'I've Never Been to America. America Came to Me'

Ex-Guantanamo Bay inmate Moazzam Begg recalls his three-year journey through Americas war on terror

Where were you on Sept. 11, 2001?

I was living in Kabul, in a well-off neighborhood. I didn't have a television, so I couldn't see any pictures, but I heard there had been a terrible attack. People started to trickle out of Afghanistan. I waited because we had the school about to open, but when the U.S. bombing happened [in November 2001], we evacuated to Pakistan, where I had relatives, and family and friends.

Didn't you spend time with Khalil Deek and Abu Zubaydah, the top lieutenant of bin Laden, in Pakistan? I've read that you met with both of them there.

I've read that too. That is the extent of my knowledge of Zubaydah. I've never met him. I've read the same thing about [shoe bomber] Richard Reid too, who I've never met. The last time I saw Deek was in England in about 1996, when he was en route to Pakistan. It was a courtesy visit. We had exchanged telephone numbers in Bosnia. We talked for a couple of hours, and he went to Pakistan. I read about him afterwards, that he was involved in the Millennium plot. I didn't know him well enough to be too surprised, but in a sense it was surprising to read about anyone you know being involved in terrorist activities. But I also read that he was in prison for a year and then released, and that he was completely exonerated, although he is still considered a terrorist. Nowadays, it's acceptable to be accused and convicted of this without any evidence. I know that because I fell victim to the same thing.

When were you arrested?

I was still in Pakistan, working to help refugees coming in from Afghanistan until Jan. 2, 2002, when I was abducted at gunpoint at my home in Islamabad. The men never identified themselves or asked who I was, they just knocked on the door and when I opened it, they put a gun in my face, placed a hood over my head and shackled me and placed me in a vehicle. Some of them were Pakistanis, but there was an American. I could tell from his voice. He had a pair of handcuffs and told me they were given to him by a 9/11 widow. He placed them over my hands, even though I was already handcuffed.

I was held in Pakistan for a few weeks and questioned by American and British intelligence.

The Pakistanis were very apologetic—if we don't act, the Americans will come after us next. They were bewildered about why they had come to my house. They didn't even search me. I had a cell phone in my pocket and after they put me in a cell, I was able to call my father so he could arrange to find lawyers to help me. They were asking me a lot of questions about why I was in Pakistan. I told them the whole story. I didn't hide anything, but the more I talked, the worse it was. They asked me why I went to Bosnia, and then I began to realize it was one big fishing exercise and they had already decided my fate was Kandahar, Bagram and Guantanamo.

What happened in Kandahar?

I spent six weeks at a U.S. detention facility there, then 11 months at a military base in Bagram and two years in Guantanamo. Kandahar was a dehumanization process, the breaking process, to terrify people to become compliant so they would say everything and anything. I was stripped naked. My clothes were ripped off with a knife. I was beaten, spat at, screamed at with dogs barking. If somebody had showed me photographs of the detainees at Abu Ghraib before it became public, I could have immediately said it was the work of Americans. At Bagram, things were more organized, with six-by-three-foot individual cells and specific orders for punishment from interrogators as opposed to a general way of frightening everyone. But you could go months without interrogation and then be interrogated for days on end.

Didn't the Americans play rock music to torture inmates in Afghanistan?

That didn't work on me because I'd grown up listening to loud music. The people they used it on were local Afghans who grew up in villages and heard nothing but singing or folk music. Can you imagine what it was like for them hearing Eminem or Marilyn Manson at full volume for days on end? But these were relatively calm techniques compared to others—tying people up for days with their hands behind their backs hanging from the ceiling, with only breaks for meals. They put me in that position for hours for talking to another detainee. That was the punishment. But I saw two people killed there, and one of them was beaten while he was tied up in that position. He died in an isolation cell afterward.

Who was in charge of the interrogations?

There were a lot of intelligence agencies competing with each other: FBI, Pentagon, CIA. They were all trying to get me to admit to something, to get brownie points, to see who could get the information and ultimately prove I was guilty. They asked me about Deek. I think they didn't know he had been to Bosnia until I told them. They asked me about hundreds of people and all these things they claimed Deek was involved in. I understood they needed to question me. What I didn't understand was the overkill, the stripping away of all dignity or decency. They threatened to send me to Egypt to be tortured. They had a recording of the sound of a woman screaming who I was led to understand was my wife, who I hadn't seen since they arrested me and thought was also in captivity. But I didn't know anything about 9/11 or Al Qaeda.

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