Former Guantanamo detainee has a message for Trump

"If you endorse torture and if you endorse criminality then it will come back upon you."

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

Former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg

Asena Bosnak Associate Producer at TRT World @asenabosnak

Moazzam Begg is a British-Pakistani who was held by the US government for nearly three years at military detention facilities in Kandahar and Bagram, Afghanistan and at the US naval base in Cuba, Guantanamo. 

Begg was never charged and released in 2005. 

Three years earlier, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), seized Begg from his home in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, in the middle of the night. Begg said authorities did not explain why he was being taken, neither did they allow him to contact his family. 

He was flown to a US base in Afghanistan and forced to sign documents claiming that he was linked to Al-Qaeda. He was labelled as an  “enemy combatant” 

In Guantanamo, he was kept in solitary confinement and denied legal representation for the two years he spent at the facility.

Incoming President Donald Trump has said Guantanamo will remain open. How did you feel when he won the election? 

Well, you know it was a man who is similar to Trump in many ways who opened Guantanamo. And he filled it up with almost 800 prisoners.

Then the prisoners were released, which shows that there was no reason for Guantanamo in the first place. If the prisoners were so dangerous, then why were they released? 

President Bush said that waterboarding and rendition was legal. They were war crimes, these are crimes, torture is a crime, and he legalised the crime.

Now, Trump has said that he will load up Guantanamo with 'bad dudes' and that he will bring back waterboarding and more, which means that, as a president he will endorse and commit war crimes. So he is already using a language, which has been hostile. But it is also illegal because Obama already said that waterboarding was torture, so you can't have it both ways.

One of the things that ISIS (Daesh) does, for example, is dress people in orange suits, waterboard them and torture them. This is exactly what the Americans have been doing.

A Guantanamo detainee's feet are shackled to the floor as he attends a "Life Skills" class inside the Camp 6 high-security detention facility, on April 27, 2010. (Reuters)

If you were to address Donald Trump, what would you have to say to him?

I'd say to him that if you endorse torture and if you endorse criminality then it will come back upon you.

So people around the world, if they decide to capture American soldiers or civilians and start to do the same things to them, you will be the reason why it happens. So he, as a world leader, needs to lead by example and not to introduce childish behaviour which can only have negative results.

US President Barack Obama vowed to shut down Guantanamo Bay prison when he took office in 2008. Do you think he did enough?

I think that Obama certainly intended to do what he could. He was going to stop torture, stop rendition, and close Guantanamo.

Essentially he released people in a drip, drip fashion. Just recently, he released 10 more prisoners to Oman, but he could have - if he wanted to - made it so much easier - all he had to say was just one word. And that word was 'innocent'.

As a constitutional lawyer, he could have said that these men, according to the law, are innocent because they have never been charged with a crime, or prosecuted.

If he used the word "innocent" then it would have been impossible to keep them in prison, and I think that is where he failed.

In this May 31, 2009 file photo reviewed by the US military, detainees sit together in Camp six detention facility at Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base in Cuba. (AP)

More than half of the remaining detainees are "forever prisoners." What are your thoughts on this?

Well, of course, America likes to believe that everybody who has been held was held properly and that they somehow managed to de-radicalise them.

Of course the truth of the matter is that if we were Al-Qaeda, if we were dangerous terrorists, then it would not be right to release us.

That would not make any sense. Now over seven hundred prisoners have been released. 

The majority that returned home try to live normal lives. There are two people who may have been involved in acts of terrorism. America prosecutes more people in the world than any other country. It has more prisoners in the world than any other country.

So it has all the tools that it needs to prosecute someone. Why take them to Guantanamo Bay?

Of course, you can't even prosecute the real terrorists anymore, because you have tortured them so badly when you take them to the court, their testimony would be thrown out of court, so you lost.

In this Feb. 2, 2002 file photo, a detainee from Afghanistan is carried on a stretcher before being interrogated by military officials at the detention facility Camp X-Ray on Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base in Cuba. (AP)

Post 9/11, the US has argued that it had the right to detain or question anyone it deemed to be a potential risk to its interests. Has it flouted the law? What does this say about the US?

The problem with this mentality, is that is not enshrined within US law. This is exactly what despotic nations do. So in North Africa, the Middle East or elsewhere that is exactly what they do. So you might as well say that, when it comes to these matters, we are exactly the same. 

Protesters with Witness Against Torture participate in a rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, calling for the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison.

What would happen if Obama actually managed to close the prison and move the detainees to US? Could there be another Guantanamo on US soil?

America in the beginning, in the first years of the war on terror had several prisoners who were on US soil, who were in America’s own 'Guantanamo.'

They were given the label 'enemy combatant,' there was a prisoner called Jose Padilla, and there was Yaser Hamdi [both held in prisons in South Carolina]. These prisoners were not given access to the law. They were not given access to habeas corpus or the right to due process under the law.

And in the end it was found that their treatment was illegal and was wrong. But it took many years for this to happen. If they were to transfer the prisoners from Guantanamo onto US soil, the first question would be about the habeas corpus rights. And the second question would be about evidence and how it was obtained.

That's why none of the cases have been taken to US soil.

In one of your earliest interviews, you said intelligence officials forced you to sign a paper admitting that you have ties with Al-Qaeda. If it could not find or arrest the perpetrators of 9/11, what do you think was Guantanamo’s purpose?

The Americans at the time did not know who they were looking for. Remember people being sold over to bounties of thousands of dollars, in Pakistan and Afghanistan?

So somebody comes along and says I think this guy is a terrorist and receives $5,000 for it. They had no clue, that’s why they resorted to this tactic.

Hundreds, as I said, were sent over to Guantanamo on a false premise. And about the time I was held, the Americans had gone insane.

They were torturing people, they were beating people to death, they were sending them off to other countries to be abused - Syria, Egypt, Libya - and rendition flights were taking place. So all of this was happening, and there was no accountability process.

So forced confessions were made and they wanted to follow through. There was a competition between the FBI and the CIA and each tried to say "we had obtained more and better information."

But nothing could be proven in court and they knew it in the end.

Detainees in orange jumpsuits sit in a holding area under the watchful eyes of military police at Camp X-Ray inside Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, on January 11, 2002. (Reuters)

Do you think former detainees who were wrongfully held should sue the US?

The short answer is yes, they should.  The reason why, is because false imprisonment is a crime, torture is a crime, kidnap is a crime, all of these are crimes, and if somebody was caught in the theatre of war, then they would have been treated as a prisoner of war. They did not do that to any prisoners at all, not the fighters, not to the civilians, so no one was treated according to the laws of war.

The only way to get redress is to sue or to prosecute the US government for being complicit in war crimes. That is the only term I can use, is war crimes and so far, they prevented every single prosecution.

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