Moazzam Begg: From Pakistan to Guantanamo
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Yesterday we introduced you to a British Muslim named Moazzam Begg. He recently published a memoir about his experience as a detainee at Guantanamo Bay. It's called Enemy Combatant. Begg's account provides a rare glimpse inside the prison. It's not known how much of his account is true, and the Pentagon says he is still dangerous. Moazzam Begg was never charged and has been released. He had been arrested in Pakistan. He'd been sent to a prison camp in Afghanistan, and then to Guantanamo.
This morning we'll hear more of his interview with Steve. They began with Begg's two years at Guantanamo, spent mainly in isolation.
Mr. MOAZZAM BEGG (Former Guantanamo Bay Detainee): It was an eight by six cell which was a former shipping container that had been converted. And the cell was within a room that was quite small. So on the other side of the cell the guards would come at any given time to sit and watch the detainees (unintelligible) me.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
You're in the container by yourself?
Mr. BEGG: That's correct, yes.
INSKEEP: And was there a window?
Mr. BEGG: No, there were no windows. There was no natural light.
INSKEEP: How were you questioned when you were interrogated?
Mr. BEGG: It varied from place to place, and I think Guantanamo was certainly not the worst of it. The worst of it was in Kandahar and Bagram. And I think that that certainly constitutes not only psychological and physical torture, but also cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment, which included being hog-tied, being shackled to the ground, being kicked and punched and beaten, having my clothes ripped off with a knife, having the sounds of a woman screaming, which I was led to believe was my wife, and being threatened with even further torture by being sent, tentatively, to Egypt, to be raped and electrocuted, were the types of threats that I was facing.
INSKEEP: The woman screaming - what did they do?
Mr. BEGG: Well, of course at this point, this was in Bagram. Um, I had had no contact...
INSKEEP: This was in Afghanistan, before you'd been brought to Guantanamo. Okay.
Mr. BEGG: Yes, that's at the U.S. detention facility in Bagram. I had had no contact with my wife from the night I was abducted up until then, and sounds of a woman screaming next door, and simultaneously these interrogators were waving pictures of my family, saying, do you think they're safe? Do you think you're going to see them again? What do you think happened to them? And simultaneously there was a woman screaming next door. Now, of course it wasn't my wife in the end, but that was what I was led to believe.
INSKEEP: What did they want you to tell them?
BEGG: Anything, everything, and nothing. The type of questioning was, confess, confess, almost in an inquisitorial type manner. Confess to something and then we will investigate whether the confession is correct or not. They've never accused me of a crime. They've never accused me of committing acts of terrorism. What they've said was that I was a support of or a sympathizer or financier of terrorism in general, which they assumed from me having visited a Kashmiri training camp in 1993 - which had nothing to do with either the Taliban or al-Qaida - or from having visited and helped the Bosnians during the mid-'90s.
INSKEEP: Although that camp you visited, camp with Kashmiris - Pakistanis - in 1993, was a camp full of gunmen who were training to commit acts of violence.
Mr. BEGG: As indeed the United States of America was supporting many of these camps, and in fact sent in the Stinger missile to support many of these camps and underground operation units to fight against the Soviet Union.
INSKEEP: When they were...
Mr. BEGG: Yes, so I don't think that that in itself would constitute terrorism.
INSKEEP: And you're saying that you were never presented with the kind of very specific questions that would suggest that they knew what they were driving at? Like where you were on the night of such and such an act?
Mr. BEGG: No, never. If they had had that sort of knowledge, then they would have charged me and put me through a court. I would have assumed that that's what they would have wanted to do, because it would have been in the interests of justice, and their own interest, to prove that here's this guy, we've captured him, he's a terrorist, and this is the proof that we have on him.
Of course none of that has ever transpired for me or anybody held in Guantanamo to date.
INSKEEP: What was harder, being abused and beaten, as you say you were at the beginning? Or just spending years alone in a shipping container?
Mr. BEGG: I don't know what the correct answer is. Which is worse, the frying pan or the fire? I don't know. In short, I would say that by the time I'd finished by ordeal in Bagram, I was actually looking forward to going to Guantanamo.
The types of things I'd experienced in Bagram, for me said that nothing could be worse than this, so Guantanamo has to be better.
INSKEEP: And was Guantanamo better?
Mr. BEGG: Well, I wasn't treated as roughly in Guantanamo as I was in Bagram, but of course it was a different type of torture, which was psychological. It was still the same limbo, the black hole of incarceration without any knowledge of the future.
INSKEEP: What did that do to you, all that time in a six by eight shipping container room?
Mr. BEGG: It made me very introspective. It made me think about myself and in what way could I possibly benefit from this environment. I saw that I'm not going to get out of here any time shortly. It doesn't appear that way, anyway. So I began to memorize great parts of the Koran. I began to rewrite everything that I could remember from every language that I'd ever studied, from Latin to Hebrew to French and Spanish and Arabic. Writing lists of every country in the world and capital city, making hundreds of press-ups and sit-ups. All of those things, in order for me to keep my mind sharp and my body fit, and my spiritual level as strong as possible.
INSKEEP: Moazzam Begg, thanks very much for speaking with us.
Mr. BEGG: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: With Steve Inskeep, that's Moazzam Begg He's the author of Enemy Combatant. And you can hear part one of our interview, plus read an excerpt from Enemy Combatant, in which Moazzam Begg describes his midnight arrest, at NPR.org.