Moazzam Begg wants his day in court

Moazzam Begg wants his day in court
British former inmate of Guantanamo Bay was arrested in the UK in 2014 on terrorism charges, only for the charges to be dropped six months later. Now Begg wants answers for his treatment by a "bonkers" system.
4 min read
16 December, 2014
Begg says he is friends with some Guantanamo guards [Getty/AFP]

The UK police behave in a "bonkers" way and the government's anti-terrorism laws are "confused", according to Moazzam Begg, the former Guantanamo Bay captive who later spent months in a top-security prison in the UK on charges that were eventually dropped.

Speaking on Monday of his experiences at a talk chaired by Telegraph journalist Peter Oborne and organised by Cage UK, Begg said that he wished to have his "day in court" for the numerous occasions that he had been stopped, questioned, arrested and secretly taped.

He is currently working to bring a case against the UK government for "malicious prosecution", over charges laid in March 2014 that he travelled to Syria to provide terrorist training and funding to Syrian groups.

Begg was held in Belmarsh prison in south-east London for seven months before he was cleared of the charges, and released on 1 October. 

This arrest, and his meeting with MI5 in the lead-up to it, was part of the government's "confused" anti-terrorism policy, Begg said.

Charges relating to Syria

He explained that after the Arab Spring of 2011, he travelled extensively in the Middle East. He met Libyans who had been "sent as gifts" by the British to Muammar Gaddafi, and said that the UK had been involved in at least one case of abduction. 

Begg said that the charges were "bonkers" because he only gave basic fitness and safety training and supplied one electricity generator. The UK by that time had supplied more than a thousand generators to opposition groups, he said.

"My arrest was ordered with the sanction of the Attorney General," Begg said, adding that 150 officers were involved and the police operation cost £1m. "There was a confused policy as far as Britain was concerned."

Begg said that in Syria he brought together doctors and people who had helped to defend rebels, and had helped with safety training. "People were dying because they didn't know basic triage", he said, or how to hold a gun without accidentally shooting the person next to them.

"I was certainly not with any proscribed groups," he said.

The Islamic State group (IS) did not exist when Begg was in Syria. When he was there he met relatives and opposition Syrians who joined what became the Islamic Front, the largest of the anti-government fighting groups.

Begg also spoke about his offer to intercede on behalf of Alan Henning, the British aid worker abducted and eventually beheaded by IS, by appealing to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a televised appeal in Arabic. The UK foreign office refused his offer.

Guantanamo and Bagram

Begg's 2014 arrest was only his latest period of imprisonment. He had been on the radar after his arrest in Pakistan on suspicion of aiding terrorism. He was transferred to US custody in Bagram airbase, Afghanistan, before being moved to Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.
Begg was released by the US in 2005, despite objections from the Pentagon, CIA and FBI, and the UK reached a financial settlement with Begg and others in 2010.

He and other British prisoners sued the US for alleged abuse and torture, and the UK government for alleged complicity in torture while in US custody.

Begg also said he had seen two other prisoners beaten to death at Bagram, and in 2005 a US investigation found that they had indeed been murdered by US soldiers.

Relationship with guards

But despite his mistreatment, Begg said that he was now friends with some of the former guards at Guantanamo.

"They did try to dehumanise us," he said. Prisoners were called "enemy aliens", which was how they were treated

"But when you could speak to them alone... their humanity comes out."

He now has more than 10 Facebook friends who are US soldiers. He hosted one of them in his house and another came and met eight former Guantanamo prisoners.

"Most apologised right away," he said. They even campaigned for him from Guantanamo when he was in Belmarsh, he said.