Exclusive Interview with Moazzam Begg
Transcript of interview with Moazzam Begg, former Guantanamo detainee, conducted by Deepa Fernandes and Pratap Chatterjee for Pacifica Radio’s Wakeup Call program on WBAI 99.5 FM in NYC.
Audio available at: www.wakeupcallradio.org
July 11, 2005
DEEPA FERNANDES: You came out of prison six months ago back to Britain. You hadn't seen your family. You hadn't had much communication. Your father was a big person who campaigned for your release. I wonder if you can talk about how hard it has been to adjust back to life after being away for so long?
MOAZZAM BEGG: Well, it hasn't been that hard. The reason for that is that I kept myself in a mental frame of mind, that if they had thrown me in a shopping mall after years of solitary confinement, I would be able to deal with it quite coherently. That was the kind of frame of mind I kept myself in. I don't see myself as a victim. I see myself as a survivor returning back to the life I have always known.
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: I wonder if you can talk a bit about that life. Personally, I was born in Birmingham just life yourself. I am just curious if you can describe what it was like to grow up Muslim in England over the last 35 years before you went to Afghanistan. What was your life like and what are your perspectives?
MOAZZAM BEGG: It was a metamorphosis, a transformation. I grew up in Birmingham. I was born and raised here. I originally went to a Jewish school and then to a secondary school, which including having friends from all different backgrounds. Sikh, Muslim, Hindus, Christians, white, blacks. All different categories and denominations of people. As I got older, I discovered a little bit more about my Islamic identity, although I wasn't too attached to begin with, though I was as a Muslim as any Muslim, mainstream people were. As I got older, I saw things that changed me and my perspective on life, particularly in relation to the Muslim world visa vi the rest of the world. That happened through first with the Gulf War but even more so by the conflict in former Yugoslavia with the attack by the Serbs on Bosnian Srebrenica and that was a crucial catalyst and I think a turning point in my life.
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: And you actually went to Bosnia yourself. Tell us a little bit about that, about your trip there, and what you saw that made you so anxious to go work in the region and help communities in Afghanistan and a number of other places.
MOAZZAM BEGG: I saw those graphic pictures of people being slaughtered and maimed and killed because of their ethnicity or rather their religion or religious beliefs. And that was something I recognized or identified with, that they were the same as me. I didn't know what that meant. All I knew was that these people were Muslims; I didn't know that they were Slavs and spoke Serb or Croat. Or they had such a strong or rich history of life under a Communist regime or they were completely different to anything I would have imagined; the one thing I saw as a unifying factor was our faith. So that is what triggered me at least under an initial base to go and try to help in whatever way I could; which I did by joining an aid organization; I went to several cities including Mostar, Travnik City which had been under heavy bombardment, and many people had been displaced, refugees. I helped distribute food, medicine, and blankets, and listen to the more harrowing accounts and details of the individual lives of the people.
DEEPA FERNANDES: It is interesting to listen to how you came to consciousness about how Muslims were being treated in the world; fast forward to now, especially, after the blasts in London late last week, we've seen a lot of coverage especially here in the US about how Islamic fundamentalists are so rampant in London, and how UK is a breeding ground for fundamentalist Islam. I wonder if that was your experience at all. Did you come across any fundamentalist Islam in London growing up?
MOAZZAM BEGG: Yeah, I think that was to some degree as things continue to proliferate in the Muslim world in relation to Chechnya, Bosnia, Kashmir, and all these other places. I think Britain, compared to America, is different. Britain has been a lot more tolerant, even in its foreign policy. It has not been as adversarial as the United States has so it hasn't earned that reputation in the Muslim World that the United States has. For example, its foreign policy visa vi Israel, or the continued strikes or previous strikes against Libya, or Lebanon, or Somalia, Afghanistan--the list is sort of endless. And though Britain has taken part in some of those actions, it is very much as a follower as opposed to a leader. People in Britain have generally felt that the policy here, in particular, internal policy for Muslims has been generally good; As a result of that, people have come from other parts of the world, dissidents who have been outspoken in their own countries, and found Britain a haven in protecting their rights. The difference is that they have spoken out here, whatever they perceive to be injustices in their own countries based on their Islamic perceptions. That is slightly different to what we are beginning to see now, as an al-Qaeda style attack on the western world.
DEEPA FERNANDES: We are speaking with Moazzam Begg, who was a former Guantanamo detainee for nearly three years. This is one of the first times though not the only time your voice has been heard in the United States. I think what is so critically missing in the debate as this country figures out what it needs to do with Guantanamo Bay is the voice of people who have been inside. I wonder if you can talk us through what happened to you from when you were picked up. It was in Pakistan?
MOAZZAM BEGG: Yes. It was three years of my life, so it is very difficult to condense into a few minutes. But, I can try to highlight the most profound parts of my incarceration including being held by the Americans in Kandahar, in Bagram, and ultimately in Guantanamo for 2 years. During my time there, I witnessed things that I would have never perceived the United States would be capable of. Though I didn't agree at all to United States foreign policy, I never believed they would stoop to such a level as a witnessed in Guantanamo and Bagram, including the killing of at least two detainees that I saw by military police, a killing by their own hands, which I saw with my own eyes.
DEEPA FERNANDES: Can you talk about this, that is a grave charge, the killing of two detainees by US military police with their own hands. What happened?
MOAZZAM BEGG: In the first instance, they claimed it was someone who was trying to escape from a cell that was a couple of cells away from me. They caught him, and after they'd beaten him, they dropped his body if front of my cell, to where the medical room was. Shortly after that, he was pronounced dead. He was carried out on a stretcher, with his body covered. They stated at that time that he wasn't dead. I overhead the guards saying that he had been killed, and they were running around in bit of a frenzy worried about what had taken place. A year or so later, it had been confirmed to me that he was killed, as was a second; who was beaten to death in front of me, again in the same cell as me. He was held with his hands tied above his head with a hood placed about it; he was suspended for a while; for several days in fact; he had been on sleep deprivation, which was one of the forms of punishment there for those who seem to be non-cooperative. Eventually, the guards came in to take him for interrogation. His body went limp. Rather then try to assist him, they punched and kicked him. They dragged him off afterwards, and we never saw him or heard from him again.
When I was moved to Guantanamo Bay shortly afterwards, about a year and a half later, I was in Guantanamo Bay, some officers of the CID, Criminal Investigation department came and asked me if I was willing to point out the detainees that were killed. They showed some photographs. they asked me afterwards if I was willing to point out the perpetrators from the united states soldiers, which I did; Then, they asked me if I would be willing to testify in a trial as a witness, to prosecute these people, which I found very ironic, as they were trying to put me through some sort of military commission at that point. There were several different things that took place. But having said that, to be fair to the Americans, there were some individuals soldiers, I came across. They were some of the most humane individuals I have come across in my life, and I salute them, and consider them my friends.
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: M.B. I wonder if you can tell us a little bit about the role of the British. There were British at your interrogation.
MOAZZAM BEGG: They asked questions of where I've been and what I have done, people that I knew; I think they were very much part of taking advantage of the position we were placed in interrogation. They were definitely helping with what they perceived as getting information through the Americans.
DEEPA FERNANDES: You were at Bagram Air Base and then taken to Guantanamo. Did you know where you were and where you were being taken?
MOAZZAM BEGG: I was told when I was kidnapped from my home at gunpoint in Pakistan, I wasn't told where I was. Though I found out soon enough that I was in Kandahar, After that, wherever I was moved, I was told where I was.
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Do you think you were treated differently because you spoke English?
MOAZZAM BEGG: I think that was a given. That was so obvious. Not only that, British and American culture is so close. I grew up listening and watching American TV shows; There was so much we can relate to. I found that so ironic and disturbing because the detainees--a vast majority who couldn't communicate to the Americans coherently--found themselves in a more difficult position. If a guard spoke once to me, I would understand it, but if he spoke to A person who spoke Pashtun or another language; the chances are that he would not be understood and if the [prisoner] would start shouting and screaming, that would be seen as a failure to comply. His hands would be tied and his head would be hooded as well as other forms of punishment. It was definitely a great advantage speaking English and coming from England.
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: And do you speak Dari or I'm assuming you speak Urdu at least?
MOAZZAM BEGG: Yes, I speak Urdu, I am fluent in Arabic. I know several languages, and am multi-lingual.
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: So were you acting as a translator?
MOAZZAM BEGG: Yes, I've translated in Bagram and several times for detainees, with medical issues, and grievances to the Red Cross and others that they had.
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: What were people saying to you there about there treatment there?
MOAZZAM BEGG: One of the quotations to the guards was, a saying that they weren't terrorists before they came in, but they certainly will be when they leave. There we so many common rights that were being denied.
DEEPA FERNANDES: Paint a picture for us. What were the rights being denied there? What was the treatment like?
MOAZZAM BEGG: We were being labeled as enemy combatants; we were told something about ourselves that wasn't true. We were initially told we were enemies of war, we were issued enemy of prisoners of war cards, which would give us some rights; Then they realized their mistake, so they labeled us enemy combatants, an amorphous category, because in history, there had never been this category. The rights that we being denied us were the rights to be free. The right to any legal recourse, regular and meaningful communication with our families, the right to mix with other people, the right to know why I was held in solitary confinement, the right to know why you were beaten and threatened with torture. All of these different things. We were a cross between a prisoner and a prisoner of war, held in tiny little cages that measured 8' by 6'.
DEEPA FERNANDES: When and how were you beaten?
MOAZZAM BEGG: During the month of May, I was severely questioned in Bagram. I had my hands tied behind my back, to my legs. I was hog-tied with my head covered with a hood, and the guards punched and kicked me while I was left in this position to be interrogated.
DEEPA FERNANDES: What kinds of questions did they ask you?
MOAZZAM BEGG: Ridiculous questions with no backing at all. It was based on assumptions. They came across somebody who said I was an instructor in an al-Qaeda camp. When I asked them, who told you this, when was I there, all simple things. they couldn't produce anything. They came to a decision or assumption, and for years and years they maintained this. When eventually they gave me the opportunity to they had to present some sort of argument at a tribunal, they never did answer. They made some allegations that I gave a rebuttal for, and I have some questions [for them] that I still have not been given the answer to.
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Tell us about the tribunals themselves, these secret tribunal held in Guantanamo Bay by the military itself? Did you attend any of these tribunals?
MOAZZAM BEGG: I never went to the tribunal, by that time, I had access to a lawyer, who told me that I should not participate in the tribunal. However by that time, I had already written a 20 page rebuttal to tribunal, but by that time the negotiations between the US and the British had already taken place. It didn't matter. I never did get a response to that rebuttal, and by that time, I was released.
DEEPA FERNANDES: We are speaking to Moazzam Begg, one of the former Guantanamo detainees, one of his rare interviews in the United States. Moazzam Begg, you were hog-tied and beaten. How did you answer those questions? Did they just go on endlessly? Were you able to get to anyone through to anyone there that you were innocent?
MOAZZAM BEGG: To be fair, there were several people there--and I don't want the message to get out that I blanketedly accuse all Americans are evil or vindictive--that is not the case and that was not my experience. I want to be fair to them and the truth has to be spoken regardless of how it is perceived. There were several Americans there, that if it was known what they did for me, they would have been thrown out of the army. I think a lot of them saw the reason for what was taking place, and the irrational response of the United States military and government to what was taking place. My simple statement is this. If America is the land of the free, believing in its own justice and legal system, then put me through it. If you can't, it means that you don't believe in it. You have your military code of justice. You have civil courts. Put me through either of those, if you think I committed a crime against you. The audacity [of the US government] for me is that the United States came to my house in in Pakistan, where I was a resident at the time, held me at gunpoint in front of my family, and took me to their territory, and then say that I have no rights. That is the most audacious thing they did to me, and they did it to 500 other people.
DEEPA FERNANDES: When we are listening to some much of the back and forth of what is going on in Guantanamo, excessive behavior is always blamed on some 'bad apples.' What is hard to establish is a chain of command. Can you give us a sense of who was giving the orders and were people just doing what they were told?
MOAZZAM BEGG: Let me give some ideas of the type of mentalities that were being propounded around there. And there were several soldiers who "were not like these people." Several soldiers said, " I am not like these people. I don't know what is wrong with them." Cells were labeled in relation to encounters the US had in history at one point or other to Muslim groups. There were cells entitled Twin Towers, Pentagon, Somalia, Lebanon, Libya. So all these titles were based on incidents with the Muslim world. And what possibly could Lebanon have anything to do with us there? I know there was an attack in Beirut in 1982 on a United States marine barracks when I was six years old. What does that have anything to with me, and why I am being held in a cell labeled after that? So, this is the kind of mentality that was being propounded around soldiers, who obviously they didn't know better at all. My experience has been that sadly these soldiers didn't know about the rest of the world. America is a huge country. That was very sad. These are the people that are trying to dictate in a land. They were in a country that they never heard of before, and only knew two or three cities. That was very sad, and very hard to deal with.
DEEPA FERNANDES: So, were they following orders Moazzam Begg?
MOAZZAM BEGG: Some people were, but some people had the autonomy or authority, particularly in Afghanistan, to do what they wanted. I had worse experiences in Bagram and Kandahar than I did in Guantanamo, and perhaps that was because I was in solitary confinement, and that was very difficult in itself, but I didn't experience the harsh, really harsh things people experience at the times of Camp X Ray. I saw T shirts that depicted detainees as banana wraps, and they were all around the island. That was a process of dehumanization of everyone there. If the generals all the way down did not reject this, then they were a part of it. We were treated as sub-human, as animals, and I think it was coming from all the way on top.
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: There are rules, international rules, the Geneva Convention, and the US military itself has its own rules as manual, named 3452. Were you aware of the rule under the Geneva Convention, and system of interrogation?
MOAZZAM BEGG: No, I was not.
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: So, you were not aware of what they can ask you and what they can't?
MOAZZAM BEGG: No, I was not aware at all. we told we had to answer the question, and if we didn't answer the question, we would be subject to punishment, at least in Bagram and Kandahar.
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: And in a number of places, in Guantanamo, there were private contractors, company called Carkey here in the US in Virginia, translators from a country called Titan. Did you encounter any of them? Were you aware of them?
MOAZZAM BEGG: I had been through 300 or more interrogations through various people; it is difficult to sort that out. There were several people being contracting out, largely interpreters. I wouldn't be surprised of that. Sadly, it seems to me to be a money making thing people. A lot of soldiers and contractors who came over were they for the money. They were enticed by the money. They weren't there being they believed in it. A lot of them hated the damn place. They called it the 'armpit of the world' or the 'asshole of the world.' They did not want to be there and they didn't think they were serving their country by being there.
DEEPA FERNANDES: We are speaking with Moazzam Begg, former Guantanamo detainee incarcerated for nearly 3 years. We hear so many stories of psychological torture, of trying to break down prisoners, so they do confess. I know that in a letter you wrote a year ago, on July 12, 2004, you end by saying, unequivocally for the record, that anything you signed was signed under duress. I wonder if you can talk about the mental torture they inflicted on you, while you were there.
MOAZZAM BEGG: Two agents that I think were from the FBI were there when I was beaten and tortured in May. These two characters showed up in Guantanamo two days after I arrived. They turned up with a statement for me to sign. They asked the guards to leave, and they said here is a statement. Look through it. Sign and initial it. If you don't do it, the options you have don't look so good. They can include being here for the rest of your life, never seeing your family again. They can include going through a summary trial where you can face execution by a firing squad or by lethal injection or by a gas chamber. And even if someone does look at you case, it could be 6 or 7 years down the line before they look at the case. The British government has washed their hands of it. My only choice [I was told] was to cooperate and agree with us and to sign it. At the end of it, I tried to argue that I need legal representation, but I had nobody to communicate with. I was left with no choice, so I signed it. In the end, I thought this perhaps was my way to get into a court, and there was no way, any court would convict based on the evidence, wording, or terminology, and based on my own testimony, to convict me on anything like this.
DEEPA FERNANDES: Moazzam Begg, I know you started by telling us you felt strong when you were Guantanamo, but how does one take that, when they say you that you could before a firing squad; you could never see your family again. Were you at breaking point?
MOAZZAM BEGG: Yes, after I signed it, the feeling I got was that I signed my life away. The feeling I had was, I was reproaching myself, what have I done, what have I done? It had weighed on my mind for a long time, but then I asked for paper and pen. I asked for copies. I thought if I ever go to court, I could fight them. I thought at some point that my family would be done with me, but I did not know my father was launching a campaign. But I felt something must be going on back there even if I am unaware of it. Every now and then, I would hear something slight. A soldier told me, I heard your father on the radio. And I got a slight bit of hope.
DEEPA FERNANDES: Were you ever afraid that you might be put before a firing squad?
MOAZZAM BEGG: In my mind, I said to myself, if I they do that, I was really not afraid. I was not afraid to die. I could have been in places where death could have occurred in Bosnia or Afghanistan. I wasn't afraid of that in that sense. I felt bad that my children would have to grow up without their father. It broke my heart to think that those years had passed and my children would not see me. I had a child who was born in the beginning of this year, that I hadn't even seen. It that was they decided to do, America had complete power to do whatever they wanted. Yes, I had that feeling and it was a feeling of complete dejection. But I always believed there was light, however distant, at the end of this dark tunnel.
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Unfortunately, those techniques of making you frightened and fear for you life, are actually standard practices that are listed under the United States manual 3452. What were the reactions of other detainee friends. I have certainly read accounts in Bagram of people literally reduced to mental wrecks, who basically lost their sanity. Did you see any of that?
MOAZZAM BEGG: Yeah, I saw 2 people, though to be fair, I think they lost their sanity before they got there, but it was compounded by the way they were treated when they were held by Americans. In Bagram itself, they call it the MSG block, for people who lost their sanity; people who were held in solitary confinement, and could not talk to anyone. If there was a guard, I could speak to him, if he was a talkative sort of person. but these other people, they couldn't speak to anyone, some for 4 years now. I think it very cruel, very inhumane to do that. I've seen some cases here of maximum security prisons here in Britain, like Belmarsh, that were like a holiday camp compared to the conditions we had. All those things that people take for granted are not present at Guantanamo.
DEEPA FERNANDES: Moazzam Begg, we really appreciate your time with us. The big controversy of course was over the apparent US desecration of the Koran which was reported by Newsweek, a charge that they later retracted. You were there. Did you see it happen, or talk to someone who saw it happen?
MOAZZAM BEGG: In Kandahar was the first incident I ever heard of. They were several detainees who spoke of this that were put into what was called general population. One told me about a soldier from the US marine corp who tore up a part of the Koran and thrown it into a waste bucket that was used as a latrine. I am surprised about that. Why wouldn't they do that? If they treated human beings like that, the Koran is only a book. It didn't have any value [to them]. If I human being had not value, why a book? I saw an incident also in Bagram, where soldiers would enter a cell where a detainee was reading the Koran. He threw the Koran on the ground and kicked it around. I saw them eliminate distribution from detainees, and they would say "Extra! Extra! Come get your Koran and learn how to kill Americans." They are probably assuming that most of them did not understand English, but I told myself record all these things mentally so I could tell the world about this. I am not saying that every single American soldier was doing this. It wasn't even the norm, but there were significant amounts of cases that took place. If you ask detainees who have come out from different cells from different places, and there were held in solitary confinement, who are saying the same things, then it means these things did happen. There is no doubt about it. Again, I reiterate it, if they can human beings in that manner, why not treat the Koran in that way?
DEEPA FERNANDES: Moazzam Begg, what was the worst thing that happened to you while you were in Guantanamo?
MOAZZAM BEGG: In Guantanamo, it was being held in solitary confinement for such a long time without recourse to justice or family or contact with anyone. In Bagram, it was being beaten and hog-tied as I said and witnessing the death of other people and seeing children in custody.
DEEPA FERNANDES: Are you pursuing a lawsuit against the US Government? They did not charge you, and then they released you as a free man some three years later. What has been the follow up?
MOAZZAM BEGG: The only thing I have done so far is I have tried to campaign as best as I can to raise awareness of people about these plights. Some of these issues now that are in Britain have overshadowed what would be my legal case. It I was to make a legal case, I wouldn't do it for pecuniary damages but as a point of principle for Americans to accept what they have done as completely wrong and to be instrumental in the closure that horrible place known as Guantanamo Bay.
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: In talking about the closure of Guantanamo, there are actually about extending it right now. There is a company you may have heard of them, Halliburton, that had the first contract, now a second, and now a third contract to build these prisons. In the course of your stay there, if you encountered the people who were hired to build it, and in fact, the Americans hired Filipinos.
MOAZZAM BEGG: Sadly, the workers were referred to as 'smurfs' by the soldiers. The majority of them wore blue hats, and they were Filipino workers. They were short; therefore they were 'smurfs.' I came across those people, and though I didn't speak to them, I was very conscious and aware. Other camps were being built, Camp 5 and 6. It means nothing to me that they are extending, because the United States has a penchant for wasting money and wealth, and the US has told me several times. I think there is a huge statement to made that so much money of the United States, the capital, is being wasted; food that is wasted, the amount of clothing in the names of the United States people, and I think that in itself would be a huge inquiry and an outcry.
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: I am wondering if you can take us before the time you were in Bagram and Guantanamo Bay, to the times you visited Afghanistan. You actually attended two of these training camps, which in the United States are referred to as "al-Qaeda training camps." Who is running these camps and who is being trained in that camp and what is their relationship to al-Qaeda or to the United States?
MOAZZAM BEGG: Yes, I think this is something that needs to be addressed quite clearly, which I tried to do at the military tribunal. These were training camps set up during the Soviet occupation that had full support of the west, mostly supported by the United States with missiles and so forth; these camps continued after the USSR backed government and later other groups were involved during the internal civil war, various Afghan groups fought each other; People came from different parts of the Muslim world who came to the camps. You had Kashmiris fighting for liberation of occupied Kashmir; You had Chechyans come over. You have people from Libya and other places. Al-Qaeda didn't exist in them, or if it did, certainly not in the way it did until post-bombings of Nairobi and Tanzania. I don't think anyone had heard of Osama bin Laden. I certainly hadn't. When I went there to visit, 1990, 1993, it was a camp run by the third largest political party in Pakistan on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it trained exclusively Kashmiris who had been thrown out of their homes or witness atrocities against their families, and they came to be trained and to try to get their homes back.
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: I think one of these camps, the Khost camp, was actually run by the Northern Alliance which was the United States' ally in routing the Taliban. So these camps were not al-Qaeda, but quite the opposite.
MOAZZAM BEGG: No, of course not, and any one who does a little bit of research, would come to that conclusion. These camps were supporting anti-Taliban organizations, and of course, the Taliban had not emerged as a powerful group at first. It think by the time 1995 came, these camps were closed down by the Taliban because they were ideologically opposed to them in the first place.
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: And the second camp you visited was actually---
MOAZZAM BEGG: Because I'm a nationalist of Pakistan and Great Britain, I was living at the times with family and friends in the northern region, which was a 2 hour drive from the camp. I met some people who were Kurdish, and they told me about some of their plights. and how his whole village, which was the village of Slebja was gassed by Saddam Hussein's forces, and why they had to put a training camp in Afghanistan to help fight against this. They were training in light arms, and I came back, and was much wiser because of the experience.
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: So, once again, allies of the United States were running these camps to train people to topple Saddam Hussein to be very blunt.
MOAZZAM BEGG: Yes, and that is the great irony. When the United States struck, they struck like a bull in a china shop. They struck every single camp, because camps means terrorism, and of course, these camps existed during the time of the Soviet Union, and at that time, they were heroes. They were freedom fighters. They didn't turn their guns against the United States. They were involved in their own war, as the majority of the people who came to the camps. I'm not saying that al-Qaeda didn't. Al-Qaeda had its own camps, and its own ideology and targets. and they were conducting their own trainings. To equate all of them together [the camps] is what the United States has done, and earned a animosity of a great part of the Muslim world. That is a result of negligence, as well as ignorance, compounded by arrogance.
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: So, al-Qaeda itself you said didn't really exist at that point in time; then when did it start to exist; and is that due to the United States? Has it been created post the war or is that my imagination run wild?
MOAZZAM BEGG: I'm no expert on al-Qaeda. The only people I have ever met as far as I know were Guantanamo Bay. And there was only person there I knew who was a self-declared member. As far as I know, when they came into existence, or world recognition existence was after the bombing in Tanzania and Nairobi. They may have been around I think earlier on during the time of the Soviet occupation, personally I don't they were of world renown or notoriety at that point.
DEEPA FERNANDES: And I think that is very interesting Moazzam Begg, that that you only met one person in Guantanamo Bay was al-Qaeda, when you were locked up by the United States. Who was everybody else? Are they terrorists? Are they enemy combatants against the United States as the US calls them?
MOAZZAM BEGG: Statements are being made that these people were captured on a battlefield. I can't believe the ignorance of these statements; I wasn't captured on a battlefield or anywhere near a battlefield. Neither were all these people or the majority of the people being held there. There weren't too many engagements by the US ground forces; most of them were Northern Alliance forces [on the battlefield.] Normally, the Tribunals or Article 5 hearing according to the Geneva Convention is supposed to take place to determine if a man is an enemy combatant or prisoner of war or a non-combatant or civilian. None of these took place because there was not battlefield where it was done. Now, if someone is declared an enemy combatant without any evidence, I think the United States is having a terrible problem trying to prove that. In the words of many interrogators I came across, and one in particular who said, and I quote "I know that there is nobody being held here in Guantanamo Bay that has committed an act of belligerence against the United States, because if we did have somebody like that we would have processed them through our courts, punished them, and locked them up for a very long time."
DEEPA FERNANDES: Your own government, the British government, did very little to help you while you were inside. You were told they washed their hands of you. It seems like they did. Tell a little bit of your father's struggle, in trying to make your case known, and what if, any assistance did he receive from your own government.
MOAZZAM BEGG: I think initially there was a shirking of responsibility from my own government, particularly when I was held in Afghanistan. There was initially in the early stages that the British stated that the Americans are giving no consulate access to the US base in Bagram. However, the MI5 did visit me for a couple days, and did make my complaints to them, and told them about the things I witnessed. I received my first official delegatory visit by the British in 2003, April, and by which time, my case has been going on quite strong on my father's side.
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: And Moazzam Begg, there was a play partly based on your experiences, 'Honor Bound to Defend Freedom,' that was playing in London and around the world, and here in New York for a number of months and San Francisco and other places. What do you think of it, and do you plan to write about your experiences?
MOAZZAM BEGG: Yeah, strange enough. One of the authors who compiled the play was Victoria Britain, and she has collaborated with me to put together a book which we hope to have published by the end of this year or the beginning of the next.
DEEPA FERNANDES: And finally, Moazzam Begg, we can hear your family in the background. I think for one of the things for us here in the United States, is that you have been so dehumanized, painted as less than human, and I am wondering if you can tell us about the little girl's voice in the background and the Moazzam Begg who is now coming to life as a father.
MOAZZAM BEGG: Moazzam Begg was always alive as a father. He never forgot his children. They were in my prayers and thoughts every single hour of the day. When I came back, to see them older than they were before, 3 years older. The one you heard in the background actually was my son, who I have never seen until the beginning of this year. My eldest daughter cried profusely because she remembered me the most out of all the children. The others did not have too much of a physical, living memory of me, although they did have a memory kept up by my wife who would show pictures of me and letters they got from me from time to time.
DEEPA FERNANDES: Well, Moazzam Begg, we want to thank you so much for joining us here on Wakeup Call on Pacifica Radio and sharing your story. We welcome you anytime to Wakeup Call to give us an update, and we look forward to reading your book when it comes out.
MOAZZAM BEGG: Thank you.
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