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2004-10-05

Letter from Guantanamo: British Detainee Says He Was Subjected to Torture, Witnessed U.S. Soldiers Commit Murder

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In a rare uncensored letter from Guantanamo Bay, British detainee Moazzam Begg writes that he was tortured and abused by U.S soldiers during detention and that he witnessed U.S. soldiers murder two detainees in Afghanistan. We speak with president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Michael Ratner. [includes rush transcript]

The Bush administration is arguing that the president can detain enemy combatants in Guantanamo Bay as long as necessary to protect national security and that they have no constitutional rights to hear charges against them.

Facing a deadline to give a federal judge some answers about 60 of the so-called enemy combatants held at the notorious the U.S. Navy base in Cuba, the government filed a 96-page response detailing the reasons it believes it doesn’t need to explain why they were detained or how long they might be imprisoned. This according to the Washington Post.

More than 550 people have been held at Guantanamo without charge or trial for more than two years now.

Government lawyers wrote the detentions are "an integral and inexorable part of the Commander-in-Chief"s power to defend the nation and vanquish the enemy."

But the deputy commander of the joint task force that controls Guantanamo thinks otherwise. Brigadier General Martin Lucenti told the Financial Times "Most of [the detainees] weren’t fighting. They were running. Even if somebody has been found to be an enemy combatant, many of them will be released because they will be of low intelligence value and low threat status."

Either way, the Pentagon is planning to construct a permanent prison facility in Guantanamo–known as Camp Six. Some see it as a move to fortify the makeshift prison and ultimately place all remaining detainees in permanent structures.

One of those remaining detainees is British citizen Moazzam Begg. He was detained in Pakistan in 2001 and has been imprisoned without charge or trial in Guanatanmo after being transferred there from a base in Afghanistan. Since arriving in Guantanamo, Begg has had no contact with fellow prisoners and has been kept in solitary confinement for over 600 days. Last April, his father Azmat Begg joined us in our studio to talk about his son’s imprisonment. Here is some of what he had to say:

  • Azmat Begg, father of Moazzam Begg speaking on Democracy Now! April 2004.

Well, in Moazzam Begg’s latest letter revealed last Friday, he says he was tortured and abused during detention and that he witnessed U.S. soldiers kill two men in Afghanistan.

In the uncensored letter, Begg protested his innocence of any crime and demanded to know the reason for his detention. He said he was denied natural light and fresh food, had been held in solitary confinement, and was forced to sign and initial documents presented to him by U.S. officials. He also said he was physically abused, stripped and paraded in front of cameras held by U.S. personnel.

The letter came past the usual U.S. military censors, but it was the first communication from Moazzam Begg that was entirely unclassified. It was dated July 12 2004, and addressed to the military command at Guantanamo Bay. In it Begg requests that it be copied to his lawyers and US and British authorities.

  • Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He is author of Guantanamo: What the World Should Know.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He is author of the book, Guantanamo: What the World Should Know. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Michael.

MICHAEL RATNER: Thank you for having me, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: How significant is this letter?

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, it’s the first letter that we have gotten that is uncensored, that charges torture, that he saw deaths. So it’s very significant, because you can say what’s happening to Moazzam Begg or what happened to him — the isolation, the torture, the beatings — is very likely happening to many, many others in Guantanamo. So it’s extremely significant. The reason it got out is not chance. It was because Moazzam Begg is the first person who has actually had a lawyer go down to see him. We got a court order allowing a lawyer. He’s, since the Supreme Court case, the first one, the only one so far. Shortly before she went to Guantanamo, she got this letter. So, they obviously realized, and as time goes on, as we get lawyer by lawyer down there, I think we’ll get more and more stories like Moazzam Begg’s.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to last April, when we were joined in the studio by Moazzam Begg’s father, Azmat Begg. He talked about his son’s imprisonment.

AZMAT BEGG: He was captured from Islamabad, which is the capital of Pakistan, where he was staying with his wife and children, very small children, starting from the age of one, two, and four or five. He had three children at that time.

AMY GOODMAN: And where was he taken? When was this?

AZMAT BEGG: Well, that’s about two years now, so over two years now. He was taken from his house in front of his daughter and his wife, and two American soldiers assisted by two Pakistani soldiers pulled him out, bundled him up, and put him into the trunk of the car, and took away. He rang me up from the trunk of the car — possibly he had mobile — and he told me in the middle of the night, that he had been arrested. I said, "What for?" It was very strange noise. I couldn’t believe. He said, "I have been arrested, daddy." I said, "Why?" He said, "I don’t know. They are taking me somewhere which I do not know. Please take care of my wife and children, who are in Islamabad."

AMY GOODMAN: Where were you?

AZMAT BEGG: I was in England. I was in England. I was half asleep.

AMY GOODMAN: And so he was taken to Guantanamo.

AZMAT BEGG: No, they didn’t take him straight away to Guantanamo. They took him to Afghanistan and kept him in a province called Kandahar for a month or so and then they transferred him to another place in Afghanistan, which is known as Bagram Air Base, where he was badly treated, very badly treated.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you know?

AZMAT BEGG: Because I received letters. Through the Red Cross. The Red Cross people came down to me to give me the letters. They were having correspondence with him through Red Cross all the time. Then when a little bit of noise was raised in the U.K. they transferred him to Guantanamo Bay. He was badly treated. He was deprived of proper food. He was deprived of natural light, sun, moon, or anything. He said that I haven’t seen sun, moon, or sky for the last whole one year except for two minutes. Being treated like an animal, they pulled me and push me into cages, and that’s how I am here now. At times I don’t get food. My clothes are torn. They don’t care. And I don’t know whom to go to.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you spoken to him?

AZMAT BEGG: Never.

AMY GOODMAN: He writes you letters?

AZMAT BEGG: He wrote his letters when he was in Kandahar by Bagram and he also wrote letters from Guantanamo Bay, when he was transferred.

AMY GOODMAN: Azmat Begg, he is the father of Moazzam Begg, lives in Britain, has been campaigning to have his son released from Guantanamo. Michael Ratner, yesterday the U.S. government filed a brief. Can you talk about the administration arguing the president can detain what he calls "enemy combatants" as long as necessary?

MICHAEL RATNER: It’s remarkable. The Center for Constitutional Rights won this case June 28th of this year. The Supreme Court said clearly, they have to justify detentions on an individual basis, and people have Constitutional rights in Guantanamo. The government is treating the Supreme Court decision essentially as a suggestion. They’re saying, we can ignore it. It’s incredible. I mean, it’s real lawlessness at the most basic level. Everything we have gotten in these cases, whether it’s the letter that was released from Moazzam Begg or any detainee out, has just been an uphill battle with the government, inch by inch, but I can tell you, I think we are going to eventually close that camp.

AMY GOODMAN: Even though they’re talking about setting up a new one called Camp Six.

MICHAEL RATNER: It’s illegality after illegality. They are not living in a lawless zone any longer since the Supreme Court decision. It may take us time, it may take us pushes by other governments — and so far, I hope they do that in Britain and other places — to eventually say, this is something from another generation. This will be looked like one day like we now look at the Japanese concentration camps during the Second World War that were in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Some of the people have been released. How many?

MICHAEL RATNER: I think a couple of hundred have been released. A bunch were released before we won in the Supreme Court as a way of trying to influence the Supreme Court. A number have been released after that. Once again, the government is doing it slowly, because I think they don’t want the total embarrassment of understanding they are running a camp that’s completely irrelevant to the war on terror.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Ratner is author of Guantanamo: What the World Should Know. We’re going to go to break. When we come back, there is a new play in New York that opened in London. It is called Guantanamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom, based on the actual transcripts of prisoners’ letters from Guantanamo, as well as their loved ones outside. We are going to hear a clip of the actor playing Moazzam Begg, reading what he has had to say. Then we go to Bishop Tutu who performed in this play this weekend. I had a chance to interview him afterwards. Stay with us. [break]

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Ratner, our guest. He’s president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, author of the book, Guantanamo: What the World Should Know. Why do we know so much about Moazzam Begg, in particular?

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, two reasons. One is his father has been very public and was actually in touch with him at the moment he was arrested in Pakistan. Moazzam Begg was put into the boot of a car or trunk of a car. He had his cell phone with him. He was able to call his father from the cell phone and tell him what happened. Plus his wife and child witnessed American and Pakistani agents coming into his house in Pakistan and taking him away. Then we have gotten a couple of letters. We got one early letter that Azmat Begg described, where he said he had been in Bagram for eleven months and can only see the sun and stars in this infamous underground facility in Bagram, where a lot of bad torture has apparently gone on. Plus, now we have this newest letter from him, but again, we have the newest letter only because his lawyer, Gita Gutierrez, was recently in Guantanamo, and because of that — she was the first person there — because of that, the government, I think, felt forced to have to release this letter to her.

AMY GOODMAN: What is he charged with?

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, Amy, he is charged with nothing. Zero. There has never been a charge against him, despite that. When he got to Guantanamo, he was put into special isolation camp, called Camp Echo. And presumably, and it’s a guess, but he may have been put there because he actually witnessed, according to this last letter, as he says partially witnessed the deaths of two people in Afghanistan. He may be being kept there because they don’t want him telling that story. And it’s only, as I said, only because we are finally opening up Guantanamo, finally, that we are getting any information like this.

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