Ex-Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg was arrested earlier today as part of raid conducted by counterterrorism officials in the UK. Begg has spent most of his time living in the UK following his release from Guantanamo in 2005. He is one of the most prolific anti-Guantanamo advocates.
Counterterrorism officials say he is suspected of committing “Syria-related terrorism offenses.” The BBC reports that he “was detained on suspicion of attending a terrorist training camp and facilitating terrorism overseas.” Three others were also arrested on the same charges.
It remains to be seen what specific charges Begg will face, if any. But the allegations are anything but surprising.
As THE WEEKLY STANDARD has repeatedly documented, there have always been two Moazzam Beggs. There is the Moazzam Begg so many on the left prefer to see, a victim of America’s post-9/11 excesses. And then there is the real Moazzam Begg, an advocate for jihadism.
Moazzam Begg and his allies claim he was wrongly detained and tortured. Human rights organizations and civil liberties groups have repeatedly endorsed this version of Begg’s life, making him one of the chief spokesmen for the anti-Gitmo crowd. Amnesty International and the ACLU have enthusiastically promoted Begg as a truth teller.
There has always been much evidence to the contrary. The real Moazzam Begg freely admitted to being part of the international terrorist network while at Guantanamo, according to official U.S. investigations. And Begg was never tortured – far from it. Instead, he willingly cooperated with FBI agents, who did not use harsh interrogation measures at Guantanamo.
The Department of Defense investigated Begg’s allegations of abuse three times and “found no evidence to substantiate his claims,” according to a report prepared by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of Justice.
The OIG itself investigated Begg’s torture claims and “concluded that the evidence did not support the allegation that [FBI agents] coerced Begg into signing” a confession at Guantanamo. Begg even personally annotated and edited the document. The OIG provided a summary of Begg’s confession:
The OIG reviewed a copy of Begg’s signed statement dated February 13, 2003. The statement is eight single-spaced pages, signed by Begg, Bell, Harrelson, [note: Bell and Harrelson are the pseudonyms used for two FBI agents] and two DOD Criminal Investigative Division agents. Begg’s signed statement indicates, among other things, that Begg sympathized with the cause of al-Qaeda, attended terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and England so that he could assist in waging global jihad against enemies of Islam, including Russia and India; associated with and assisted several prominent terrorists and supporters of terrorists and discussed potential terrorist acts with them; recruited young operatives for the global jihad; and provided financial support for terrorist training camps.
Declassified and leaked Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) documents show that U.S. military and intelligence officials believed that all of this, and more, was true. A leaked JTF-GTMO threat assessment dated November 11, 2003 reads:
Detainee [Begg] has been identified as being affiliated with three extremist organizations, including al Qaeda. Detainee has admitted to attending training at Al-Badr training camp near Khowst, in December 1993, as well as the Harakat Al-Ansar terrorist training camp. Detainee was also an instructor at Derunta training camp, another al Qaeda supported terrorist camp. The detainee has been associated with a senior al Qaeda financier, as well as other key suspects currently under investigation by US authorities. Detainee is a confirmed member of al Qaeda.
JTF-GTMO concluded that Begg posed a “high threat to the U.S., its interests and its allies.” Both JTF-GTMO and the chief criminal investigative unit at Guantanamo recommended that Begg remain in U.S. custody.
Begg was transferred to the UK on January 25, 2005 instead, probably as a result of pressure from the UK.
After Begg’s release from Guantanamo, he penned a book in which he freely admitted that he was a jihadist. He admitted connections to all sort of al Qaeda characters in the book. Begg also helped spread jihadist propaganda, including that of Anwar al Awlaki, who was eventually killed in a U.S. drone stroke. Begg even became the poster boy for a short-lived first-person shooter game in which players would be able to blast their way out Guantanamo, killing virtual American soldiers in the process. (Public outrage in the U.S. led the company behind the video game to halt production.)
None of this stopped Begg from becoming a rock star among anti-Gitmo activists and lawyers. A few activists here and there, such as Amnesty International’s Gita Saghal and Salman Rushdie, objected to the alliance with Begg. But their calls were by and large ignored.
When the ACLU wanted to produce a video showing the supposed horrors of Guantanamo, it made Begg its star witness.
When Osama bin Laden was killed, the Washington Post solicited an op-ed from Begg, who taunted the U.S. by arguing that the al Qaeda master made America “tremble.”
And when the Obama administration sought to build additional support for resettling detainees in Europe, Begg was seen as an ally. A leaked January 14, 2010, State Department cable describes Begg’s “barnstorming” tour throughout Europe and reads:
Mr. Begg is doing our work for us, and his articulate, reasoned presentation makes for a convincing argument. It is ironic that after four years of imprisonment and alleged torture, Moazzam Begg is delivering the same demarche to [Government of Luxembourg] as we are: please consider accepting GTMO detainees for resettlement. Despite Begg's optimism, the Prime and Foreign Ministers continue to publicly state that the [Government of Luxembourg] supports the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and stands ready to assist from a financial and logistical perspective, but cannot accept detainees for resettlement.
Few people have bothered to investigate Begg’s story, to weigh the evidence and consider whether or not he was telling the truth. His post-Guantanamo activism on behalf of known al Qaeda actors has been similarly ignored.
It is unlikely that that any of this will change even if Begg is convicted of new terrorism charges.
Begg’s story is the one so many want to believe.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.