Moazzam Begg: Why Guantanamo detainees deserve asylum in Europe

Soldiers I've spoken to are ashamed of being part of Bush's war machine

Share
Related Topics

I was astonished earlier this year when our Prime Minister Gordon Brown met with former Guantanamo Bay detainees and shook hands with them on a visit to Saudi Arabia. When I travelled to Downing St on 11 January last year to deliver a letter calling for the return of three British residents, he didn't answer. In fact, he's never met with any of the British former Guantanamo prisoners.

But I have something a little different planned for this year. My US lawyer in Guantanamo once explained to me the types of prejudices that seemed prevalent in his homeland: "They detested the African-Americans, but never really feared them; they feared the Soviet Union, but didn't really hate them. But Muslims today are both feared and hated."

This fear and hatred has produced a plethora of laws and wars that have targeted Muslims in an unprecedented way.

Who could have imagined that the next president of the US would be a black man with the Muslim name Barack Hussein Obama? The president-elect, reached the White House under the banner of "change". The Sam Cooke civil rights classic "A Change is Gonna Come" was Obama's campaign-trail song and was paraphrased in his victory speech: "It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America."

Cooke's protest song was also played upon the death of Malcolm X, and featured in Spike Lee's epic film of his life. Malcolm X embraced his Islamic roots and chose a Muslim name. He saw Islam as a panacea for the problems facing America – not as a menace.

During my years in Guantanamo I came across many African-American US soldiers who understood something of their roots. They even acknowledged that the last time Muslims were taken across the Atlantic, en masse and in chains, was during the enslavement of their ancestors.

In fact, rendition, extraordinary as it is today, was, they accepted, originally used to recapture fugitive slaves. And in Guantanamo, it was not surprising to see some black soldiers reading classics like The Autobiography of Malcolm X or The Souls of Black Folk. Since several detainees were English-speakers of African origin – including all three Britons who returned with me and one UK resident, Binyam Mohammed, who is still there – the Guantanamo mission triggered among those US soldiers a desire to learn more about themselves.

And some nations too have finally agreed to accept those men who are unable to return to their home countries for fear of torture or even execution – like the "Chinese" Uighurs.

Considering they have been scrutinised, and tortured, by the world's most powerful military and intelligence agencies, you might expect that it would be easier to establish the credibility of their asylum applications than most of the thousands of others who are granted asylum each year.

In Britain, there is still the issue of the three detainees held in Guantanamo on whose behalf the British government has not yet acted although all three have UK residency: Binyam Mohammed, Ahmed Belbacha, and Shaker Aamer. Aamer's wife and four children are all born-and-bred British citizens.

Those who do not wish toaccept them conveniently ignore that dozens of European men – including myself – have returned from Guantanamo. We are not recipients of state benefits – despite what is owed us by the state which stole irreplaceable years of our lives without our being charged or brought to trial.

Since my return, I have been in contact with several US soldiers. The ones I've spoken to express a deep sense of shame for having been part of Bush's war machine and are reaching out to some of the men they guarded – men who, they had been told, were the most dangerous on the planet.

One of them, who was responsible for interrogations in Bagram, Afghanistan (where I was held during 2002), has now begun speaking about the abuses there.

Another, Christopher Arendt, a former Guantanamo guard, has agreed to visit the UK and speak about his experiences of the "war on terror" with me and other former prisoners there. We will be accompanied by former Guantanamo detainee and al-Jazeera journalist Sami al-Hajj, and the brother of Ali al-Marri, a Qatari national who has been imprisoned without charge as an "enemy combatant" since 2003.

Moazzam Begg was held in Guantanamo Detainment Camp between 2003 and 2005. The 'Two Sides, One Story' tour begins on Sunday: cageprisoners.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

 

i Editor's Letter: Still all to play for at our live iDebate

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering