1000 Days of Hell

After three years' incarceration, Guantanamo Britons are set to be freed
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The Independent Online

It has been just over a thousand days since Pakistani security officers broke down Moazzam Begg's front door and bundled him into the boot of a waiting police car.

It has been just over a thousand days since Pakistani security officers broke down Moazzam Begg's front door and bundled him into the boot of a waiting police car.

His terrified wife and three children looked on helplessly as Mr Begg was taken away in the middle of the night, transported to Bagram air base near Kabul before being flown to the infamous prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The former law student and bookshop owner from Birmingham joined hundreds of other "unlawful combatants", shackled and dressed in orange jump suits, and then held without charge, trial or even access to lawyers.

For much of his detention he has been held in solitary confinement, often exposed to extreme weather conditions and deprived of basic necessities.

His letters home, supported by testimony from former Guantanamo detainees, reveal that Mr Begg may also have been tortured by US military officials, increasingly desperate to extract a confession from him.

Last night the end of his ordeal appeared to be in sight after the British and American governments brokered a deal to release Mr Begg and three other Britons from the notorious US detention centre.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said following "intensive and complex" discussions with the US, the four men would be returned to Britain to face questioning. But for Mr Begg and his elderly father, Azmat, who has tirelessly campaigned for his son's release, freedom will come at a price.

Their reunion after three turbulent years is likely to be tempered by the psychological and physical toll of the ordeals endured by both men. Mr Begg, or detainee JJEEH#00558 as he is known to his American captors, will not be the same man who first left Birmingham with his family four years ago to help educate children in Afghanistan.

Azmat Begg said: "I will be very happy, I will be the happiest person that he is released. But my concern is about his mental health and his physical health after he has spent three years in solitary confinement without talking to people.

"I am very much worried because I was told that even after three or four weeks in solitary confinement, like he had, that people go out of their minds." The detainee's father, a retired bank manager, is still haunted by the telephone call that he received from his son while he was in the boot of the police car driving through Islamabad.

"I can't help thinking how terrifying that must have been for him and how distraught he must have been to have been separated from his wife and children without a chance to say goodbye or say where he was being taken." Moazzam Begg's three-year detention at Camp X-Ray and Camp Delta has also taken its toll on the health of his father, who is diabetic. Doctors have twice treated Azmat Begg, 66, for a heart condition they believe may have been brought on by stress caused by his son's detention: as a result, he suffers paralytic spasms.

His ill-health has not prevented him running a high-profile campaign for his son's release, including two trips to Washington to try to persuade the Americans of his son's innocence and the injustice of his continued detention. The story of Moazzam Begg, argue his family and supporters, is a case of an innocent abroad who took his wife and three young children to Afghanistan to help educate the local children.

Mr Begg was a law student at Wolverhampton University before dropping out in his second year. After marrying a local girl he opened a bookshop in Birmingham, but started to feel the need to play a bigger part in the education of the children in poorer countries. So he took his young family to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

His father said: "The Taliban didn't allow any co-education so his wife wanted to teach the girls and he wanted to teach the boys. But he ran into trouble with Taliban red tape. While he was waiting for clearance he took his family to a remote area to make tube wells to improve their access to water."

Then the US bombardment started and the family fled to Pakistan. It was while the Beggs were waiting in Islamabad to return to teaching that he was arrested, taken to the US-controlled Bagram airbase, and then to Guantanamo Bay.

Moazzam Begg's wife, stepmother and three brothers will spend the next few days waiting anxiously for the RAF plane that will bring him home. But it will be the Begg children who have suffered the most. "The eldest one can remember the day when the police came and took her father away and she still wakes in the middle of the night screaming," said Azmat Begg.

There is one other member of the Begg family who has never seen his father. Ibrahim Begg, nearly three, was born shortly after his mother Sally, 33, returned to Britain. Azmat Begg added: "He is nearly old enough to be told the story of his father - it's not a story any child should be told."