The Moazzam Begg Arrest: Part of the Effort to Criminalize Muslim Political Dissent — Glenn Greenwald & Murtaza Hussain
Feb. 27 2014
Moazzam Begg, a native-born British citizen of Pakistani descent, spent three years incarcerated in the most notorious detention camps created in the post-9/11 “War on Terror”: all without ever being charged with any crime.
Arrested in Pakistan in 2002, he was transferred to Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, where he suffered torture and witnessed U.S. interrogators beat an innocent taxi driver to death, and then onwards to Guantanamo Bay where he would be detained for the next three years in conditions he’d describe as “torturous”.
Throughout this time Begg, now 45, was repeatedly deprived of legal counsel and was prohibited from even viewing the alleged evidence against him. After public outcry in his home country resulted in his repatriation to England in 2005, Begg went on to become a human rights activist — writing books, and advocating for other post-9/11 detainees through his organization Cageprisoners, whose self-described mission is: “working to empower communities impacted by the War on Terror”; “campaigning against the War on Terror”; and “working with survivors of abuse and mistreatment across the globe.”
Much of this work has included investigating the claims of others who were tortured with the complicity of the British government. It is in retaliation for this activism, he says, that he has been repeatedly harassed, including repeated interrogations and the confiscation of his passport last December at Heathrow Airport, when agents told him it was “not in the public interest” for him to retain it. In an article he published about that incident, Begg two weeks ago wrote: “I am certain that the only reason I am being continually harassed….[is because of] investigations and assertions based on hard evidence that British governments, past and present, have been wilfully complicit in torture.”
On Tuesday, Begg was arrested in an “anti-terror raid” on his home outside Birmingham, charged with “terrorism” offenses for having allegedly traveled to Syria to assist Syrian rebels. He was among four other people arrested that day, all due to Syria-related offences.
Curiously, however, Begg’s last visit to Syria was in the relatively distant past. He visited the country last in December 2012 — for what he said were advocacy purposes and to continue his investigation on torture victims renditioned to the country by Western intelligence agencies. Several individuals of Syrian descent were notoriously renditioned to the Assad regime by the U.S. for interrogation and torture, including the Canadian citizen Maher Arar, whose treatment resulted in a formal apology from the Canadian government and compensation of close to $10 million.
Crucially, it appears that Begg was given explicit permission to take this trip to Syria by Britain’s MI5. In his last article, he described:
[I]n October 2012, I was called by an MI5 officer who said they wanted to talk to me about my views on the situation in Syria…I agreed to speak to them and meet at a hotel in East London. Both MI5 and I had our lawyers present. At the end of the meeting I was assured by MI5 that my proposed return to Syria to continue my work would not be hindered, and it wasn’t.
This raises the obvious question: if the British government had concerns about his involvement with militant groups in Syria, why did it specifically meet with him to green-light his trip there? Furthermore, if his arrest was related to his December 2012 trip, why would the government wait more than a year to arrest him for it?