As we focus on the case of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg, we speak with Victoria Brittain, co-author of his book, “Enemy Combatant: A British Muslim’s Journey to Guantanamo and Back” and leading British human rights lawyer, Gareth Peirce about the U.S.-run prison camp. [includes rush transcript]
We continue looking at the case of former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg. Democracy Now! was in London last week where we attended an event featuring Moazzam and Victoria Brittain at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. After the public conversation and Q&A, we had the chance to speak with Victoria Brittain. She is a former associate foreign editor of the Guardian newspaper and has worked on issues around Guantanamo Bay for years. She co-wrote the play “Guantanamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom” and, along with Moazzam Begg, helped write his book “Enemy Combatant: A British Muslim’s Journey to Guantanamo and Back.”
- Victoria Brittain, co-author of “Enemy Combatant: A British Muslim’s Journey to Guantanamo and Back” and a former associate foreign editor of the Guardian newspaper in London.
Also at the event last week in London was British attorney Gareth Peirce. She represents Moazzam Begg as well as the three other British citizens released from Guantanamo known as the “Tipton Three”. Peirce is one of the leading human rights lawyers in Britian. She represented the Birmingham Six and Guilford Four. Actress Emma Thompson played her character in the movie “In the Name of the Father.” I asked Gareth Peirce about recent comments made by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, calling Guantanamo Bay a “anomaly.”
- Gareth Peirce, attorney for Maozzam Begg and one of the leading human rights attorneys in Britain.
AMY GOODMAN: After the event ended, I had the chance to talk to Victoria Brittain, former associate editor at the Guardian, has worked on issues around Guantanamo for years. She co-wrote the play, Guantanamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom, and along with Moazzam Begg, helped write Enemy Combatant: A British Muslim’s Journey to Guantanamo and Back.
AMY GOODMAN: So the book is out, that you helped Moazzam write. He is out of Guantanamo. You have been an advocate for Moazzam and other Guantanamo detainees for years now, spending a great deal of time with their families. What are your thoughts?
VICTORIA BRITTAIN: Well, I think it’s fantastic that the book is out, and it’s the same week as the film is out, because these boys’ stories are told by them. But the sadness of the families whose people aren’t out just gets more and more painful and more and more difficult to work on, and although the tide is changing, it’s not changing fast enough. I see these kids growing up who have been without their dads for four years. I see these women who have been without husbands for four years, and mothers without their sons for four years. It’s agony. It’s just unbearably unbearable.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us about one of the people who are still in Guantanamo?
VICTORIA BRITTAIN: Well, just to give you one example, there’s Fawzi Al Odah, who is a Kuwaiti whose story has been told very many times, very well in America, who has the best Washington lawyer, Tom Wilner, and he is totally and completely innocent. And I am faced, as I was this week, with this State Department official showing me on radio the tube that Fawzi is being force fed with up his nose and telling me, “It’s not so bad.” And when I say, “He’s innocent, and you know he’s innocent; his case is so well documented,” she just says, “I can’t deal with these separate cases.” And the dehumanization that I see from those kind of American officials, compared with the incredible humanity of the American lawyers that I have learned to work with, just makes me so sad and angry.
AMY GOODMAN: Who was the State Department official?
VICTORIA BRITTAIN: I’m afraid I don’t remember.
AMY GOODMAN: Alberto Gonzales is here this week.
VICTORIA BRITTAIN: Yes, but this was a woman. She was called Colleen-somebody.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about Alberto Gonzalez’s trip? What was its point?
VICTORIA BRITTAIN: I think it was a propaganda offensive in which three brought all these people, and they have been on all sorts of venues trying to change public opinion in Britain to be as it is in America and think maybe it’s alright, but they have lost it here. Everybody knows that Guantanamo is an outrage.
AMY GOODMAN: Victoria Brittain, who co-wrote Moazzam Begg’s book, Enemy Combatant: A British Muslim’s Journey to Guantanamo and Back. Also at the event was British attorney Gareth Peirce. She slipped in as Moazzam was speaking. She has represented Moazzam Begg, as well as three other British citizens released from Guantanamo, known as the Tipton Three. Gareth Peirce is one of the leading human rights lawyers in Britain. She represented the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four. Actress Emma Thompson played her character in the movie, In the Name of the Father. I asked Gareth Peirce about recent comments made by British Prime Minister Tony Blair calling Guantanamo Bay a, quote, “anomaly.”
GARETH PEIRCE: Well, it’s a bit rich for him to be using weasel words like that, when our government has been utterly complicit sending people to conduct interrogations there. We have as much blood on our hands as the Americans.
AMY GOODMAN: Alberto Gonzales, the Attorney General of the United States, is here this week?
GARETH PEIRCE: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: What is he doing?
GARETH PEIRCE: He seems to be advertising Guantanamo as a good thing. He seems to be suggesting that torture, as defined by him, doesn’t constitute torture. He’s shamelessly promulgating his line, and his line is not, in my view, a lawful line.
AMY GOODMAN: Leading British human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, one of Moazzam Begg’s attorneys. She came to hear her client, Moazzam, tell the story of his almost three-year imprisonment by the U.S. As Moazzam came to leave the event, I asked him if he would be coming to the United States to promote the U.S. publication of his book, Enemy Combatant.
AMY GOODMAN: Will you be coming to the United States?
MOAZZAM BEGG: Probably not, no, no. Probably not.
AMY GOODMAN: “Probably not,” Moazzam said. Well, we are joined in the studio now by Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, that’s represented Moazzam Begg, as well as hundreds of other detainees at Guantanamo. Welcome, Michael.
MICHAEL RATNER: Thank you for having me, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: What Moazzam said, what he experienced himself at Bagram, the torture, seeing others killed, can you talk about it?
MICHAEL RATNER: You know, we focused on Guantanamo for a long time, always understanding that that’s where we could get access to after we won in the Supreme Court, etc. But in the end, we recognized that what the U.S. was doing at prisons other than Guantanamo — Bagram, other C.I.A. dark places — was probably much worse, much worse than what we’ve seen in Guantanamo. And, of course, in that compelling interview with Moazzam, he really affirms what we have seen some details of over the last couple of years. We actually knew of the case, I think, that he’s addressing in December 2002, about two people being hung from the ceiling, and only as things have been revealed has there been even any investigation of that.
But the key thing, I think, that came out of Moazzam’s testimony is what happened at Bagram was routine. Hanging people from the ceiling, depriving them of sleep and beating them was absolutely routine at Bagram. And yet, today as we sit here, little or nothing has been done about it. In two of the murders that we know about, 27 people were implicated. Only a few of those were ever tried. The longest person did five months, and at none of those trials did evidence come in that should have about how this went up the chain of command and not simply down to the lowest guys who actually were involved in the alleged murders.
AMY GOODMAN: People are trying to get information about Guantanamo. We just read the piece about Associated Press trying to get information. Then there’s the news from Guantanamo that human rights lawyers are asking the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to suspend the military tribunal of a Canadian citizen who’s been held at the base since he was 15. Lawyers said Omar Khadr is the first person in modern world history to face a military commission for alleged crimes committed as a child.
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, it’s remarkable. I mean, we have been going to the Inter-American Commission. They’ve been issuing orders against the United States for four years now, since Guantanamo has been set up. The United States insists that it can use military commissions, that it can use them even if it’s in regular combat situations. That case is going to be argued, not Khadr’s, but a similar case, in the Supreme Court very soon. Guantanamo still represents, I think, in this world and in the Muslim world, something that is completely outside the law, that is iconic, really, in the world for everything the United States is doing wrong in the war on terror, and we’re still not getting the full information. We are still litigating all the time against the government to get this.
AMY GOODMAN: You are calling for the impeachment of President Bush?
MICHAEL RATNER: That’s correct. We have written a book called Articles of Impeachment Against George W. Bush, and it lays out four articles of impeachment against Bush.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain how that compares to what Senator Russell Feingold has done? And we’re going to play this in a minute, and that is calling for the censure of President Bush, also an extremely rare move.
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, censure is a very rare move. It’s a much less drastic remedy than impeachment. It simply is the Senate saying, as Feingold’s resolution says, “We hereby censure George W. Bush for using illegal electronic surveillance.” It doesn’t have any consequences, other than condemning the President on that basis. And so, it’s a much lesser form, and at the Center, while we support or think that it’s important that they go forward with that, that’s really not sufficient. Our view is that won’t stop illegal warrantless wiretapping, which is going on as we speak, and it will leave the President in office to continue doing what he is doing, whether it’s at Guantanamo or in Iraq or with warrantless wiretapping.
What is amazing about, though, I think, the censure resolution by Feingold, which is, as I said, just saying, “You’re a bad guy, President, on this one issue, wiretapping,” is that even on that issue, he’s not getting the support he should. Even the Democrats are fleeing from the statement that the President unauthorized or illegally is electronically surveilling Americans. That’s remarkable to me. It’s an open-and-shut case. Legal sand is being thrown in our face by the administration, but there’s no issue. The President broke the law; it’s a criminal law, he broke it. How can people even run from a censure resolution? It’s only happened — censure resolutions have only occurred a couple of times in our history. One actually passed in the 1830s. They attempted it against Clinton. It didn’t happen. But at the Center, we don’t believe that’s sufficient. But even that, as I said, Democrats are running from.