“It is not hard to understand why Muslims would want to go to Syria to help,” wrote former Guantánamo detainee Moazzam Begg shortly before his arrest Tuesday on charges that he attended an Al-Qaeda training camp in Syria. Begg is a prolific writer and perhaps the first Guardian contributor to be arrested on such charges.
Begg, a British national who spent two years in Guantánamo after being arrested in Pakistan in 2002, was arrested this week on Syria-related terror charges. According to Reuters, he was arrested in his home in Birmingham along with four others “on suspicion of attending a terrorist training camp and facilitating terrorism overseas.”
The Guardian, reporting on a writer they have hosted, elaborates that Begg said he had met with MI5 officials about his trips to Syria, which he wrote about, and claimed that the UK government “raised no problems with his plan.” The newspaper also quotes “supporters” of Begg saying they believe he is being persecuted for his activism on the part of Guantánamo detainees, and one “Birmingham community leader” says that “no one believes” that Begg was working to foment violence in Syria. The Guardian has a well-known far-left, anti-American military bent. The newspaper is home to many a Wikileaks breaking story and, previously, the scoops of Glenn Greenwald, yet having a writer who has been arrested on terror charges is a first in the modern history of the publication.
Begg had his UK passport revoked last year after a number of voyages to the Middle East, which he argued were investigative. The UK government, according to The Guardian, told Begg that it was “not in the public interest” for him to travel abroad.
Begg wrote candidly for the British publication about his attitude toward the United States and the UK’s War on Terror. He was honest about the quality of facilities at Guantánamo, in one column agreeing that the Abu Salim prison in Libya and the Bagram facility in Afghanistan were both significantly worse than being detained at Guantánamo Bay. As a UK national, Begg spent much of his efforts writing for the newspaper working to amass evidence that the UK had participated in the torture of detainees during the War on Terror. “The evidence is too compelling and the case too politically sensitive to even attempt to brush aside,” he wrote in one column, alleging that British agents were “physically present every step of the way” in his capture. He wrote:
I’ve never been to America – America came to me, but why? Because the same intelligence officers who came to my house in 1998, to whom I offered a cup of tea, were the same ones who reappeared to haunt me as “spooks” during my years as a US captive.”
Begg also wrote promotional stories in The Guardian about organizations established to aid Guantánamo detainees. One such organization, the Guantánamo Justice Centre, he described as a group providing “aftercare for Guantánamo returnees who have not being [sic] given the help and assistance they need.” As Begg wrote about Guantánamo detainees as “victims,” he also blamed the actions of some of the greatest enemies of the United States on the country itself. “Abu Yahya [al-Libi, high-ranking Al-Qaeda member] and [fellow high-ranking Al-Qaeda member Anwar] al-Awlaki, I believe, were both creations of the US-led ‘war on terror,'” he wrote in the newspaper, condemning the deaths of both by American drone strikes. As enemies of Muammar Qaddafi, he wrote, both were opportunities missed by the United States to form allies. Al-Awlaki was a United States citizen, born in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Begg’s fate within the UK justice system remains to be seen, and police officials are insisting that an arrest means only an indictment, not a guarantee of guilt. Begg’s first-hand reports from Syria will likely play into the investigation.