throats for one reason or the other. There are elements of the Muslim community that are coming together, and that is positive.
CP: What is your reaction to the travel ban imposed upon you and the seizure of your passport? What further action are you taking with regard to this?
MB: One of the things they have said that this is ‘based on information obtained during your time in Guantanamo and Bagram’. So what they are saying is whatever information they have obtain from myself or other people has been obtained from torture. They have really stabbed themselves in the foot with this one, unless they admit it is fine to use information obtained by torture. But I think that they also left it open by saying ‘we will entertain any request on the grounds of compassion or other grounds’. So it’s not a complete ban.
CP: What are your thoughts about taking legal action against the US?
MB: I really would like to take legal action against them, if only for the principle, if not for compensation. But in any practical terms, any compensation America would pay to me would be very unlikely. However, I like one of the things Clive Stafford Smith suggested to me: to make a case against the Americans for however millions of dollars, and to give the money to a charity the Americans don’t like.
CP: You have said "I hated myself for being inane enough to bring my family to Afghanistan." What regrets do you have, and how are you able to deal with them?
MB: The regret was in hindsight, that when the war took place, I should have evacuated earlier rather than later but I don’t think there wouldn’t have been any guarantee that I wouldn’t have been taken. They had already decided they would come after me at one point or another. I could never have known the consequences of September the 11th, but then afterwards I thought perhaps I shouldn’t have even brought them there. But now looking back, I have no regrets. I spoke to my wife about this and we both have no regrets about going there for the reasons we went.
CP: What do you feel is your obligation to those left behind?
MB: My obligation is to make du’a to Allah (swt) that He secures their release and their release swiftly and safely and to propagate that message to as many people as I can.
CP: Have you kept in touch with any of the other released detainees? What is their condition?
MB: I am in touch with all of them, visited them several times and talk to them all the time. I think we all feel fairly much the same as one another.
CP: Have you been in touch with any of the families of current detainees, and what can you tell us about their plight?
MB: I have been in touch with the family of Jamil el Banna and Shaker Aamer. I haven’t spoken to Bisher’s brother. But their condition is one of great anxiety; they are really worried about their family members. One of them has suffered a mental breakdown, two of them have had children whilst their husbands have been in custody, two of them have written heart rending letters of appeal to people like Tony Blair. Masha’Allah, one of the sisters is very strong and very admirable in the way she deals with problems. But they really need help and it breaks my heart to see how they are - that’s how my family were.
CP: Jack Straw ensured the released detainees would receive help from their local authorities, have you received any such help?
MB: No, not at all.
CP: How have your local Muslim community received you upon your return?
MB: I think in general, they have kept away just because they want to give me my time. But the truth comes out when I go out to the shops to buy something, I get recognised, people Mash’Aallah are so good, they seem to have put me on some sort of pedestal that I don’t deserve to be on. I have received letters, from Muslims and non Muslims, letters of support.
The friends of my family, many of them took care of my family in ways that I can only ask Allah (swt) to grant them the greatest of rewards. But I feel bad for several others [detainees and their families], I have been born here, and raised in the UK, many others haven’t had that background, they don’t know people, don’t know how to speak to people, cannot communicate properly. I feel bad for them.
CP: What was your reaction on your release to witness the changed state of the Muslims in the UK, many being detained indefinitely without trial, the numbers being stopped and searched?
MB: Almost of unbelief that they are doing this in Britain, at the same time as us getting released. One of the reasons Gareth Peirce stayed the whole evening when she visited me in Paddington Green, was the next day there was the House of Lords decision for the detainees in Belmarsh. Some of these people, I have met in Gareth’s office, wearing their electronic tagging equipment, listening to the control orders they have to live under, and again they were not charged with anything, nor accused of anything. They have just been put through the system because they are foreigners.
CP: What do you think is the future of Muslims in the UK?
MB: I don’t know. I would like to think that the future is as it was before, that the Muslims are an established part of this community, an intrinsic part of Great Britain. I think Islam has its mark on Britain and Britain has its mark on the Muslims of Britain.
CP: Since your return you have been actively involved in a number of campaigns. Tell us about your work. What prompted you to get involved?
was just natural, I had to just speak out what is going on over there,
rebut all of the lies the Americans or the British have been saying
about a situation I know about first hand. I think it is important that
people know about some of the abuses that are going on over there,
especially, when they talk about retracting the story in Newsweek, when
they say that the abuse of the Qur’an did not take place, it’s
important people know it did. It is important for me also, that I am
able to say what I think. That if we don’t take a pro active position
we will only have ourselves to blame.
CP: Are Muslims doing enough for this cause?
MB: Vis a vis the non Muslims, then no. We don’t have any Muslim Amnesty International, any Muslim campaigners, any Muslims lawyers standing sharp and firm for justice in the way the non Muslims are. Obviously the Muslims are a minority so we don’t expect them to be in such a large number. The problem is that when these things happen, if it happens to you, you react, if it doesn’t happen to you, you stay asleep. But comparatively, Muslims are rising up better than they ever did before.
CP: Your father describes himself as a loyal British citizen, where do your loyalties lie in the light of your experience?
MB: As far as the nation is concerned, I am a dual national, Pakistani and British. I don’t feel particularly Pakistani, I don’t feel particularly British. But my origins are in Pakistan. I feel comfortable in identifying myself as Muslim.
CP: What is the importance, in your opinion, of Muslims partaking in elections and political work?
MB: Before all of this I was of the view that for Muslims to take part in elections was haram (forbidden). However, I think that certain situations or occasions, defined by people more knowledgeable than me, it is important for Muslims to get involved for the principle of the lesser of the two evils.
CP: How and when did you hear about Cageprisoners.com?
MB: I heard about it from my wife. She did an interview with Al Istiqaamah magazine, which was then published on Cageprisoners.com.
CP: What comments do you have about the site?
MB: I am very impressed with the site, I feel upset and astounded when I come across people who claim to be involved in this issue of the rights of Muslims usurped around the world, that they are not aware of this site. I think it is important that they know about this site. It has the most comprehensive listing of all the detainees around the world. It’s certainly well known among the non Muslim activists, they have all heard of it.
CP: What message do you have for other families who are suffering from the detention of a loved one?
MB: Have hope, because they tried to remove all hope of any solution from the brothers and their families, so never give up hope. Pray Allah (SWT) will ease the suffering. Some people will remain there indefinitely, but keep praying to Allah (SWT) and become active. Let the world know about these atrocities, and embarrass these Governments who are flaunting their own laws and the laws that Allah (SWT) has put down for humans.
CP: Finally, what message would you like to give the Muslim and Non Muslim public alike?MB: I would like to thank everybody for all the help and efforts they have been making in my case and the case of many other people. But it is important to remember that as far as the political system is concerned, Bush and Blair and all their cronies, John Howard, be aware that the world is not going to stand for the way they are treating the rest of the world and as far as the Muslims are concerned, it is important for them to turn to Allah (SWT) and the Qur’an and never lose faith in it.
CP: Moazzam Begg, thank you for speaking with us.