“Enemy Combatant”, Moazzam Begg

openDemocracy Opendemocracy
6 March 2006


Buy now: UK, Worldwide

"Enemy Combatant: A British Muslim's Journey To Guantanamo And Back"
by Moazzam Begg
Free Press | February 2006 | ISBN 0743285670

Click here to read Jane Kinninmont's interview with Moazzam Begg

An extract from chapter 9, "A Solitary Echo" from "Enemy Combatant"

The next time I remember anything was in a daze in Guantánamo. The first sensations I felt were intense heat and humidity. I realized I was out of the plane and the shackles I had on were different. There was a chain going from the waist to the ankles, which restricted my movement even more than before. That was my introduction to the "three-piece suit", which I soon knew only to well. I was still half dazed and vaguely felt there were a lot of MPs around. In and out of a vehicle, in and out of more orange clothes, I was barely conscious. The guards on both sides held me up for a few steps, and I noticed the ground under my feet was very different from anything I'd seen in Afghanistan. There were small light-brown sun-baked rocks, it seemed a lot drier, hotter...and I could smell the sea. it was distinctly different to the smell of the sea in Britain. But I could definitely smell the sea.

I was in Camp Echo – or Eskimo, as they called it at that time – although I didn't know it just then. I was taken into a room where they took off my hood, goggles, earmuffs, and facemask. The guards took me to a cell in the corner of the room, asked me to step up and in, and locked the door. Then they asked me to stand up with my back to the door so they could take the shackles off, through the bean-hole, an opening in the cell door covered with a metal flap controlled from the outside. They undid the legs first, and then the padlock at the back of the waist, then I had to turn round and hand them over the rest of the chain that had gone from the wrist to the ankles. Then they undid the wrists, and I was free in my little cell. My cell, my new home, measured about eight foot by six foot. It had a toilet in there, and Arab-style toilet, all metal, on the ground.

I didn't know what I was expecting, but it was not this. I looked around in utter bewilderment, almost unbelief. Nothing had changed, in fact things were worse. From Kandahar to Bagram, from Bagram to Guantánamo: each time I thought things were going to get better, but they actually got worse.

What could be more bleak, or grimmer, than being in a cage like this? I could not even see out of it clearly as it was covered with a pale green steel mesh, doubled with one part of the mesh set vertically, and the other horizontally, so they crisscrossed one another. I could barely see through it, it was a strain on the eyes. I felt I was really back to square one.

It is considered a sin in Islam to despair, but in Bagram, during the worst days of May 2002, I had been unable to hold despair at bay. Here in Guantánamo, in this steel cage with its mesh sides, steel roof and floor, steel bed, steel toilet, all inside a white, new-looking brightly lit room, I felt despair returning as I took in my surroundings for the first time.

All I had in the cell was a sheet and a roll of toilet paper, not even my glasses. I asked for something that I could use as a prayer mat, and they brought a thin camping mat, which became my mattress for the next two years.

* * *

On the evening of the second day the person who had told me that I was going to Guantánamo, Jay, turned up, with another man called George. Jay was an interrogator in Bagram, the one I'd given that long letter to, for the authorities. He had told me, "Your letter managed to get further up the ladder than your realize." I was pleased to see him, a familiar face, and without the malice I'd encountered from others. When two others came in, however, my heart sank. It was Marti and Niel, the two FBI agents from Bagram.

The guards locked them all into the outer part of the room, then came to my cell, shackled me with the three-piece suit, and brought me out.

I sat down at a table the guards had brought in, facing Jay and George; Marti and Niel. The latter two were both huge, obese, with the style of New York street cops. They may have known precisely how to operate on the streets of New York, but they were out of their league here. Also, they knew they weren't subject to any checks and balances; they didn't have to worry too much about scrutiny from superiors, or Internal Affairs, as they would have back in the US. They had the autonomy to do whatever they liked. That was the way with all of the law-enforcement and intelligence agencies I'd experienced in Kandahar and Bagram. The CIA's unscrupulous methods rubbed off onto the others. Much later, the FBI tried to paint themselves as the squeaky clean ones, who saw all of this torture going on, and started speaking about it as though they were not involved. From my experience, they were an integral part of the process.

This time I knew these two would not threaten me with Egyptian-torture techniques, because Jay was there. In fact, Jay gave me a little hope, saying, " Guantánamo is going to be the beginning of the end for you." But even my optimism knew better.

"You're never going to see your family again." Marti's words in Bagram came back when I saw his face. "You could be facing execution by firing squad, lethal injection, or gas chamber."

In fact they did threaten me again. "We want you to read and sign these documents," they said, placing six typed pages in front of me on the table. They had written my confessions.

There were three copies – one for me, and on their side of the table one for Jay and George, and one for Niel and Marti. They told me that if I didn't sign, several things could happen, none of them good. They included sitting in Guantánamo for many years before anybody even looked at my case, then a summary trial – a formality before conviction. "It's going to be one very short trial, they're going to look at the evidence we present, and they're going to take that on face value. That means you'll be imprisoned for life, or you could face execution, or both – execution after a very long time."

* * *

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