It is one thing if a left-wing human rights organization like Amnesty International cannot tell the difference between a jihadist and a legitimate political dissident. It is quite another if the U.S. State Department suffers from the same intellectual confusion. One diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks contains a startling example of Foggy Bottom’s willful blindness in this regard.
On January 14, 2010, a former Guantanamo detainee named Moazzam Begg met with the foreign minister of Luxembourg to discuss the resettlement of additional detainees in Europe. Afterward, Begg attended a screening of “Taxi to the Dark Side,” a film that portrays America’s detention policies in the worst possible light. Begg also participated in a Q&A session with members of the audience.
This prompted an American diplomat who was in attendance to write a summary of the event and of Begg’s “barnstorming” tour throughout Europe. (A copy of the cable can be found on the New York Times’s web site.) Foggy Bottom’s correspondent gushed:
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.
The myopia here is stunning. Moazzam Begg is not doing the State Department’s work – at least, he shouldn’t be. Begg and his organization, Cageprisoners, are pro-jihadist and anti-American.
I’ve written extensively about Begg before. You can find links to numerous pieces detailing his dossier here. A CliffsNotes version would include all of the following facts:
Begg is an avowed jihadist. In his self-serving book, Enemy Combatant, Begg explicitly rejects the idea that jihad is a benign struggle for personal improvement, writing that “from the time of the Prophet…up until modern times, the majority of Muslims (and the non-Muslims they used it on) always understood jihad as warfare.”
During his time at Gitmo, Begg signed a confession that detailed his ties to al Qaeda and the Taliban. Begg admitted, among other things, that he trained at and funded terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. Indeed, Begg was scheduled to be brought before the first military commission at Gitmo, but in what was likely a favor to then Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government, the Bush administration transferred Begg to the UK.
Once back in the UK, Begg joined his organization, Cageprisoners, which has openly advocated on behalf of al Qaeda cleric Anwar al Awlaki and spread Awlaki’s propaganda inside the UK. One jihadist recruit who was swayed by Awlaki’s messages is Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab, who attempted to blow up Flight 253 on Christmas Day 2009. Abdulmutallab asked Begg to speak at an anti-American hate fest Abdulmutallab organized and Begg accepted. Begg’s ties to the would-be underwear bomber were widely reported by the press following Abdulmutallab’s failure. In fact, the press reported on the relationship between Begg and Abdulmutallab in the weeks immediately preceding the State Department’s cable.
Earlier this year, Amnesty International faced an internal crisis when some of its employees objected to the organization’s alliance with Begg. They cited Begg’s jihadist views and sympathy for the Taliban. Amnesty International sided with Begg over the objections of its own employees and well-known human rights activists such as Salman Rushdie. The screening of “Taxi to the Dark Side” that Begg and State’s representative attended in Luxembourg was sponsored by Amnesty.
Those are just some of the disturbing facts about Begg and his career. The State Department’s cable mentions none of them.
We do find passages such as this:
Begg, an articulate man, argued that there are dozens of prisoners in GTMO just like him - not dangerous to society, able to communicate and assimilate, able to be a contributing and responsible member of society - and they just need governments to stand up and offer them a place to call home.
In what positive ways have Begg and Cageprisoners contributed to society?
And there are passages such as these:
During his presentation, Begg spoke almost exclusively of the future, with hardly any mention of the past. He did not discuss the question of legality of torture. Rather than stressing past injustices, he focused on what to do now. He acknowledged that he lives with the past, but that he now wants to be part of the solution…
Begg declined to speak about specific physical transgressions against his person. When told how physically well and mentally sound he appeared, he joked, "Well, I used to be taller." Begg spoke articulately, demonstrating minimal ill will toward his captors - even going so far as to say he speaks on the phone occasionally with his former interrogators.
How nice of him!
The State Department’s correspondent was apparently unaware that just months earlier Begg was the front man for a video game that would have allowed gamers to virtually blast their way out of Gitmo, killing Begg’s digitized captors – that is, Americans– in the process. So much for Begg’s alleged “minimal ill will toward his captors.” (The game was canceled because of the public outcry it generated.)
As for Begg’s claims about abuse and torture, the cable’s author was again unaware that they have been investigated and dismissed at least four times. The Defense Department investigated Begg’s claims three times. The inspector general’s office at the Department of Justice investigated them as well. They found no evidence to substantiate Begg’s allegations. But that hasn’t stopped Begg from repeatedly portraying Americans as serial torturers, although apparently not that night in Luxembourg.
There has been great pressure on the State Department to make President Obama’s decision to close Gitmo a reality. Foggy Bottom has failed to find homes for a majority of detainees the administration wants to transfer.
But that is no excuse for this diplomat’s ridiculously rosy view of Moazzam Begg, even if he wants Gitmo closed, too.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.