Eid ul-Adha is the most important Muslim celebration of the year. It is a time when Muslims commemorate the great test undergone by the prophet Abraham when he was ordered by the Almighty to sacrifice his son. It is a time for joy and for spending quality time with the family. This year, it fell on Tuesday 16 November. It is inconceivable that politicians and journalists would be unaware of the significance of that date – the same day the Government announced that it had reached an out-of-court settlement with 16 former Guantanamo detainees, British residents, who were detained by US forces.
In the morning, my daughter was in tears in front of press photographers. By the evening, Islamaphobic blogsites were posting statements such as: "Somebody post any of these innocent victims' addresses and I will save the British taxpayers millions."
None of this mattered to the scores of reporters who incessantly called me, and others, from the moment news of the imminent government announcement was "leaked" to ITN News on Monday. Neither did it prevent numerous journalists with their cameras and satellite vans turning up outside my house, desperate for a scoop on where the taxpayers' money had been spent and to know if our voices – once so outspoken against the abuses we had sustained and which we alleged had happened with the complicity of our government – had now been silenced in return for a grubby pay-off.
Of the 16 men involved in the case against the British secret intelligence services, five were held for two-and-a-half years; five served three years; four others served six years; one served eight, and another, Shaker Aamer, is still in Guantanamo, nine years on. Collectively, we have spent over 66 years imprisoned without charge or trial.
Many of us allege that British intelligence was directly involved before and during our rendition. Others maintain they were tortured and abused in front of MI5 agents. All of us affirm that British agents regularly interrogated us, with full knowledge of the torture and conditions. Nine of the claimants in this case are British citizens; the others have long-term connections to the UK and in some cases had been legally resident here for decades.
All of the men allege that they were forcibly stripped naked, paraded like animals in front of others, regularly beaten, kept for extended periods in isolation and held incommunicado for the duration. This is just a tiny sample of what some of the claimants are alleging. There is much more – so much more that the Government decided to settle with us rather than see its reputation as an upholder of human rights tarnished even more.
I spent three years in Bagram and Guantanamo. I was subjected to the sounds of a screaming woman whom I believed was my wife being tortured. I witnessed the beating to death of two prisoners, and spent two years in solitary confinement, before returning home to meet three-year-old son I had never seen before.
According to the terms of the settlement, no claimant knows what the other has been offered, and we are certainly not permitted to discuss it. But it would be safe to say none of us got even a fraction of the £6.5m awarded by the Canadian government to Maher Arar, who is the only comparable litigant. Despite the grand claims being made in the press, I'm no millionaire.
We understand the aversion some people have to us receiving anything, but the Government was always going to lose this case. They had to settle, because, as with the two unjust and immoral wars in which untold numbers of innocent people have been killed, wounded and displaced, the Government subjugated itself to the policies of other countries.
Earlier this month, the former US president George Bush released his memoir and defended waterboarding. He insisted that waterboarding of suspected terrorists by the CIA saved British lives by preventing terrorist attacks on Heathrow and Canary Wharf. He offered no credible evidence for his claim.
In 2002, the CIA told me about the fate of a man they had interrogated before me, saying that I would meet the same end if I failed to comply. When Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was captured by the US, he was trumpeted as the most senior al-Qa'ida figure in custody at the time. He was then rendered to Egypt where he was waterboarded and made a confession that was used as a major justification to invade Iraq. Al-Libi told his US interrogators that he was working with Saddam Hussain on obtaining chemical and biological weapons. This information was presented by Colin Powell as "credible evidence" to the UN Security Council in 2003 as a tangible link between al-Qa'ida and the Iraqi regime. It was a fabrication – and, eventually, the UN knew it. There were no WMDs in Iraq and no al-Qa'ida presence there before the invasion.
I told MI5 agents what I had been threatened with. They responded by saying that they could do nothing, and that I should just co-operate with the Americans. What would they have done if I had been waterboarded into giving such a confession? Waterboarding is a crime. The man who ordered this in our times was Britain's closest ally, even as we were being abused. I have no doubt that he – and his henchmen – ordered that, too. And I have even less doubt that the Government knew exactly what was happening, because British intelligence agents were there at every leg of the journey on the road to Guantanamo.
We started this action not for the money, but to get our lives back, to repay our friends and relatives and to remove the stigma of being "terrorism suspects". Most of all, we wanted the last remaining British prisoner, Shaker Aamer, reunited with his family. That is why he is one of the claimants in absentia – and why we told the Government that having Shaker back was more important to us than any amount they were offering in settlement. We are pleased to see the Government has now agreed to step up its efforts to bring home the last Briton held at Guantanamo as a priority.
We agreed to settle because we do not want to have to relive this episode indefinitely for years on end. To me, this is at least a partial victory. They would not have paid up if they thought they could win. British complicity in torture goes well beyond the Guantanamo cases. Cageprisoners intends to submit its findings of 29 such cases to the Gibson inquiry.
Moazzam Begg is a former prisoner at Guantanamo and director of the human rights group Cage prisonersReuse content