Monday, May 01, 2006

Enemy Combatant

I had the surprising pleasure of being at a presentation titled 'An Audience with Moazzam Begg'. For those who have short memories he was released from Guantanomo Bay after three years in detention courtesey of the US government.

His story is a painful one for those who have any sense of justice or compassion. After managing to escape the US bombardment of Afghanistan following 9/11 (he was there setting up a school for girls) he was reunited with his family in Pakistan whom he had given up for dead. After about three weeks his house in Islamabad was raided by FBI/CIA and ISI agents and he was carted off in front of his wife and young kids. He was imprisoned and interrogated by various agencies including MI6 and the British Foreign office whilst still being denied any basic legal rights. Shortly thereafter he was taken to Bagram where he was subjected to the most obscene violence and abuse and then carted off to Guantanomo Bay where he was kept in solitary confinement for nearly two years. For anyone who believed that UK politicians and officials stood up for justice and tried to help Moazzem's father who spearheaded a fantastic campaign for his son's release, it seems that they were just as complicit in prolonging his suffering.

I've summarised the main points but what came across most in his presentation was that despite suffering various levels of mental and physical torture that could be invented by the US military and intelligence agencies, Moazzam Begg was articulate (a result of more than 300 interrogations!), clearly very intelligent, still retained a sense of humour and most of all did not display a sense of rage or anger that you might think is a reasonable reaction. I don't think it's anywhere close to forgiveness or anything but the forbearance and reliance on Allah developed through a renewed relationship with the Quran during those years in isolation clearly comes through.

At Guantanamo, as he was one of the few who could speak English, Urdu and Arabic, he managed to establish relations with other 'detainees' as well as the guards - many of whom were ignorant of pretty much everything, never mind history, politics or religion. He bore no ill-will to many of the individual guards who were assigned to him although there were many whose brutality led to the deaths of some prisoners. In fact one of the enduring ironies was that he was asked to be a witness for the prosecution in the legal proceedings against soldiers who had killed prisoners in Bagram whilst being denied due process himself.

You feel that his lectures have a cathartic effect, each time he recounts his story is part of the continuing rehabilitation for himself and family. Yet I wouldn't be surprised if there are things that he hasn't mentioned, things that are still too painful to said out aloud.

I bought and got a signed edition of his book, 'Enemy Combatant' and recommend all to read it. It humanises those men in orange suits, most of whom were 'sold' to the Americans for money. It definitely opens your eyes to a different perspective in the insane age of the 'war or on terror', or more recently renamed 'the long war'.


Blogger Chimichanga said...

you might also want to check out the book titled "For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire" written by James Yee, the former Muslim Chaplain in Guantamo, who had also been imprisoned for about 76 days after finishing his duty as a chaplain at GTMO!

5:54 pm  
Anonymous zoo said...

ooh was this at the LMC on Saturday by any chance? His account was powerful and moving...

And something that stuck with me was the concept of rujooliyya that he mentioned and also how we have become apathetic - and are used to the law, not torture - living where we do.

His observation was an accurate one:

"In this day and age, for people to claim ignorance is the height of ignorance."

There's something in his story for all of us...


10:08 pm  
Blogger fudgebumpkin said...

Hey, that was a really interesting blog.

Keep it up. Hope Mrs C is well (on the rare days you get to see her. Trust me, less is more).

9:09 pm  
Blogger mad as a cambridge bicycle said... - lol - read it.

very very sad post though - you just feel so helpless...


7:50 pm  

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