Ex-Guantánamo man thanks Ireland

 

THE GOVERNMENT has acted as a “beacon of light” in Europe for taking in two inmates from Guantánamo Bay, a former inmate turned human rights activist has said.

Moazzam Begg, who was held in the US-run detention centre for about two years, told TDs on the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday that he would like to thank Ireland on behalf of Guantánamo inmates for opening its doors.

Speaking to The Irish Timesbefore the informal meeting, Mr Begg said Ireland was a role model and it should persuade other EU states to take in inmates to enable the detention centre to close.

He said it was necessary to bring inmates into the country to “rehumanise them without great fanfare, without great publicity and help them pick up the pieces of their terrible shattered lives”.

He criticised the use of Shannon airport for enabling the US and third countries to transport people illegally to detention centres where they often faced torture.

“Whichever countries that have been involved in this process, they carry a burden, a share of the blame,” he said. “These countries need to be forthright and at the forefront of rectifying this.”

Mr Begg said he had been driven to the point of insanity in Guantánamo Bay.

“I spent almost two years in Guantánamo in solitary confinement – that meant no contact with other prisoners, no meaningful communication with my family, no visits, no phone calls and no ability to challenge the legality or illegality of my detention,” he said.

He said he had witnessed two people being beaten to death by US troops while he was confined in Bagram airbase in Afghanistan before being taken to Guantánamo. “That was a result of someone being kicked and punched repeatedly,” he said.

Mr Begg is one of nine British Muslims who were detained at Guantánamo. He admits to attending two military training camps on visits to Afghanistan in 1993 and 1998, although he says he did not train with combatants.

He later moved to Afghanistan with his family in 2001 shortly before the attacks on New York on September 11th, 2001. He was arrested in Islamabad in 2002 and later taken by the CIA to Guantánamo Bay.

Mr Begg denied he was a supporter of the Taliban or had engaged in terrorist activity, allegations made in some US news reports. “I’ve always called for a dialogue with the Taliban. I’ve always said the only way forward – and the British government knows very well because of its experience in Northern Ireland – is negotiation.

“Do I support terrorism? The answer is an unequivocal no,” Mr Begg added.

He is a director of a human rights group Cageprisoners, which raises awareness about the plight of Guantánamo inmates.

Amnesty International helped to organise Mr Begg’s trip to the Republic.