Ex-Guantanamo detainee recalls custody ordeal

 

A former Guantanamo Bay detainee today described being stripped, punched, humiliated, held at gunpoint and forced to watch two people being beaten to death while in American custody.

Moazzam Begg, 43, from Birmingham, spent two years at the notorious detention centre after being transferred from Bagram facility in Afghanistan. He was later released without charge.

Speaking as fellow former detainees prepare to mark the 10-year anniversary of the first prisoners arriving at the naval base, Mr Begg described the knock on the door he heard on the night of January 31, 2002 while living in Pakistan where he was building a school.

"The men stormed in and put a gun to my head, they put my hands behind my back, put a hood over my head and took me in a vehicle. When the hood was lifted I saw they were Americans. They said I would be going to Guantanamo Bay and they were right."

Describing his ordeal whilst in custody, Mr Begg said the worst treatment was at Bagram.

"We were stripped, punched, kicked, humiliated, shaved, thrown into a small converted barn while guns were constantly pointed at our heads.

"Watching the abuse of other people (was the worst), I saw two people beaten to death, one man was subjected to the sounds of a woman he thought might be his wife being tortured in the room next door.

"That is what America had to offer me and I have never been to America."

He said it was impossible to imagine what it was like for Londoner Shaker Aamer, who has been imprisoned at Guantanamo since February 2002 after he was captured by coalition forces during the invasion of Afghanistan.

Mr Begg said: "It is suffice to say if it is not over for us who are free, then what can it be like for those who are really, physically still there?"

He added Mr Aamer's children did not know who he was anymore and that he had never met his youngest child, who was born on the day he arrived at the base.

Mr Begg said he would never have imagined that 10 years later his ordeal would still be such a huge part of his life.

"The name Guantanamo will be associated with me, this place across the Atlantic. I've never been to America, but America has been to me. It has shaped the person I am today."

He added: "This is a story about this country, that was complicit in torturing its own citizens. It was colluding in what happened to us."

Human rights charity Reprieve and awareness group CagePrisoners, where Mr Begg is now director, are marking tomorrow's milestone with the launch of an interactive online timeline that organisers say will include everything that has happened at the base over the past decade.

They hope La Tansa, which means "never forget" in Arabic, will help people maintain awareness about the plight of the 171 prisoners that remain at the base.

PA

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