Guantanamo guard rekindles friendship with former captive

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The Independent US

One of the American soldiers guarding Moazzam Begg during his detention in Guantanamo Bay has contacted him two years after his release to try to rekindle their relationship.

In a heart-felt exchange of e-mails and telephone calls, a female guard, identified only as Thompson, says she misses the conversations she had with Mr Begg and applauds his campaign to close the American prison camp.

Ms Thompson, originally from the Virgin Islands but now based in Arizona, spent several months guarding Mr Begg and a number of other British detainees during 2004. For long periods she was the only guard with whom Mr Begg had contact and on one occasion she tried to help him when he had a mental breakdown.

Now the policewoman and army reservist has written to him asking if he would be happy to continue their relationship even though they are no longer captor and captive.

In an e-mail sent to Mr Begg last week, she said she had read his book about his captivity with "amazement" which had made her "laugh and cry". Mr Begg said he had sent her back an e-mail with his telephone number.

"I got a call later in the week," he said. "She asked: 'Do you know who it is?' I immediately recognised her voice and I asked what she was doing now? She said: 'You're not going to like this - I've become a full-time duty soldier.' I said that seemed a bit strange because I didn't think she really liked the military lifestyle. She replied that she liked the money." In her e-mail, Ms Thompson explained that she was grateful that in his book Mr Begg had been "just" about some of the soldiers, who had guarded him. "I was happy to talk to her because she had been one of the guards who had shown me compassion," said Mr Begg. "She had not been prejudgmental and had taken an interest in Britain and my culture."

Mr Begg remembers one occasion when, after she returned from leave, she gave him a Cadbury's Creme Egg because he had told her that there was a Cadbury's factory where he lived in Birmingham. "Normally, back in Birmingham, I hated Creme Eggs but I can tell you I devoured this one. It made a huge difference in that type of situation."

Mr Begg, who now campaigns as a spokesman for the charity Caged Prisoners, says he will not reveal Ms Thompson's true identity unless she agrees.

"I must protect her confidentiality," he said. "She was the only white woman soldier from the Virgin Islands so it would be easy to identify her. I don't want to put her at risk. The soldiers from the Virgin Islands were very different from the other guards. I think it was because they came from a different culture themselves. They showed us empathy and understanding.Once I lost my mind and started hitting the walls. She was in the room with me and kept saying that she wished there was something she could do for me."

Mr Begg hopes to be able to develop the relationship so that they continue learning from each other: "I don't think she is looking for atonement or anything like that. She doesn't believe she was responsible for what happened to me nor [does she believe she] has done anything wrong. She was only part of the system. She even congratulated me for my work I am doing to shut down Guantanamo. What this relationship demonstrates is that it wasn't all hatred in Guantanamo ... It meant I couldn't hate all the Americans."

* The Home Secretary has ridiculed suggestions that Britain has become a "police state" for Muslims. The accusation was made by Abu Bakr, one of nine suspects questioned over an alleged plot in Birmingham to kidnap and kill a Muslim soldier. John Reid said it was "a completely absurd proposition" given that Mr Bakr was "released under the laws of our democratic, libertarian constitution, against the wishes of the police who wanted to hold him longer".

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