A second generation British Muslim, Begg had been held by the U. Begg provides some ideological counterweight to the one-sided spin coming from the U. Moazzam Begg was born and raised in Birmingham, England, where he established an Islamic bookstore and aided in relief efforts in Bosnia and Afghanistan. Since his release he has returned to Birmingham and speaks and lectures widely The New Press is a nonprofit public-interest book publisher. Your gift will support The New Press in continuing to leverage books for social change.
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C oming out of the interrogation room, I got my first overview of the prison. It was a huge disused factory, a relic of the former Soviet Union's ambitions, when it was the enemy of both Islam and the west.
There were pieces of abandoned machinery, and warning notices on the walls in Russian. In little more than a decade, two global superpowers had occupied this land, one of the world's poorest. I wondered what all these names and places had in common. Was the USA unleashing pent-up rage for every military engagement it had lost or terrorist act that it had suffered? The common denominator was Islam.
Like Kandahar, the whole place was illuminated with mobile floodlights that were off only during a power failure. I had to cover my head to try to sleep. I found it very difficult to move around with the handcuffs, but then, thinking myself lucky to be small, I twisted my wrists and found that the shackles slid off. I slept every night with the handcuffs tucked under my blanket - empty - until they were finally removed. During the first few weeks there seemed to be no more than 20 or so detainees in the entire building.
But every few days I saw new ones trickle in. The cell I was in first - number four - contained only four other people: a Tajik doctor, an Iranian student, and two Afghani taxi drivers. In cell five, to my left, I could see six people, including an aged Afghan, an old Palestinian, a Saudi, an Egyptian and someone I assumed was African, but soon knew was a fellow Briton, Richard Belmar. Although talking was strictly forbidden, I did manage to exchange a few words with him, and have brief conversations with the Tajik and the Iranian - in Urdu.
They told me they had been there about a week. They seemed as bewildered and anxious as I was. The other prisoners soon discovered that I could communicate easily with the Americans, without an interpreter, and they constantly asked me to translate their requests to guards and medics. Two FBI agents began the questioning, convinced I was involved in some nefarious web of plots, from planning to assassinate the Pope to masterminding al-Qaida's finance operation in Europe, or being an instructor in one of its Afghan training camps.
They had their perceptions about me and were searching for ways to confirm them - preferably from my own mouth. By now I'd been raised to the status of some rogue James Bond-type figure. They thought I was a graduate from some prestigious British university, that I was fluent in a dozen languages, that I was an expert in computers and several martial arts.
Then they asked if I had been an instructor in one of the Afghan camps. They claimed some detainee had said, "My instructor in the al-Faruk training camp was a Pakistani called Abu Umamah" Abu means father in Arabic, and Umamah is my older daughter's name. They insisted that in a sworn statement from a ranking member of al-Qaida, I had been identified as an instructor in al-Faruk.
Were you planning a suicide operation? Were you planning gas attacks? Were you planning to assassinate? It was a picture of Umamah when she was two years old, with another child. You're being very selfish. Think of what would happen to them without you - your children, your wife Suddenly one of them pulled the chair away from me so I had to stand.
You've lost the dignity of deserving to sit on a chair when you're talking to us," he said. Then all of them walked out, except Martin, the CIA agent. He stared at me. It must have been several minutes before he spoke. I felt scared to the core. Then he said, "I've decided to send you to Cairo, where you will talk. He talked there within two hours. You'll do the same. After that first heavy interrogation they took me into another room and left me there. Guards tied my hands behind my back, hog-tied me so that my hands were shackled to my legs, which were also shackled.
Then they put a hood over my head. It was stuffy and hard to breathe, and I was on the verge of asthmatic panic. The perpetual darkness was frightening. A barrage of kicks to my head and back followed. Lying on the ground, with my back arched, and my wrists and ankles chafing against the metal chains, was excruciating.
I could never wriggle into a more comfortable position, even for a moment. There was a thin carpet on the concrete floor, and a little shawl for warmth - both completely inadequate. I lost track of day and night - not only was I usually in the hood but, in any case, the window was boarded up.
Eventually, someone came in and removed the hood. I was there in isolation for about a month. Once they kept me from sleeping for about two days and two nights. A guard kept coming in and if I nodded off he woke me. By the end of that I was completely drained and disoriented. I never knew what was going to happen. Sometimes they'd take me to an outside toilet - used by the military as there wasn't one upstairs.
But even then I was hooded, and the hood came off only when I was in the latrine area. There on the wall, in big black letters, were the words "Fuck Islam". For days on end I was alone in the room. All of them wanted a story that didn't exist. There are no words to describe what I felt like. For a while, my interrogations seemed less crude and cruel.
They were offering me deals, including a witness-protection programme, to testify against anybody and everybody that they wanted. In return I would be free in some sort of environment for my family to visit me, perhaps in America, or somewhere else, at a hidden location, but under house arrest.
But the offer was a mirage. Things got worse. I began to hear the chilling screams of a woman next door. My mind battled with questions I was too afraid to ask. I was sure that in all their reports they had written, "Get to this guy through his family I felt my mind collapsing, and contradictory thoughts ran through it. Once I thought, when the screams started up, "I am just going to slip my wrists out of the shackles, hit the guard, grab the weapon off him and go next door to stop what is happening.
Eventually I did agree to say whatever they wanted me to say, to do whatever they wanted me to do. I had to finish it. I agreed to be their witness to whatever. At the end of it all, I asked them, "Why have you got a woman next door? But I was unconvinced. Those screams echoed through my worst nightmares for a long time. They had been praying for her deliverance. Much of our talk was quite mundane and I wasn't even sure what he'd come for. When he produced a list of names of the imams of mosques in Britain, I began to realise the magnitude of how Islam itself was being targeted.
But I couldn't see the connection between me, in shackles here in Bagram, and some obscure mosque in West Yorkshire that I'd never heard of. Andrew also wanted to go over and over my trips to Bosnia and the Afghan camps in the s - round and round, always the same questions. I told him what had been done to me during the interrogations in May, emphasising that the Americans had really intended to send me to Egypt to be tortured.
What would the British government do if it happened? He said that MI5 would never deign to be involved in things like that. I said that surely any information gathered by the Americans via abuse and torture had been shared with the British. He didn't answer, reiterating that Britain would never take part in rendition and torture.
It happened to me, Andrew. Most of their lines of questioning couldn't have been taken without your full knowledge and cooperation. Strangely enough, I rather liked Andrew, as a person. He was quite a contrast to most of the Americans I'd met.
I liked the fact that he was cultured, and aware of regional customs and sensitivities. I once mentioned the film Black Hawk Down to him. He said, "I'd never watch a biased propaganda film like that. Things had changed a lot since I arrived. Now they had built isolation rooms, and every single person who was brought in was put on sleep deprivation.
They'd constantly play ear-splitting heavy metal tracks by Marilyn Manson to break down new detainees.
My years in captivity
How do you objectively review a book like this? Survivors of concentration camps have a central place in Western iconography, and in human history. Begg does not have the philosophical depth of Primo Levi or Rabbi Hugo Gryn, but he writes with the same authenticity and conveys horror without hyperbole. He recollects first impressions of his hi-tech Cuban coop, covered with "a pale green steel mesh, doubled, with one part of the mesh set vertically and other horizontally, so they crisscrossed one another".
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Begg was seized by Pakistani officers in Islamabad in February , turned over to the U. According to statements made by the U. Begg admits having spent time at two non-al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan in the s, having supported Muslim fighters in Bosnia and Chechnya, and that he had "thought about" taking up arms in Chechnya. Also, that he had previously met people who have since been linked to terrorism Khalil al-Deek , Dhiren Barot , and Shahid Akram Butt ,  but he denies ever having trained for, aided, carried out or planned any acts of terrorism. Writing in The Guardian , Philippe Sands said "The humour and warmth are striking", "it has affection