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Profile: Moazzam Begg
Moazzam Begg was a participant or observer in the following events:
Prisoners being flown to Guantanamo. [Source: Public domain]Beginning in January 2002, when the US-controlled Guantanamo prison opens in Cuba, until at least 2005, over 700 suspects are secretly flown by the CIA to Guantanamo over the territories of European countries. Most prisoners come from Afghanistan or other places in the Middle East and change planes at the Incirlik US military airbase in Turkey. Then they fly over Greek, Italian, and Portuguese airspace. About 170 other prisoners fly over or land in Spain. The first flight apparently takes place on January 14, and carries three British citizens known as the “Tipton Three” as well as others (see January 13, 2002).
In 2007, the Council of Europe, Europe’s leading watchdog on human rights, will claim that European countries had breached the international Convention against Torture (see October 21, 1994) by giving the US secret permission to use its airspace. Moazzam Begg, a British prisoner at Guantanamo until 2005, will later recall his flight to Guantanamo. “Inside the plane there was a chain around our waist, and it connected to cuffs around my wrists, which were tied in the back, and to my ankles. We were seated but it was so painful not being able to speak, to hear, to breathe properly, to look, to turn left or right, to move your hands, stretch your legs, or anything.” [London Times, 11/25/2007] All the member countries of NATO signed a secret agreement in late 2001 allowing blanket overflight clearances for any flight relating to terrorism (see October 4, 2001).
Moazzam Begg. [Source: Kieran Doherty / Reuters]According to a later habeas petition, a Pakistani court orders the Pakistani interior minister to produce Moazzam Begg before the court on March 7, which the minister refuses to do. On March 14, the court again orders the minister to produce Begg, this time under threat of sanctions. Again, the interior minister refuses to comply with the order. Meanwhile, Begg’s lawyer Abdur Rahman Saddiqui claims that Pakistan’s intelligence agency (ISI) and the CIA have captured Begg and that the ISI is interrogating him. Perhaps by this point, Begg has already been sent to Afghanistan. [Petition for writ of habeas corpus for Moazzam Begg and Feroz Abbasi. Moazzam Begg, et al. v. George Bush, et al., 7/2/2004 ]
Habibullah. [Source: CBS]Mullah Habibullah, a 30-year-old Afghan from the southern province of Oruzgan, dies of complications related to “blunt force trauma” while in detention at the US base at Bagram. [Washington Post, 3/5/2003; BBC, 3/6/2003; Guardian, 3/7/2003; New York Times, 9/17/2004] Habibullah was captured by an Afghan warlord on November 28, 2002, and delivered to Bagram by the CIA on November 30. Habibullah is identified as the brother of a former Taliban commander, and later described as portly, well-groomed, and, in the words of American military police officer Major Bobby Atwell, “very confident.” [New York Times, 5/20/2005]
Injured When Delivered into US Custody - When Habibullah arrived at the US air base, he was reportedly already severely hurt. Despite his condition, according to one account, he was isolated “in a ‘safety’ position [stress position], with his arms shackled and tied to a beam in the ceiling.” He was left in that position for days, but regularly checked on. [Knight Ridder, 8/21/2004]
Targeted for Abuse - Though battered and ill, Habibullah’s defiance makes him a target for physical abuse, with the MPs and guards repeatedly attacking his legs. (Some guards will later claim Habibullah’s injuries were received when he tried to escape.) Most of the Americans will later describe Habibullah as insubordinate; one will recall being kneed in the groin by Habibullah after subjecting the prisoner to a rectal examination. Habibullah’s interrogations produce little of worth, in part because the MPs who interrogate him usually have no interpreters available. Sometimes the MPs demand that another prisoner translate for them; usually the interrogation sessions contain no more than physical restraints or beatings. [New York Times, 5/20/2005] At some point, Sgt. James P. Boland, a guard from the Army Reserve’s 377th MP Company from Cincinnati, allegedly watches as a subordinate beats Habibullah. [New York Times, 9/17/2004] The beating of Habibullah was likely witnessed by British detainee Moazzam Begg, who will later say he witnessed the death of “two fellow detainees at the hands of US military personnel” while at Bagram (see July 12, 2004). [Guardian, 10/1/2004; New York Times, 10/15/2004]
Complaints of Chest Pains Mocked - During his last interrogation session, on December 2, Habibullah spends the entirety of the session coughing and complaining of chest pains. His right leg is stiff and his right leg swollen. The interpreter for the session, Ebrahim Baerde, later recalls the interrogators “laughing and making fun of” Habibullah “because he was spitting up a lot of phlegm.” Habibullah is still defiant; when one interrogator asks if he wants to spend the rest of his life in handcuffs, Baerde will recall the prisoner retorting, “Yes, don’t they look good on me?” [New York Times, 5/20/2005]
Found Dead, Hanging from Shackles - On December 3, Habibullah is found dead, still hanging in his shackles. [Washington Post, 3/5/2003; BBC, 3/6/2003; Guardian, 3/7/2003; New York Times, 9/17/2004] Boland sees Habibullah hanging from the ceiling of his cell, suspended by two sets of handcuffs and a chain around his waist. His body is slumped forward and his tongue is protruding. Boland, along with Specialists Anthony Morden and Brian Cammack, enters the cell. Cammack puts a piece of bread in Habibullah’s mouth; another soldier puts an apple in Habibullah’s hand, and it falls to the floor. According to Cammack, Habibullah’s spit gets on Cammack’s chest. Later, Cammack will acknowledge, “I’m not sure he spit at me,” but now he screams, “Don’t ever spit on me again!” and knees Habibullah in the thigh “maybe a couple” of times. Habibullah makes no response; his body swings limply from the chains. Twenty minutes later, the guards unchain Habibullah and lay him on the floor. He has no pulse. Cammack, according to another guard, “appeared very distraught” and “was running about the room hysterically.” An MP is sent to wake a medic, who refuses to respond, telling the MP to call an ambulance instead. By the time a second medic arrives at the cell, Habibullah is laid spreadeagled on the floor, eyes and mouth open. “It looked like he had been dead for a while, and it looked like nobody cared,” the medic, Staff Sergeant Rodney Glass, will later recall. Atwell will later recall that Habibullah’s death “did not cause an enormous amount of concern ‘cause it appeared natural.” The autopsy, completed five days later, will show bruises and abrasions on Habibullah’s chest, arms, and head. The body has severe contusions on the calves, knees, and thighs, and the sole print of a boot is on his left calf. The death will be attributed to a blood clot, probably caused by the severe injuries to his legs, which traveled to his heart and blocked the blood flow to his lungs. [New York Times, 5/20/2005] His legs have been struck so forcefully, according to one death certificate, it complicated his coronary artery disease. Another certificate will say the beating led to a pulmonary embolism, which is a blockage of an artery in the lungs, often caused by a blood clot. [USA Today, 5/31/2004]
Commanding Officer Able to Hear Screams, Moans of Detainees - In charge of the military intelligence interrogators at Bagram at this time is Capt. Carolyn A. Wood. According to an anonymous intelligence officer, Wood should be aware of what is happening to prisoners at Bagram since interrogations take place close to her office. The intelligence officer will recall hearing screams and moans coming out from the interrogation and isolation rooms. [Knight Ridder, 8/21/2004]
Entity Tags: Carolyn A. Wood, Anthony Morden, Bobby Atwell, Brian Cammack, James P. Boland, Rodney Glass, Ebrahim Baerde, Mullah Habibullah, Moazzam Begg, Taliban
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan
Moazzam Begg is put in solitary confinement at Guantanamo and remains there until at least September 2004, which is a period of almost 600 days. [Guardian, 10/1/2004] The same day, he signs a statement stating that he is a member of al-Qaeda, which he later claims he made “under threats of long term imprisonment, summary trials, and execution.” [BBC, 10/1/2004; Independent, 1/30/2005] His confession is made to the same US interrogators who questioned him at the US prison in Bagram, Afghanistan. “They reiterated the previous threats,” Begg alleges, “of summary trials, life imprisonment and execution.” [Independent, 1/30/2005]
Feroz Abbasi. [Source: BBC]The US government announces that President Bush has named six Guantanamo detainees to be tried before a military commission. They are David Hicks from Australia, Moazzam Begg holding dual British and Pakistan nationality, Feroz Abbasi from Britain, Salim Ahmed Hamdan and Ali Hamza Ahmad Sulayman al-Bahlul, both from Yemen, and Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi from Sudan. [US Department of Defense, 7/3/2003]
British detainee Moazzam Begg, being held in Guantanamo, manages to send a handwritten four-page letter uncensored by US authorities. Begg’s lawyers in Britain describe this as an “oddity.” His solicitor Stafford Smith says the letter must have been released either “by mistake or because someone in the US has a conscience.” In the letter, Begg describes having been subjected to “pernicious threats of torture, actual vindictive torture, and death threats, amongst other coercively employed interrogation techniques.” This happened “particularly, though unexclusively in Afghanistan.” Interviews, Begg writes, “were conducted in an environment of generated fear, resonant with terrifying screams of fellow detainees facing similar methods. In this atmosphere of severe antipathy towards detainees was the compounded use of racially and religiously prejudiced taunts. This culminated, in my opinion, with the deaths of two fellow detainees (see November 30-December 3, 2002)
(see December 10, 2002) at the hands of US military personnel, to which I myself was partially witness.” [Guardian, 10/1/2004]
Five prisoners are released from Guantanamo, following a Pentagon announcement the release would take place two weeks earlier. They are Mamdouh Habib, an Australian, and the four remaining Britons: Feroz Abbasi, Moazzam Begg, Jamaal Belmar, and Martin Mubanga. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says the Britons’ release is the result of his “intensive and complex” discussions with the US. [New York Times, 1/12/2005; New York Times, 1/26/2005] Australian Attorney General Philip Ruddock says the Australian government requested Habib’s repatriation to Australia after the US said it did not intend to bring Habib to trial. [ABC News, 1/11/2005]
Two Men's Passports Confiscated - However, upon their return to England, the passports of Mubanga and Abbasi are confiscated by the British authorities using a little-known Royal Prerogative. Home Secretary Charles Clarke writes to the men saying that they are too dangerous to Britain and its allies to be allowed to travel, and that granting them passports “would be contrary to the public interest,” as there are “strong grounds for believing that, on leaving [Britain], you would take part in activities against [Britain] or allied targets. We therefore decided to withdraw your passport facilities for the time being.” [Evening Standard, 2/15/2005]
Abbasi's Radical Connections - Abbasi is an associate of radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri (see 1999-2000) who had traveled to Afghanistan and been involved in fighting against the US-led invasion (see December 2000-December 2001), and had been slated for a military tribunal (see July 3, 2003).
Deal with Blair - The New York Times will suggest that the release of the four men is politically motivated and designed to bolster British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose campaign to gather support for the Iraq war was damaged by the news of the military prosecution of Britons at Guantanamo. According to the Times, “Mr. Blair’s critics saw his inability to regain custody of a total of nine British detainees at Guantánamo as proof of his subjugation to Washington,” and the announcement of the men’s release apparently shows that Blair can stand up to the US. [New York Times, 10/25/2004]
The Bagram escapees, clockwise from top left: Muhammad Jafar Jamal al-Kahtani, Abdullah Hashimi, Omar al-Faruq, and Sheikh Abu Yahia al-Libi. [Source: Ahmad Masood / Reuters]Four al-Qaeda operatives escape the high-security US-controlled prison in Bagram, Afghanistan. The four men—Omar al-Faruq, Muhammad Jafar Jamal al-Kahtani, Abdullah Hashimi, and Sheikh Abu Yahia al-Libi (a.k.a. Mahmoud Ahmad Muhammad)—were all being held in a remote cell for troublesome prisoners. They allegedly pick the lock on their cell, take off their bright orange uniforms, walk through the prison under the cover of darkness, and then crawl over a faulty wall to where a getaway car is waiting for them. One US official later says: “It is embarrassing and amazing at the same time. It was a disaster.” [New York Times, 12/4/2005] The Independent will later comment: “The escape was so remarkable that serious doubts have been raised over whether it can possibly have happened the way it is described. At the very least, analysts have suggested, the four escapees must have had help on the inside, in order to know about the gap in the fence, and to find their way there so easily through a maze of buildings.” [Independent, 9/27/2006] Al-Faruq is considered an important al-Qaeda leader who served as a link between al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah in Southeast Asia until he was captured in 2002 (see June 5, 2002). Al-Kahtani is also considered an important al-Qaeda operative, but not on the same level as al-Faruq. Both of them were scheduled to be transported to Guantanamo.
Deliberately Let Go? - In late 2005, former Bagram prisoner Moazzam Begg will claim that he heard in Bagram that US intelligence officers had proposed staging an escape to release a detainee who would act as a double agent against al-Qaeda. US officials strongly deny that that happened with this escape.
US Hides Identities of Some Escapees - The US soon releases pictures of the four escapees, but strangely does not identify which escapees match which prisoners. Furthermore, as the New York Times will later note, “For reasons they have not explained, the military authorities gave different names for [al-Faruq and al-Kahtani] in announcing the escape.” [New York Times, 12/4/2005] The fact that al-Faruq was one of the escapees only comes out during a November 2005 US military trial of a sergeant who had been accused of mistreating him in 2002.
Fates of Escapees - Al-Faruq will later release a video on the Internet boasting of his role in the escape. He will be killed in Iraq in 2006 (see September 25, 2006). [New York Times, 9/26/2006] Al-Kahtani will be recaptured by US forces in Khost, Afghanistan, in December 2006. He is a Saudi and will be extradited to Saudi Arabia in May 2007. [Agence France-Presse, 5/7/2007] Sheikh Abu Yahia al-Libi will have what the New York Times later will call a “meteoric ascent within the leadership of al-Qaeda” in the three years after his escape. He will become very popular within Islamist militant circles for his propaganda videos. In 2008, Jarret Brachman, a former CIA analyst, will say of him: “He’s a warrior. He’s a poet. He’s a scholar. He’s a pundit. He’s a military commander. And he’s a very charismatic, young, brash rising star within [al-Qaeda], and I think he has become the heir apparent to Osama bin Laden in terms of taking over the entire global jihadist movement.” As of 2008, he and Abdullah Hashimi apparently remain free. [New York Times, 4/4/2008]
The Washington Post reports that at least two dozen current and former detainees at Guantanamo Bay claim that they were given drugs against their will, or witnessed other inmates being drugged. These detainees believe that they were drugged in order to force confessions of terrorist ties from them (see 2002-2005). The CIA and the Defense Department deny using drugs in their interrogations, and suggest that such claims are either lies or mistaken interpretations of routine medical treatment.
Claims Bolstered by Justice Department Memo - But the claims are bolstered by the recent revelation of a 2003 Justice Department memo that explicitly condoned the use of drugs on detainees (see March 14, 2003). The memo, written by then-Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, reversed a decades-old US ban on the use of “mind-altering substances” on prisoners. Instead, Yoo wrote, drugs could indeed be used as long as they did not inflict permanent or “profound” psychological damage. US law “does not preclude any and all use of drugs,” Yoo wrote. The claims are also given weight by a 2004 statement from the commander of a detention facility in Afghanistan, who alluded to the CIA drugging detainees (see February 2004).
Drugging Detainees a Gross Violation of Anti-Torture Treaties - Legal experts and human rights groups are calling for a full accounting, including release of detailed prison medical records. They say that forcing drugs on detainees for non-medical reasons is a particularly serious violation of international treaties banning torture. Medical ethics expert Leonard Rubinstein, the president of Physicians for Human Rights, says: “The use of drugs as a form of restraint of prisoners is both unlawful and unethical. These allegations demand a full inquiry by Congress and the Department of Justice.” Scott Allen, the co-director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, says that there are no accepted medical standards for the use of drugs to interrogate or subjugate prisoners. Any such use “would have to be considered an experimental use of medicine.… The involvement of physicians and other health professionals in such a program would be a profound betrayal of medical trust and needs to be investigated further.” The Geneva Conventions do not specifically refer to drugs, but they ban any use of force or coercion in interrogating prisoners of war. Law professor Barbara Olshansky, the author of a book on military tribunals, says: “If you’re talking about interrogations, you’re talking about very specific prohibitions that mean you cannot use any force, at all, to interrogate someone. The law is beyond clear.”
Team of Guards Present - When inmates were injected or forced to take pills, former detainees claim, the personnel administering the drugs were always accompanied by a squad of specially equipped guards known as the “Immediate Reaction Force” to handle any possible violent reactions from the drugged inmates. One former detainee who was later released without charge, Ruhel Ahmed, recalls that the guards wore padded gear and “forced us to have injections.” Ahmed recalls, “You are not allowed to refuse it and you don’t know what it is for.” He says he was given about a dozen injections, which “had the effect of making me feel very drowsy.”
No Solid Evidence of Claims - No evidence of such drugging is known to the public, outside of detainee claims of effects from the injections that range from unnatural drowsiness to full-blown hallucinations. Former US intelligence officials have acknowledged giving sedatives to terror suspects before transporting them from one facility to another (see May 1, 2002). Former Navy general counsel Alberto Mora, who attempted without success to resist the Bush administration’s decision to use harsh interrogation tactics against detainees (see December 17-18, 2002), says he knows of no instances where detainees were drugged as part of their questioning. However, he adds, the detainees “knew they were being injected with something, and it is clear from all accounts that some suffered severe psychological damage.” Emi MacLean, a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), an organization which represents dozens of current and former detainees, says that many former detainees have clear and disturbing memories of being forcibly drugged. “Many speak about forced medication at Guantanamo without knowledge about what medication they were being forced to take,” MacLean says. “For some released [military] detainees, the forced medication they experienced was the most traumatic part” of their captivity. Other detainees have claimed, in interviews and statements provided by their lawyers, to have had injections and/or pills forcibly administered to them. One former detainee, French national Mourad Benchellali, says that during his three years at Guantanamo he was given treatments that were described to him as antibiotics or vitamins, yet they left him in what he describes as a mental fog. “These medicines gave us headaches, nausea, drowsiness,” Benchellali recalls. “But the effects were different for different detainees. Some fainted or threw up. Some had reactions such as pimples.” Other injections, often administered by force, left him and other detainees nauseated and light-headed, he says. “We were always tired and always felt groggy.” Detainee Moazzam Begg says that he believes he was given legitimate medications, but in improper dosages by poorly trained prison workers. Once, while being treated with pills for a panic attack, he began to hallucinate. “I saw things moving when they were not,” he recalls. “I talked to myself. I cried, laughed and sat immobile in a corner for hours. All of this was noted by the MPs and recorded.”
Use of Hallucinogens on Recalcitrant Prisoners? - Benchellali says that a different type of injection was used on detainees who were particularly uncooperative. His recollections are echoed by statements from four other detainees. “The injection would make them crazy,” he recalls. “They would have a crisis or dementia—yelling, no longer sleeping, soiling themselves. Some of us suspected they were given LSD.” Center for Constitutional Rights attorney J. Wells Dixon says the government seems to have given drugs to detainees whose extended captivity made them distraught or rebellious. “Many of these men have become desperately suicidal,” Dixon says. “And the government’s response has been to administer more medication, often without the consent of the prisoners.” [Washington Post, 4/22/2008]
Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Central Intelligence Agency, Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, Center for Constitutional Rights, Barbara Olshansky, Alberto Mora, Emi MacLean, J. Wells Dixon, Mourad Benchellali, Scott Allen, Physicians for Human Rights, Geneva Conventions, Moazzam Begg, US Department of Justice, Leonard Rubinstein, US Department of Defense, Rhuhel Ahmed
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
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