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Second Guantanamo in Oxford Conference, Closing Panel, Transcription

Closing Panel: Asif Iqbal, Feroz Ali Abassi, Moazzam Begg, Rhuhel Ahmed, Tarek Dergoul
Moderator: Clive Stafford-Smith
Second Guantanamo in Oxford Conference
Saint Anne's College, Oxford University, March 18, 2007

Rough Transcription

Clive Stafford-Smith: Great, we’ll start this morning with Mr. Begg, who really barely needs any introduction, but if you haven’t bought his book, you should, and in the meantime I shall turn it over to you, man.

Moazzam Begg: OK. Do you need me to be standing over there or can I just sit down? [Short silence]. Please [bear to?] let me sit down [audience laughter]. I’m really tired. [Inaudible] I began with the terminology of [a phrase in a different language], and this, as most Muslims and among Islam today, means “in the name of” or “with the name of God, the most compassionate, the most merciful.” And these two adjectives or characteristics are exclusive in Islam to creators, to God, so the characteristics of being not only compassionate, but being optimistic, is something that at instinct, you recognize is a duty upon each and every single one of us. These characteristics that are being bottomed of The Creator are also something that’s supposed to permeate into our lives and how we deal with [people], compassion and mercy. And indeed, [ my life?] has many, many mercies []. For example, was there [] because mercy supersedes everything, and it is these concepts of mercy and compassion that I think are so important to discuss in relation to what’s taking place in Guantanamo, the war on terror, and the perception of what Islam is supposed to be because people perceive Islam to be a religion that is about war, about killing, about cruelty, about torture, about all these other things, but that’s why I want to emphasize the point that whenever a Muslim began anything, it is with these words [] or []. Compassion and mercy are the most overriding factors of the Islamic principle of life.

It’s quite amazing, actually, that we are talking now, at a point in history (or a piece as far as British history is concerned) about the abolition of slavery 200 years ago, and everybody’s – not celebrating – but commemorating of this, this dark period in history, along the European nations []. And at this point, I remember, for example, in Guantanamo Bay, along the cages [] based on historic concepts and principles that have already taken place. One of them, for example, was that [David Hicks], the Australian detainee, had been held on a ship, and the argument was that because he was being held on a ship was he by extension or by definition, someone who’d be on American soil or not, and did he have the right to American justice because he had been on a U.S. military transport ship. And one of his cases that were offered, was cited as precedent -- and I don’t know the full detail or the name of the case -- but it was the case of an African slave that had been held on a ship and been taken to the United Kingdom. And he was arguing also for the right to be treated as a human being, for the right to be taken to court, for the right to be shown what crime it was that he has been committed.

And if you look back at history, if you look at some of the parallels – and I remember I discovered this or remembered this, not here but in Guantanamo Bay, discussing these issues about origins with people from the U.S. Virgin Islands who at that time, it was the first time in their history that they had been deployed in any military situation. And prior [to] that they hadn’t been anywhere, that they had never been deployed [] anywhere, coming to Guantanamo was really just a small trip for them because it was just a half-an-hour journey if they wanted to take actual wine barrels from their homeland, or from their home islands, to Guantanamo. But it was a great culture shock to them, also, because one of the things I discussed with a lot of these guys from the Virgin Islands was origins and history, and where people came from originally. And one of the things that we agreed upon was that the [] in history that people had been taken across the Atlantic in chains by the Americans to the Americas, a majority of whom were Muslim, if anybody’s read, or seen, Alex Haleys‘ Roots, would recognize the fact, [] slavery. And nobody’s suggesting that the people that are being held in Guantanamo are being made to be slaves, but the parallels are unquestionable. And so it seemed, then, that when I used to discuss these issues with a lot of the soldiers, and used to talk to them about what it was to be a Muslim, and to have a faith, I remember one of them, a black soldier from somewhere in [], Louisiana, he asked me, “Why are all the Muslims praying all the time? What is it about your faith that’s so special, that makes you do this? Why are you all so committed to your faith?”

Well the obvious answer to that would be, if you put anybody in an eight-by-six cell, and give them no access to anything at all in their life, they will turn into a saint because there is nothing else to do, and faith is the only thing that will give you strength. And even people who have little or no faith often turn towards faith when they’re in that type of situation. But I asked him, “What do you think faith is? And you tell me, if you look at your own origins and where you came from, and you study your own history, you tell me how is it that you came to be about in the United States of America to begin with? How did you end up there? How did your forefathers end up there? And who do you think they were? And what is the likelihood of their faith being the same as my faith?”

Up until this point the soldier had never asked himself these types of questions, never cared to ask himself these types of questions. It didn’t bother him. It didn’t matter to him. But I can tell you within weeks, the same person who used to look towards faith and religion and so forth, deridingly, was bringing into my cell and was reading in front of me, Alex Haley’s Roots, Malcom X’s autobiography and so forth.

If you look up the word, “rendition”, you’ll find that one of its definitions, or one of the times when it was used last in history, was when escaped slaves were rendered from one place to another. So it’s not anything new, [] adjective extraordinary rendition makes it almost euphemistic, in a sense. You don’t really know what it is until you have either experienced it or spoken to people who have experienced it. And that is kidnap, abduction, false imprisonment, and torture. And most of the people who are now in Guantanamo Bay have gone through this process. People think somebody’s being kidnapped and taken, and they end up in Guantanamo Bay. No; that is not the case at all. They are held, most of them, in the ghost detention sites. And in these sites, in these places, that’s where the majority of the abuses are taking place. That’s where people have been beaten and tortured, and [suffocated] and [], and being killed. And that is [] are recorded in the United States, [] and so forth. And so the dehumanization process, the inability to recognize what it is they’re dealing with, the United States military, with the full weight of ignorance behind them, of not knowing what world they just stepped into. And I will give you an example of the use of terminology, and how it’s so easy to demonize the people, with [blinted] vision or looking toward the east with western eyes. If you take the term, for example, “jihad” and “Islam,” today it is almost unanimously in the west regarded as synonomous with “terrorism,” completely. There’s no distinction at all. In fact people are quite happy to use the adjective in some of the most prestigious newspapers in the country, and elsewhere. [] an extremist, Islamist, jihadist. And if they’re teaching us about our own terminology, and we have to accept it.

But let me take you back to a time in history when “jihad” was in fact a very noble term by the west. The word [] is a derivative of the Arabic word, [“jebeda”], which means, “to struggle,” from which we also get the word, “jihad,” which means, “to fight.” The [mujahidin] in Afghanistan, as everybody knows, were [] and supported by not only the United Kingdom, but they were trained in the mountains of [Slovonia] and the highlands here, but they were also given [] anti-aircraft missiles, which turned out to be crap, being British [laughter from audience]. And afterward called the ubiquitous Stinger. So this was being supplied to them [] at that time [] various edicts were being taught in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere supporting thousands, tens of thousands, of people, to go and fight there against the “Red Threat.” And a great number of people that are held in Guantanamo [] , in fact, fought during that period. Some of them even handled those Stingers. And some of them even handled those [], too. So [mumbled by someone, “and survived”] and survived [audience laughter]. So, if we’re looking at the [] terminology, somebody here in the west, for example, would be happy to use the term, “jihadist.” But in the Arabic world they won’t be using this term – they won’t say, “[] jihad [].” They might call them, “[].” They might say [that these are] extremists, or so forth, or [], but the term “jihad” wasn’t really used because it’s not understood in that context in that part of the world, but in this part of the world, where we recognize things only through a vague understanding of somebody else’s faith, religion, language and so forth, this is how we’ll [], and this is what helps to demonize something at some point was regarded, and is in the Muslim world to this day, regarded as something that is noble. And it is an intrinsic part of the Islamic faith, which one cannot remove. How anyone wishes to demonize it. It will always remain an intrinsic part of the Islamic faith. The difference is, when does that become terrorism, and when does it not.

And the ability, the wanton description of any Islamic concept, that are [], has now been easily labeled as terrorism, completely, utterly. So, by definition then, all these things can subscribe to jihad because that is already an intrinsic part of the Islamic faith. Either there is completely [], it’s truly, which means [], or they must reject it, utterly. And this is part of the problem that we’re having when we’re looking from the western eye towards the eastern world. And this is some of the problems that we face in Guantanamo Bay, completely and utterly, sometimes by design and often by ignorance. I’ll give you an example, in Bagram, when I was held in Bagram, which I said before, too, that these types of facilities are where people are held before they go to Guantanamo, so the dehumanization process has begun and is in full swing before you’re sent there. Each cell (and there were six cells that were divided by concertina or razor wire, in which there were approximately ten or so detainees), each cell had a label on it, written in white marker. Now this is – no ordinary soldier can do this. It has to be somebody of some particular rank, a lieutenant, at least, or above. An ordinary enlisted soldier cannot do this. They can’t go around writing things on cells and giving them labels just from their whims and desires. So each cell had a title, and some [of you] can understand the reasons behind it. One, for example, is called the Twin Towers; another is called, Kenya or Tanzania, or even the U.S.S. Cole. But then you see Somalia, and Libya, and Lebanon. And what do you recognize from this? A common factor, a common denominator, is that at some point in history, as [] as possible, it doesn’t matter, but in some type of engagement with the United States civilians or military had with Islamic peoples, nations, or organizations. That was the common factor. I mean, what did Lebanon, in 1982, I presume, have to do with Al-Qaida? Nothing. What did Somalia have to do with Al-Qaida, with the [] incidents? Nothing. Except in the minds of the people that said, that all of this, the unifying factor in all of this, the common factor in all of this, is Islam. (chair screeching) One needs to see, for example, profanities written in the wall, on the walls, or on the toilets. Profanities against F Islam, F the Koran, F Jihad. These types of things, where is it coming from?

Part of this, in fact, whether we believe it or not, whether we take on the idea, that some people believe that this is a war of ideologies, i.e. you know, the classic clash-of-civilizations theory, I don’t know. But certainly there is an exception, not just on the other side, not just on what they call the extremist side, but on the other side. People believe that, it’s Islam in itself. That is the problem. And, in fact, you hear many commentators these days saying, “The problem isn’t Muslims. The problem isn’t Muslims, they’re just ordinary people. The problem is the faith that they follow. That’s the problem.” And you can imagine that permeating on to the ordinary soldier, the ordinary American soldier. Often, more often than not, a lot of brightness is [seen] (?). And I don’t mean that in a condescending way. I mean that in, America is a huge country, why do they need to know about the rest of the world? Unless, of course, they happen to occupy.

And so, if you regard all of this, and ignorance, and ignorance as we all know breeds hatred, and the only antidote to ignorance is knowledge. And it’s important to not just people who are in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, and a lot of military commanders say that we are putting our soldiers, continually, though cultural training, letting them know what’s sensitive, with regards to people’s faith, and so forth. And still, on top of that you hear readily, abuses against detainees. Particularly based on faith. You continue to hear that, all the way from a released Chinese Uighur, to an [] Albanian, to an Afghan villager. Who had never met one another in Guantanamo. Some of them were held in isolation, or were released years apart. And yet, the recurrence, concurrent statements that they make about the abuses, continue to come out of the Guantanamo Bay. See, one can’t help but to think, is this systematic, or is it just compounded ignorance and destitute, or was it a bit of both? Because all of us can [], all of former detainees have had some type of experience of religious abuse. And, if you can imagine, it’s hard in the western world to recognize how people see things like this. But all of this is extremely important.

When we were first taken into custody, and put through the process of being processed as detainees, some of the first things that took place to us in the west perhaps may not seem so bad, i.e. being stripped naked. Well, you know, when you go to school, when you shower together, after games, and after rugby, or football, it’s not such a big deal to be naked in front of another man. But in Afghanistan or in the Muslim faith, most people had never been naked in front of anyone. And some of them wouldn’t even appear naked in front of their own wives. The idea of shaving somebody’s beard off, here it’s not such a big deal at all. But you can imagine an Afghan villager, who has never touched his beard at all. Never in his life, and in a matter of seconds, he’s shaved like a sheep, his hair is taken. And to see a grown man, who probably fought against the soviets, one of the heartiest warriors in the last century, one of the people who we would normally praise for being such a strong and courageous man, breaks down in tears and cries because his beard has been shaved. Why would that be important? Why would that make him cry? When he can take every other abuse, he’s lived every other hardship that you could possible imagine, in Afghanistan, in one of the [] poorest countries on earth, where there’s been continuous civil war, occupation at one point or another. How could he break down, just because somebody shaved his beard, or because somebody searched his cavity, or stripped him naked? Why should he break down over that? Well, this is part it. This is part of not recognizing the cultural sensitivity. This is part not recognizing his cultural… it is arrogance, cultural arrogance, to say that well, we don’t feel like this, we don’t recognize this, it doesn’t matter what he thinks. And then they wonder, and I think I’ve said this before I believe, forgive me for repeating, that if you can imagine that each Afghani, or another from another Muslim nation (there are 40 odd different nations represented by detainees in Guantanamo Bay)… if you can imagine that each of these people, these detainees, these prisoners held in the war of terror by the US, having extended family (as you all know great numbers of people in the Muslim world, and in the general third world have extended families, structured systems to support, but not only do they have that, they have clans and sub-clans, and those are part of bigger tribes, and those tribes are what make up their nations). So, can you imagine what happens, when this man is described to his extended family, to his sub-clan, his clan, and his tribe what he went through, after his release, perhaps after 3 months or so, because they found out that he has not done anything anywhere? What do you think would be the effect of this? Do you think that, after this type of humiliation, that they’ll just somehow think oh well, that the Americans really did come here to help us and they’re just not recognizing our cultural differences and sensitivities? Or are they going to say, you know, I thought the Americans were good when they first came, but if they’re going to do this to my people, where’s my AK-47? And we hear often now, that the Taliban, it’s the Taliban has done this, and the Taliban has done that and so forth. I think these are complete and utter fallacies. It’s not just the Taliban anymore. And part of that reason is because of creating antipathy, creating a hostile atmosphere from lack of knowledge and through complete and utter, utter ignorance which has bred hatred. So, all of this, as I said before, is paramount to recognize that when you operate in a different part of the world, when people are breaking people, like for example in [], and they don’t understand the cultural sensitivities and what it is that makes another person tick, you have to, we have to open our eyes to the rest of the world that we are a part of. In fact, if you take an ordinary Afghan villager, whose day-to-day sustenance is based on how many potatoes or onions that he’s grown, that can be carried on the back of his mule or his donkey to the market, and that’s all he wants to know, or cares to know. He hasn’t even been to the capital city in his own country, Kabul; he just lives in the outskirts. Many of these people have been captured either for [] or for defending themselves. At least he can plead ignorance. He really has the right to plead ignorance about the rest of the world. But you tell me that a person who lives in the most advanced nation, or amongst the most advanced nations on earth, has access to every possible amenity there is to gain knowledge, through the internet, through lecture, through university, through schooling, through every possible outlet that has been afforded to him or her, for which, of course the privilege, how can they then claim ignorance? What right do you have to claim ignorance? Particularly when you’re going to another part of the world, that other part of the world isn’t coming to you. You’re going there. You’re the occupier. You’re the one who’s bringing your values to that place, or attempting to show the rest of the world how your values are better than what the values in this part of the world are. How can you claim ignorance? And I think that this is one of the most important factors that people have to recognize, and to take on board. Um, I’m pretty much finished there. I think that if there are any questions that anybody wishes to ask, um…

Audience comment: Moazzam, just to say that, after the Second World War, the allies said exactly the same thing to the German people: how could you plead ignorance when this sort of thing was going around under your noses? So, you have an absolute very, very clear point there, you know. It well may be that Murdock and Berlusconi are doing everything to us to try and stop us from knowing what is going on, but we certainly have a moral duty to(stammers). Not least because we pleaded it once before. We said that Germany has to pay because, despite the censorship and the totalitarianism, we thought that it was right, that we could say to the German people, that you should have known. It’s not good enough to say you didn’t. Thank you very much. 24:54

Clive Stafford-Smith: Wait, [] I’ll say this, that we’re very lucky to have [] and [] and [] with us. And some of the other guys are on their way, but, typically [] they’re stuck in traffic. Um, we’ll [] the rest of the morning, and we’ll take a break in a half an hour []. We’ll have dialogue with people who really [] 26:17

Request from the audience: When you introduce yourselves, tell us how long you were in Guantanamo.

First former detainee: I’m [], and I was in there for three years.

Second former detainee: My name is Tarek Dergoul, and I was there for two years. And I spent maybe five weeks in Bagram, and just about three months in Kandahar.

Clive Stafford-Smith: Can you hear back there? Sorry.

Audience: No.

Clive Stafford-Smith: Maybe speak up a little bit. I want you to []. I want you to recognize that these two guys, were two of the first six, who were charged in the military commission. I just want to make sure that you recognize that these guys, not only are the worst of the worst, they’re actually the worst, of the worst, of the worst [laughter]. And I don’t mean to disparage [laughter], they’re really evil, wicked, terrible [laughter]. But, I just want you to recognize that we’re putting you next to terrible [], if you’d pardon my French.

??: and if it comes hurtling back, it’s because I have [].

(27:53) Clive Stafford-Smith: Oh, you mind, don’t take pictures if you don’t mind. Yeah, yeah, just delete that one now, and I’ll tell you there’s several reasons for this. One is that, when, of course, they dehumanize the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, we used pictures to show them [] of human beings while they were in Guantanamo Bay, and I’m glad to say that a lot of the pictures that we used, for reasons that you’ll understand, were very young looking and didn’t look anything like what some of them are today, and it’s very hard to integrate yourself back into society where the prejudices of the world are such, that everyone says you’re a terrorist. There are various other reasons that people have too. But can you just delete that one now, if you don’t mind, thank you.

(28:4) Second former detainee: [] Um, there’s like Mozzam had said, he talked about cultural sensitivities and arrogance and I’m in a university, so I want to bring some university teachings into this. Um, there’s, um, I took an outside option called issues, key issues in contemporary society, this explores your sociological imagination, [mumbling] and that is, if I understand it right, it means to take yourself away, out of personal circumstances and, you know, to put yourself into the other person’s shoes, and supposedly sociology is supposed to be, like Mozzam said, to make you culturally sensitive, to understand other peoples cultures and is supposed to promote understanding and recognition of other people, and it’s supposed to take you away from actually dehumanizing people, etc. There was some talk about nakedness and I would say that, in the west, you know, nakedness is still something that is sensitive. It’s not something, that, you know, I mean, in school, yeah, we had showers, you know after P.E., physical education we had showers. You’re with all the guys and we had to shower. But still, there’s this, certain very isolated incident. In the west, in general, nakedness is still sensitive. I’d like to say that the US, the US military they understood that, and they understand that, and they understand the sensitivities of that, and that is why they actually stripped us naked. And that’s why they took pictures of us, full pictures. And I know this because someone actually told me this: a detainee. They were actually showing a picture of me, naked, when they had me []. Fully naked, actually. So, there is other talk about why Muslims do things. And I want to bring some, and I’m not sure if it was covered previously because I wasn’t here, but, there’s, you know, why do Muslims do things? And I want to bring this belief that we have. And to sum it up, I would say that what we believe is the cause of misfortune, the cause of suffering is sin. If someone sins, then they are going to suffer for it. And I know a lot if you here are not innocent, but that is what we believe, what we believe is reality. So, we have, what we believe in is [], we believe that in this world, if someone sins, then whatever misfortune that befalls them is their own fault. They can’t blame God, they brought it upon themselves. So, I have to bring that aspect out. And you have to realize that, this life, you know, when we die, it’s not the end of it. Muslims believe that in the grave, we’re either going to be punished or we’re going to be rewarded. And after the grave, we’re going to be resurrected on the Day of Judgment, and, you know, because of our deeds, we’re going to be rewarded or punished, etc. as with Indians, we’re either going to be eternally in paradise, or eternally in hellfire. This is a very strong view for Muslims, or that Muslims have. And you can realize that, it’s connected to our deeds. So, when someone does something, you know, it has consequences, for whether they’re rewarded or punished. And that comes back to the whole thing of there’s has been a lot of talk about why Muslims keep the beard. Why some shave it. Why do Muslims believe this, and do this, or don’t do this, etc. and that’s the reason why. Because in Islam, the deeds are divided into five. And the definition of them is, and I won’t go into all of the definitions, but the definition of them is based on whether that deed is rewarded in the hereafter, or if that deed is the cause of punishment in the hereafter, and so forth. So, I’d like to highlight, I’d like to highlight the actions of a person in this world they have consequences for them, whether they are in pleasure or paradise, in pleasure and paradise in the hereafter, or their being punished and suffering in the hereafter, and that’s very important. And that’s why Muslims do things. I’m not sure whether or not it’s violent, but that’s why we do things. So, you know, this whole thing about the beard, to me, I keep my beard because I have to. If I cut my beard as part of what I believe, I understand the effect that if I cut my beard, I’ve done a deed that’s potentially going to put me in hellfire. It may seem trivial to you, or you may think it’s just a beard, but it’s not up to us to categorize the deeds. Allah categorizes the deeds, it’s not up to us. We’re just supposed to follow-Islam means submission. I’d like to highlight a point, and another point is the reason why Allah makes thing obligative on us is that they’re good for us. And the reason why Allah makes some things forbidden for us is because they’re bad for us. You know, it’s not a matter that something is good, but the law forbids it. You know, just because you want to test it, no, it’s bad for us. Therefore, we should understand that, you know, if a man is not supposed to expose himself in front of people, you know, if Allah's forbidden it, that’s because it’s bad for us. That’s why we’re so sensitive about that. I’d like to highlight that point.

Audience: [mumbling]

Third former detainee (?): I’ll just say that, [mumbling] when they go and speak to these hostages in Guantanamo, its common sense really, that you have to do a lot of research, and obviously you have to [] so you’re going to [] for some Muslims you can play music, for other Muslims you can't play music [] so you're gonna get confused a lot. So basically, we’re humans you know, we’re not like animals or a fish in the sea. A particular fish acts a particular way and we have to treat it in a particular way. So, we’re human. We might have the same faith, but there is a mercy there as well [] but there are different views of Islam as well, you know. You will have to do this, and you don't have to do this. So, [] speaking, not everyone thinks the same. And that’s it really; it’s as simple as that. I’m sure you guys can help. [] the interrogators that were there, [] to televise it more, or to help, you know, or to serve their country, an interrogator is supposed to be there to serve his country, to extract information, to get back to the CIA or whoever. So they could basically to tell their country what was going on. And that’s what was happening. They go in there and they're mocking, their blaspheming, and they’re not doing what they told us. So, this is what people there []. It happened nearly every day. It's continuous blaspheming and humiliation. So you have to understand that it’s quite significant every day. They give you basically; you understand where they’re really coming from, they are going to mock every day. They mock the court of prayer. They play over the [], and sometimes they even put []. Sometimes they don’t play it. Sometimes they play it loud. Sometimes they play it low. When it’s time to pray, they come looking at the gates. And it’s time for a cell search, when everyone is praying, you know. They cut []. They cuss a lot at our God and at Mohammed [] the Prophet [] they mock him. They shave our beards, and our heads. They beat you. They spray pepper-spray in your face, they shave your eyebrows, as part of your facial hair. And some of these sorts of abuses will happen to you quite every day, every day, every day, and so when you try to [] and come and get it, your very unstable. The paranoia [] it takes time. I’m sure it’s quite an experience. From [] until now, I’m sure he’s got some experience. He’s probably the best person to really, to really [].

Clive Stafford-Smith: I don't think that’s true [].

Third former detainee: So, basically I understand what [] is going through. And, the sooner you understand this [] and try to be patient. Maybe, [] the first time, the second time, the third time, and so on. And, that’s it really.

Clive Stafford-Smith: [] Go ahead.

Question from the audience: Good morning. I wish you would tell me, what things the lawyers did when they would come into the little rooms and talk to you. What did the lawyers do that would lead you to trust them, and what did the lawyers do that you didn’t like? In other words, instruct me about how to go about talking to a client.

Moazzam Begg: OK, I believe that Gita [i.e. Gitanjali Gutierrez] is here because I don’t see her here, but she was the first lawyer, civilian lawyer to receive access to detainees in Guantanamo Bay. And I was the first detainee followed, shortly after by Feroz. And, one of the things she was conscious of, very conscious of, was whether I would trust her at all, particularly with her American accent. And the fact is, everybody that I had seen up until this point, that all of us had seen up until this point, were all hostile, in the sense that they were our adversaries, or they believed themselves to be our adversaries. So she tried to reassure me by saying that she had met my father, that she had told me a word as a pass code, that only my father knew, it was my nickname as a child, and she continued to explain her anxiousness at wanting to seem to be genuine. At that time, it was very difficult to know, or otherwise, and I had to take on [] on what she said. And as far as things have happened since that time, I remember shortly after this, I think 25 minutes or so later, as soon as she had left, the interrogators came. And interrogators came to ask me what she had been saying and what we had been talking about. So I couldn’t help but to think that, you know, she’s probably one of them isn’t she? And this is part of the whole program and since we know (and I know Clive can can elaborate on this) several times, interrogators have come in claiming to be from the legal team. I know [] told me that once, and that is one of the reasons why [] he completely rejects any lawyers, legal representation at all. So I think that is one of the things. People have to first-for some people, you are never going to get their trust. And completely lacking this, and this is a debate that I used to have with a lot of detainees, I remember Feroz was with me when we used to discuss this sometimes, is that if you are designated as enemy combatant, i.e. you are the enemy, and then that enemy, on the other side, decides that they are going to allow you some sort of legal representation in an amorphous situation, which you can’t describe or recognize, and that defender of yours is going to be, as I said internal [], is going to be from a body that has already designated you, the actual commander and chief has designated you as the enemy. And now, from that end, somebody is supposed to come and defend you. So, judge, jury, prosecutor, defense, and executioner are all from the same body that designated you to begin with. And as far as the civilians are concerned and that situation, most people will still think, what’s the difference? Because, as far as they’re concerned, as far as they know (and remember they are not given access to current affairs, or to news, or anything like that at all), how are you going to know one from the other? When sometimes interrogators come dressed in military uniform, and sometimes they come as civilians. So how can you tell the difference? What tools do you have to discern. And, as a result of this, I think, I know Feroz remembers this very well, that we used to have debates sometimes about the issue of whether or not it is Islamicly legal to have representation in the American courts. I think this argument was two-fold. It existed in the Muslim world, in that some people believed that you could only seek justice in an Islamic court as a Muslim, i.e. it has to be the Sharia law that applies. Some people believe in practical concerns. Most of the detainees from Yemen, Pakistan, Algeria, and so forth, where there isn’t an application of Islamic Sharia. And yet they have to have some sort of recourse to legal justice. So, they know that in times of necessity, you have to have some sort of legal recourse when there is nothing else, out of necessity. But the argument then, is put by many knowledgeable people in Guantanamo Bay, who are regarded as the scholars of the detainees, and they argue that it is not permissible to seek judgment in the U.S. court, and therefore, by definition, have U.S. lawyers to represent you. And this argument was compounded by the fact that, it’s not really about not being able to get your rights, but it’s about appearing, or appearing to be, in that this is all a veneer, which we discussed []. That this is a veneer. It’s décor. Which is making the U.S. administration feel good about themselves by saying, “Look, we’re allowing these guys lawyers. They didn’t do that to us. Al-Qaida captured some of our people; they wouldn’t give us any lawyers or anything. They were convicted and beheaded.” So, this is sort of trying, trying to take the moral position or the moral high ground and say that we’re allowing these lawyers. But in practical terms, the more time goes past, the more habeas corpus decisions come forth and [] and then rescinded by the same court that [] them to begin with, which is the highest court in the land, why should anybody seriously have any faith in the justice system? So, these are the types of obstacles that you’re going to be facing, which are very, very big obstacles. And, there is no simple answer of how can you get a detainee or prisoner to trust you in light of all of this.

Follow-up question from the audience: I understand about the justice system. I’m wondering if there was some particular time that you remember when you first began to trust Gita, and what factors led to it? What did she do? What did she say?

Moazzam Begg: Well, I think, as I said before, that it was on a personal level. That she had met with my father. That she met with my wife. She had met my son, whom I had never seen in my life. So, those sort of personal things were very important. I’d think that a lot of lawyers who deal with family members, on that personal level, have been able to establish a rapport that others can’t. So, I think that it’s extremely important, and I know that sometimes it's hard, sometimes people have to ship to Mauritania, Bahrain, and Yemen and other obscure parts of the world to establish these links with these people. But that, I think, is one of the most important factors, a very human-related factor.

Second former detainee: For me, the first thing is you realize you’re an American, and you go over there representing a detainee. For the detainees, you’re not different for the interrogators. When you come across, you won’t come across as different to the interrogators. There won’t be something about you, some aura that will say that, you know, you’re a lawyer and you’re different from an interrogator. What was significant for me was the behavior of the lawyer. It distinguished itself from that of the interrogator. And that was what made the difference, the [] behavior. And the most important thing for me was that, because, you know, when we’re in the cages and, you know, we’re not followed by n-Delta, and we’re all in the cages, you know, we kind of support each other, you know. You know, you gotta stay firm, etc. But it's coming from someone who is in the same situation as you. So they are in the hole with you and they're telling you "we're gonna get out," etc. [] They can't offer you any substantial help. The important thing is when someone outside [] and at that time we had given up hope, we didn’t have any information. I thought the world had given up on us, you know, that’s it. You know, I had given up on the world, you know it’s all like fuck you. You had to have some kind of, I don’t know, some kind of, I guess it was a bit of arrogance just to survive through that. So, it’s like, you know, they didn’t care, they’re just getting on with their own lives and etc., we’re just going to be left here to rot. And, the thing that made a difference was someone from outside coming, and actually sympathizing with our situation. So, it’s like I’m in a hole, and then there’s someone who is not in a hole, but coming and saying that, I recognize that you’re in a hole, and I’m here to help you. That’s the first thing. The second thing was that, I won’t say which lawyer it was, but Moazzam was telling me about a lawyer, or giving me some information about a lawyer, a who (laughter) that he was using, kind of abusive language, (laughter and talking in the background).

Comment from the audience: We were getting all sort of [], reams and reams of court proceedings that had been passed in relation to our case [] and [] vs. Bush. And [] with whole reams of documentation about case laws, and we started reading it because we were extremely bored and had nothing else to read.

Moazzam Begg: [] one day he came, slammed book on the table and said, “Moazzam, this crap's not going to work. You have to embarrass these bastards.” And, really, that’s part of the strategy in fact. You know, if the law isn’t working, it’s supposed to work, but it doesn’t work. So what other methods do you use? What other methods do you employ? And that’s when you start embarrassing people. Make them appeal, not to their own conscience because they don’t have any, but to the conscience of the people that they claim to represent.

(51:00) Former detainee: Yeah, so when Moazzam gave me a sense of, you know, this guy is one of us. He’s on our side. That distinction was made. Now, I understand that when you go down there, you had to be on board with the soldiers down there, the military system. You had to try and get along when you lubricate the system etc. this goes to the point of, what I did not like, is to hear, or get any notion of any lawyer, getting along with “them.” Now, that is something I did not like. I mean, I understand, on an intelligent level, you know, that that’s what you have to do, to get on with things, that’s what you have to do, you have to get on board with the soldiers, but don’t show me that. What I want to see is that you’re one of us. What I want to see very, very abusive, you don’t have to be verbally abusive or whatever, but the point is-make that separation. Therefore, it becomes that you’re one of us in orange, except you’re not wearing orange. You don’t like these people, just like we don’t like these people. So, identify, in that aspect and I think that’s very important. So then you become, you become a friend in a sense. A few other points is that, you know, Gita came with information, which, the U.S. military system does not, you know, they make it very, they try to be very meticulous and not actually giving us outside information, but the lawyer distinguishes himself [] what was going on in his head, but the point is that it was important because it distinguished the lawyer from the interrogator in behavior. She came with hope in a sense. You know, in a way that things were progressing, you know. That the war has not forgotten the meek, you know, and there’s things being done out there. Some people were trying to sort the problem out, so it was not that we were abandoned etc. And communication, and this is very important, the communication aspect because I felt threatened in that situation. I got kind of worried about disappearing, and in that situation, you feel like they can do anything to you. You know, it’s a matter just of, anytime they could just come in there and just finish you off, as far as I’m concerned. So, you know, I felt very threatened. To have that lifeline, especially when Gita had left. When she leaves it goes back to the same routine, to the same situation, to wondering if anything is going to change, etc., so it was very important that the communication line stay open. The problem is that the military had some influence, some influence over the communication line. So, if I felt that my letters weren’t getting through, then I got worried. I started to go back into that situation where I thought was going to be abandoned again. So the communication, to actually be able to send a letter out, that kind of, it’s a lifeline. That kind of lifeline, just to be able to write letters and say “this is happening to me,” “they’re doing this now,” I don’t know where this is going to go, this may be my last letter, you know, send my love to mom, you know, and to send that, you know, that was very important for me. I think in those aspects, it distinguished the lawyer from the interrogators. And the final aspect is, you know, sincerity. Don’t promise something that you can’t give. You don’t have to promise anything. Don’t promise cookies, and then you don’t bring a cookie. It seems like something simple, that’s what the interrogators do. And that’s how, you know, as detainees we have to, as a detainee because our lives are so confined, you’re constantly in situations, vital situations, where you’re trying to pick up on any tiny little clue that will give you, just that extra time to prepare yourself for something that is going to happen. And usually from there, they try to stop that so they can surprise you, when they want to move you, etc. or they want to take you away. They try to surprise you by just actually doing it, you know, just all of a sudden, they’re there and they want to move you out. As a detainee you fight that by actually trying to pick up on tiny little signals in order to work out, you know, whether you’re threatened or ar going to [] or be aggressive, etc. And I knew that the lawyers—not the lawyers, the interrogators—had this habit of promising me something and they’ll say they’ll bring it a week later you see me, and then I’ll give it to you, and then next week it would be someone different. So, don’t promise something you don’t intend to give. You don’t have to promise me anything, you know, something small or large, you don’t have to promise me anything, just be sincere and truthful, and hopefully you get to distinguish yourself form the interrogators. And that’s it for me.

(55:38) Comment from the audience: Yesterday somebody claimed exactly the opposite of what you said. That our relationship with detainees []. Do you think that there are some other detainees, maybe from other countries, that would have trouble with the fact that the lawyer was showing that he didn’t have any use for the guard?

(56:00) Clive Stafford-Smith: Let me explain what was said yesterday. Yesterday there was an explanation made that there could be some people from a repressive society who, if you showed yourself too aggressive to the guards when they come to visit you, they will then distrust you because they will think well, you can't be that aggressive to the guards [] and drag you out behind the shed and beat the hell out of you if you’d done that. So that was an explanation made, not necessarily inconsistent with coming in the room badmouthing George Bush. What is your opinion on that? What's your advice?

Former detainee: I would like to explain; it's not an agression to the guards. It’s just to show, you know it’s not even about my own experience so I’m [], it’s not an aggression to the guards, I’m not saying that when you walk into a room just push them out of the way, you know, with both hands []. The point is, you know, I admit that you have to get along with the guard. The point is when you’re talking to this [], as far as I’m concerned, I’m from a western background, don’t show me that when you’re talking, you’re getting on with the guards. You know, “yeah, I went out to lunch with some of them, they’re really nice, etc.” Seriously, don’t tell me this. I try to understand it, but deep down I’m thinking, no, no, this is something [].

Moazzam Begg: I concur, I concur with that completely. And I think probably we both can, not just ourselves got along with a lot of guards. []

???: Carry on. You can shed light.

Second former detainee: []

Clive Stafford-Smith: We’re going to take a break in five minutes, so can you carry it on for me?

Second former detainee: Absolutely can. I concur with that completely [] I remember Gita used to tell us that she had had meals with the guards and stuff, and was getting along with them. It was good in a sense that, you know, at least she was able to have a simple relationship with them. But, it was hard also for us to recognize that, we [] the idea that on the one hand, you are representing us, and being friendly to us and care for us, and at the same time, the people who think that we are the worst of the worst, which is what we were described as, you’re also in a cordial relationship with them. It’s hard to swallow. Although it [], we do understand that it is a necessity, but we still don’t like being told that.

(59:20) Question from the audience: Could you always tell the difference between a guard and an interrogator?

Moazzam Begg: Between guards and interrogators? Yes, because the guards were always dressed in military uniform. We could not only tell they were guards from their uniform, but the way they walked, what rank they were, whether E-2s, E-3s, E-4s. So we could always tell, generally, the guards form the interrogators.

59:44 Follow-up question from the audience: And the interrogators, could you tell who was military and who was not? Or did you have any idea?

Moazzam Begg: No. If they came in civilian uniform, unless they identified themselves and said, for example that they were from Langley or where ever, or from FBI, we wouldn’t know any better. And it was their prerogative to decide to tell us whether they were part of any agency or no agency, we wouldn’t always know, and there was always this idle threat. [] It’s not a normal situation. Anybody knows in a normal situation, if anybody comes to arrest you or interrogate you, or ask you questions, you can say, “well, can I see some identification?” But there was none of that, so it was impossible to tell.

1:00:25 Question from the audience: You also said that, after legal had come in, they would come in ask what was said, which I personally have a big problem with, but did they ever come in and talk to you about your lawyer, provide you with information about your lawyer, or provide you with advice on how to deal with your lawyer?

Moazzam Begg: I think what happened was, it was a really odd situation in which they brought myself, Feroz, and two other British guys Richard Belmar, and Martin Mubanga. All in the same room—which was really odd, sort of unprecedented. And we’re all in our [], and there’s guards there and they start to interrogate us, ask us all sorts of questions, about if we will corporate, I think this was a month before our release, yes? A month or so, or something like that. And then they [] One of the questions, they were asking all sorts of questions and all sorts of scenarios, was asking us to corporate with them, getting involved in deals, and all sorts of deals and things like that. And one of the things this guy, who said he was from the CIA said was, “I know your relationship with your lawyers. I know that you’ve made complaints. I know you’ve been documenting detainees and things. Let me tell you, your lawyer is completely useless. They’re [], they can’t do anything. “

Comment from the audience: They’re right about that.

Moazzam Begg: It was almost, it wasn’t that I know about these complaints, I know. I had just written them, at the time. I had only just written those things, started those communications, that time, with the lawyers containing documents about what went on in the base, almost on a weekly basis. Write about anything. This happened, this interrogation took place at this time, this is what they said. And, you know, just the feeling that they were intercepting the letters and reading them, even though there is supposed to be some sort of confidentiality, is why its concerning. That, certainly, made me feel sort of [].

Question from the audience: Did you feel the lawyers were powerless often times?

Moazzam Begg: I think there is a distinction between the military and civilian lawyers. I know about the military lawyers because I was held next to Salim Hamdan for a couple of months, and next to David Hicks also. The difference was, I think, was the military lawyers seemed to have a little bit more power because of the very nature of the military base and so forth. And [] for the lawyers we had, Clive, and Gita, and so forth. I think very early on, we began to recognize that, these were not able to do very much, as far as Guantanamo is concerned. It felt, perhaps, that the military lawyers could do [] because, in fact, they were part of the military and [] and so forth. And, you could see, for example, Hicks would get a couple extra books or something like that. And that that was made easier because he’s got military lawyers.

(1:03:29) Question from the audience: Did that help the threshold of trust? On one hand, the military speaks with an American accent, but you feel on the other hand that he does probably have a little bit more clout? You didn’t have a military lawyer, obviously, none of you did, and now, obviously, civilian lawyers are even less powerful than they were then. What’s your take on that?

Fourth former detainee: TRANSCRIPTION ENDS HERE, AT 1:03:45

 

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