[News] Briton released from Guantanamo reveals US torture

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Mon Jan 31 12:49:34 EST 2005


UK: This Britain
30 January 2005
By Severin Carrell

Exclusive: account by Briton released from Guantanamo Bay reveals suffering
in US captivity

It was the moment - almost exactly three years ago - that Moazzam Begg's
dreams of setting up an Islamic school in Afghanistan were doused by a ring
at the door. It was midnight on 31 January 2001 that the heavily armed
Pakistani and US intelligence officials arrived at his doorstep. And it was
a year later that Moazzam Begg, 35, a former Islamic bookstore owner from
Birmingham, emerged as one of nine Britons imprisoned without trial at
Guantanamo Bay, accused of being a senior supporter of the al-Qa'ida

Moazzam Begg describes the precise moment of his arrest in the style of a
pulp thriller. "Midnight. The door-bell rings, I answer, and guns are put
to my head. I'm pushed in, see a Tazer crackle and I am hooded. Shackles
and flexicuffs finish the job. They carry me to a vehicle and I never
return home again. I could not even say a word to my wife."

That account is one of the key moments in a closely written 25-page
statement for an American tribunal hearing in which Mr Begg attempts to
rebut US and British government allegations that he was an active member of
the al-Qa'ida network or a hardened Taliban sympathiser.

A deeply religious, conservative Muslim, Mr Begg insists he had moved with
his wife Sally and their children to Kabul in July 2001 to set up a private
Islamic school for boys and girls - a girls' school the Taliban refused to

And, he writes, going to Kabul that year quickly became his greatest
regret. "I have never wept so much in my entire life as during those days
..." he wrote. "I hated myself for being inane enough to bring my family to
Afghanistan. It still hurts just to recall the memory. Even these three
years in custody bear no equal to how destroyed my heart felt at that
fateful time."

He recounts how he and his family fled Kabul after the US invasion began in
October 2001 following the World Trade Center attacks, to a town near the
Pakistani border. He went back to the capital several times to check on
their home, finally on the night Kabul fell. In the "pandemonium", he
became lost as refugees and Taliban fighters tried to escape.

The US claims he retreated with al-Qa'ida forces to their mountain
stronghold in Tora Bora and fought there - a claim he denies. He used
mountain roads to reach Pakistan, he admits, but states: "I do not know
what the place was called, nor did I stay to find out."

After several days travelling, he traced his family in Islamabad and began
to resettle in the Pakistani capital. Barely three months later, he was
dragged barefoot from the house. Held in the Pakistani prison for three
weeks, he remembers hearing "yells and howls of pain" from neighbouring
cells, which were "black, damp, with dripping water and mouldy walls". One
evening, an interrogator assaulted an Afghan prisoner in front of Mr Begg,
forcing a confession to theft.

Three weeks later, on 21 February 2002, Mr Begg was flown to Kandahar.
Issued with an "enemy prisoner of war" identity card by the International
Committee of the Red Cross and a ID number he had throughout his detention,
he was soon transferred to Bagram. There, he said, "I was held in cells
entitled 'Pentagon', 'Somalia', 'USS Cole', 'World Trade Center' and

He was imprisoned for nearly a year in Afghanistan. "During this period, I
was forced to share a bucket as a latrine with several others; forcibly
stripped naked and photographed in front of several people; forced to take
communal showers in freezing cold water, denied natural light and fresh
food for the duration.

"Interrogation began in earnest from the outset. I had already witnessed
the results of 'unsatisfactory' interrogations: sleep deprivation, racial
and religious taunts; being chained to a door for hours - with a
suffocating plastic bag as a hood; literal arm twisting and forced bowing
and several physical beatings.

"Two of these beatings resulted in the deaths of two detainees in June and
December of 2002. I was witness to both, in some fashion." He was subject
to "a series of particularly harsh interviews by FBI agents," he alleges.
After the interrogation where he was shackled, hooded and assaulted, "they
threatened to have me sent to Cairo to face torture by Egyptian thugs in
the intelligence service". He was told detainees sent there "confessed"
within two days.

In February 2003, Mr Begg was flown to Guantanamo Bay, and quickly moved
into new high-security isolation cells at Camp Echo - the section reserved
for "the worst of the worst". On 13 February, he was presented with a
statement "that I was made to sign, in effect, by coercion, and under
duress". It was that statement, thought to include his confession of active
involvement with al-Qa'ida that led to Mr Begg being one of the first six
Guantanamo detainees designated for trial as terrorists by President Bush
later in 2003. For nearly two years, until his transfer to the more open
conditions of Camp Delta last November, Mr Begg was held in solitary
confinement and denied access to daylight or regular human contact.

The US and British intelligence agencies insist Mr Begg had a record of
allegiance to Islamist terrorists linked to Osama bin Laden, including his
visits to several "training camps" during the 1990s. They claim to have
found a money order with his name on it in an al-Qa'ida house in Kabul in
2001, a document his lawyers claim could easily be a child's fees for Mr
Begg's school.

Security sources also say Mr Begg has never fully explained why he visited
Afghanistan during the 1990s, a claim he attempts to rebut in his

Mr Begg admits visiting several camps, but insists they were brief trips as
an observer to learn more about Pakistani-based Islamist groups, including
some fighting in Kashmir. Those camps, he said, were originally set up with
CIA support to fight Soviet forces in Afghanistan. All were eventually shut
down by the Taliban after ideological clashes. One camp had links to the
anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, and none taught typical al-Qa'ida tactics
of suicide missions, car-bombings or hijackings. Mr Begg denies taking
military training.

Additional reporting by Paul Lashmar

Rambling, hand-written and disputed: the evidence the US relied upon

Martin Mubanga

A joint British and Zambian citizen, he was arrested in Zambia in February
2002 after allegedly fleeing Pakistan after the fall of the Taliban in

A former motorcycle courier from Wembley, London, Mr Mubanga, 32, was
accused of helping al-Qa'ida plot terrorist attacks on the US. He allegedly
carried a list of 33 Jewish organisations in New York when he was arrested.
He denied the allegations and retracted all his previous confessions at
Guantanamo last November. Mr Mubanga claims his passport had been stolen
and was a victim of identity theft. As The Independent on Sunday revealed
last year, Mr Mubanga wrote letters that accused Guantanamo guards of
threatening him with rape, of assaulting him and offering him to

Feroz Abbasi

An "autobiography" written by Abbasi, the former student released from
Guantanamo last week, suggests the Londoner advocated "martyrdom" attacks
by Muslims on US military targets.

The admissions are among a series of claims in a batch of rambling
handwritten documents, released last week by the US authorities to justify
their claims that Mr Abbasi, 25, is a committed supporter of al-Qa'ida.

To the anger of his lawyers, the batch of documents includes frank
admissions about Mr Abbasi's childhood and emotional problems as a teenager
- breaching, they claim, an agreement with the US courts to keep those
pages confidential.

Often decorated with doodles, elaborate chapter headings and small
sketches, the documents expose him as a deeply troubled young man. That,
his lawyers claim, explains why he became attracted by the teachings of the
radical cleric Abu Hamza at Finsbury Park mosque.

Mr Abbasi admits joining Abu Hamza's militant Supporters of Shariah group
in November 1999, and offering to leave for Chechnya to fight the Russians.

The cleric said he needed to prove himself and began actively to cultivate
the then 18-year-old. He was given militant tapes, books and lectures.

Mr Abbasi insisted he only wanted to protect threatened Muslims in Kashmir
or Afghanistan, not directly attack the US or the UK. Despite volunteering
to fight the US invasion of Afghanistan, he denies ever taking part in

He also alleges that US interrogators subjected him to abusive internal
body searches, and to a series of unexplained injections at Guantanamo Bay.

His lawyers are adamant that these documents, written by a man held for two
years in solitary confinement and subjected to torture, are wholly

Richard Belmar

A former Royal Mail worker, he is accused by the US of being trained at an
Afghan terrorist camp run by al-Qa'ida and of fighting for the Taliban.

Mr Belmar, 25, a Muslim convert from north-west London, admitted many of
the US allegations at a military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay last November,
including hearing Osama bin Laden speak and learning basic military

But he also accuses his US interrogators of torturing him at the US airbase
in Bagram, including the claim he swore allegiance to Bin Laden and
assaulted a suspected spy.

One of four Britons freed from the US base last Tuesday, Mr Belmar is now
recovering with his family. His lawyers insist his admissions are
unreliable, because he was coerced into confessing.

Copyright © 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.


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