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Suicide 'Warfare'

Channel4.com
June 11, 2006

Samira Ahmed: Moazzam Begg how far is it possible that you knew the two of the three people who have been named? And what did you think when you heard there had been these three suicides?

Moazzam Begg: Well as far as I know I didn't know any of these detainees because a lot of my time in Guantanamo was spent in solitary confinement.

However, just the knowledge and hearing that these three people have committed suicide - I expected it was going to happen at some point because there have been so many attempts, and yet still I was very saddened, very dismayed and very angered actually, that this has taken place.

Because I think the United States has tried so often in trying to keep people alive in some ways ,some very harsh methods they'd used, including force feeding through tubes when people have been on hunger strike.

So I wonder after an investigation, what really has happened and perhaps we'll find out in the coming days.

SA: What do you think might explain how not just one, but three suicides could have happened at once?

MB: Well I don't know if you remember but a few years ago, as I far as I understand it, it was reported that several detainees perhaps 20 or even 30 detainees attempted a sort of mass suicide. And I think part of it is just a sheer desperation. I think the United States response has been that this has been some sort of asymmetrical act of war which is utter nonsense.

The reality is that people when they are in prison, even when they've been convicted of crimes, resort to suicide. So can you imagine if someone hasn't even had the opportunity to defend themselves in court or who had any access to the legal norms that we would understand or any meaningful communication - that they're completely and utterly desperate and there's no access or recourse to law or justice.

I remember an incident when I had an anxiety attack myself in solitary confinement. A psychologist came along and asked me had I ever contemplated suicide? And then she put the method to me.

She said had I ever thought of getting a pair of trousers and threading it with a sheet and than tying that sheet to the top of the cage and then jumping off from one of the edges, so that I could commit suicide?

And I said, 'no, not until she'd put the idea to me'.

So I wonder where exactly, because it's said these people have committed suicide by hanging, where exactly they got this notion from?

SA: It mean seem callous but given that there were three suicides when as you say the authorities have managed to avoid any so far could it be not be possible that it was some kind of pact for the publicity of extreme jihad?

MB: I doubt it very much. As far as I understand it the Islamic people who come from this sort of an ideology would never justify it from this point of view. I think it's sheer and utter desperation.

When you're talking about suicide through suicide bombings or whatever, people may agree or disagree with it. But I think that's a completely different thing and I think trying to equate that to being an act of war is ludicrous.

I think it doesn't make any sense at all. It's just sheer act of desperation and I think that when you're in that position, you can understand what it's like when you've had no communication with your family for years on end and you don't know when there's any light of this so called black tunnel.

You don't like waking up every day. Every day is every week that turns into a month, turns into a year. You just don't want to wake up sometimes.

SA: How far would it be possible for inmates to discuss a suicide pact?

MB: I'm not sure, it depends. A lot of the blocks, which I wasn't on, they have the ability to communicate with one another and to talk to one another, so it is possible.

But again there are guards always patrolling up and down constantly. There are watch towers all around the place, people are watching with binoculars. There are even said to be recording devices held between the blocks and I'm told that this is in Camp One which is the maximum security block anyway. So it would be under more supervision of the guards.

So I think they would generally have some idea of what's taking place around there at any given time.

SA: Did you see any evidence, hear any evidence during your time there of inmates talking about suicide with each other?

MB: No I didn't. But that's because I spent most of time in Guantanamo in solitary. I only spent two and a half months with other detainees and there were only five of those.

I had heard about the ideas of people committing suicide and I certainly had about one case where somebody had had jumped by this method from his cell with a sheet around his neck. But he'd been saved by the guards I think.

SA: The government here, Harriet Harman, most recently has called for Guantanamo to be closed down. Do you believe that there is real pressure that could see it closed imminently?

MB: I hope that people will start seeing the light. I think that even Mr Bush himself has said that he wanted to close it. There's a whole chorus of people that are echoing a sentiment that's calling for a closure of Guantanamo.

But I think this is going to be a rubber stamp on Guantanamo's demise and the fact that people have died and the fact that the Americans have tried so often to keep people alive - because let's remember that in places like Bagram and elsewhere people have died in custody. In fact as a result of actions by the United States' soldiers.

Here it's by the detainees hands but nevertheless the fact that people have died here I think will only enhance the peoples voice who say the place should be closed down in the first place.

SA: I appreciate that most of your time was spent in solitary, but what has emerged is that 15 Saudi prisoners from Guantanamo where released only a couplet of weeks ago. And the father of one these Saudi men who committed suicide had said at the time that he was hopeful that his son might be released soon.

Is it possible that his son would have known of those releases? Could that have had an impact on his decision to commit suicide?


MB : One of the things that happens over there is that there is a sort of misinformation amongst detainees so you don't always know what's taking place

Even the ones who are released are only told sometimes a day or two before release and then moved to isolation. So he may or may not have known.

From what I have heard these three detainees did not have any access to lawyers or had not any lawyers appointed for them. Again I think it alludes to and points towards to the fact that you're in a hopeless situation and that there is nothing you can do to get out of this and that life in essence has become worthless.

SA: Moazzam Begg thank you very much.

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