Episode 5

Moazzam Begg is the Director of Cageprisoners and ex-Guantanamo detainee. He is a British citizen who was kidnapped by US security forces in Pakistan in February 2002 on the pretext that he was an “enemy combatant.” He was rendered from Pakistan to Afghanistan, where he was subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment during interrogation. He was later flown – again, without legal process – to the American prison in Guantanamo Bay, and kept there without charge or access to justice until January 2005. He was released by order of President George W. Bush after discussions with the UK government. Since his release, Begg has campaigned with Cageprisoners for the rights of victims of the same detention policies, and worked to promote awareness of the fact that the US government was involved in the kidnap, torture, illegal trafficking and due-process-free imprisonment of innocents around the world.

Asim Qureshi is the Executive Director of Cageprisoners, a former corporate lawyer. He joined Cageprisoners because he was drawn to the plight of Muslims around the world under Bush-era detention policies. Working for years as a researcher and writer within the NGO, he investigated abrogations of the rule of law – primarily against Muslims – around the world, in Pakistan, Bosnia, Kenya, Sudan, Sweden, the US and the UK. Qureshi is a frequent consultant for other NGOs, and a regular columnist, producing articles on unlawful detention, rendition and torture. Writing on the religious and cultural sensitivities of Muslims in the context of the so-called ‘War on Terror,’ he hopes to promote understanding between Muslim communities and the wider West.

Links to Networks Hosting the Show

RT – English
RT – Arabic
RT – Russian
RT – Spanish
L’Espresso – Italian

 

Raw Pre-Edit Transcript:

MB – Moazzam Begg:
Hello Julian, a pleasure, a pleasure, how are you doing? Good to meet you, good to meet you.

AQ – Assim Qureshi:
Hi. Asim.

JA – Julian Assange:
Asim, and how do I pronounce your surname?

AQ:
Qureshi.

JA:
Qureshi. Have a seat.

MB:
How are you keeping?

JA:
Surviving. [inaudible] a few moments…

MB:
Yeah. Hi!…We were just saying to… we deal with a lot of guys who are in under sorts of different sorts of control orders and deportation orders and bail orders and it is not easy.

AQ:
Yeah, it’s [inaudible] …

JA:
Yeah, and it is quite hard to, um, for people to understand that it is not easy because you’re not in prison so therefore you’re fine.

AQ:
Yeah, yeah, and that’s… we deal with some of the guys who are, you know, 22/23 hour curfews so they can’t even leave the house except for one hour on either end of the day so it’s…

JA:
I have ten hours and a police station.

AQ:
Daily?

JA:
Yeah.

AQ:
Well you see, I used to know someone who was wheelchair-bound who was on a control order and he was required to sign at the police station regardless, and he became… it became so intolerable for him that he actually slit his wrists inside the police station as a… to let these guys understand just how bad it was… it was just destroying his life… so.

JA:
And the status quo goes on. It’s not like it gradually decays, unless you actively do something to stop it, it just…

AQ:
Oh, absolutely, absolutely… and the amounts, I mean… And, of course, on those guys who have families – children and wives inside the house get affected by the… I don’t know if you are allowed to have internet in your home but a lot of these guys…

JA:
Yeah I am.

AQ:
Oh, you are? … No mobile phones, no internet…

JA:
I think that’s foolish. I think, you know, they allow me internet in the home so they can try and spy on what I’m doing, so I mean…

AQ:
Yeah, it’s different for you, isn’t it?

JA:
Seems like, you know, if you wanted them not to have any internet because they might do something using internet then you should actually give them the internet and then you can spy on them.

AQ:
So you can spy on them, I know. Somebody needs to explain that to them properly.

JA:
We make this joke with… Who is this man, Abu, who is under 22 hour control order recently?

MB:
That’s Qatada.

AQ:
Abu Qatada.

JA:
Abu Qatada. So we make this… You know, he has to agree to MI5 monitoring his phone all the time and to vetting his guests, so we joke that well, you know, we have the same thing but we just don’t agree.

[all laugh]

JA:
So, I thought I would just give you a rundown of what… before we start of what the sort of…

JA:
So, there are basically five different areas. So we will record basically live to tape, so we will have almost no edits other than camera angles for around half an hour, and then after about half an hour/40 minutes we will then… I will have done the things I want to get through and we can then just talk in a relaxed way. But that way we know for sure that we are going to get some good stuff and maybe you’ll, you know, have and interesting conversation or dynamic and maybe something else will come out.

AQ:
Yeah. Ok, good.

JA:
So, the five areas are… So, first of all we’ll start your personal journey because that’s very dramatic… from where you started going through Guantanamo and I’ll plunge straight into the beginning of Guantanamo – It’ll be a bit of a shock, but it’s there to provoke you, so…

MB:
I mean, it’s a… it’s a long period so I don’t want to do a ‘Chomsky’ on you.

JA:
Yeah. No, no, it’ll… you know, it’s going to be about a fifth of the whole thing, right, but we’ll start with this dramatic moment and I’ll ask you some bits about solitary confinement and handling that and, er, the allegations against you and so on.

MB:
Sure.

JA:
… And a bit of… a change that has happened in relation to some things that were written about you in a cable. It’s a quite interesting contrast.

MB:
Yeah, yeah, you made me famous. You gave me credibility amongst the Americans.

[laughs]

MB:
Which was… which was really bad for my public image.

JA:
Yeah, that’s what I was wondering about.

AQ:
I was going to sack him after reading that. Yeah, he was working for… [inaudible, laughter]

JA:
He’s a number one voice… for the Obama administration.

JA:
And… and then we’ll go on to… that sort of naturally goes into what Cage Prisoners is doing.

MB:
Yeah.

JA:
… and to talk about it… and, you know, what is it doing? How’s it doing it? And then we’ll go into does Cage Prisoners… is there a tension in Cage Prisoners… is it a human rights organisation in general? Is it Islam exclusively? Not that I object to having a target area. Um, and is there a contrast between these two things, yep? Does Islam support the same rights that the Enlightenment… European liberals from the Enlightenment… have been pushing for? And then I’ll read out a nasty quote for you, which you’ll have to respond to.

MB:
Yeah man. Bermings [?] I don’t think it’s very nasty, right.

JA:
I’m sure you’re used to all this stuff, but it’ll give you an opportunity to respond robustly.

MB.
Yeah. No, I’m quite happy to do so, it’s something…

JA:
And then just a little bit on Tahrir and then we’ll go…

MB:
That’s on, sorry?

JA:
Tahrir…It’s…

[inaudible – all talking]

MB:
Oh, right. By the way, I’m not actually a member of them so I don’t know if you actually want to put that in.

JA:
No, I do, because I want the perspective on the…

MB:
That’s fine. I’m happy to talk about them, you know, and it’s quite an interesting case study in terms of the UK [inaudible] policies, er…

JA:
Yeah. Don’t talk now cos … we’ll reserve it [laughs]

MB:
Yeah, it’s quite all right, yeah.

JA:
And then we’ll look at… so Cage Prisoners represents people who… it’s fighting for the rights of people who’re imprisoned… Um, actually, before we start I have to ask just one thing, and it’s not significant enough to go on camera but it’s really been bothering me. Why Cage Prisoners, not Caged Prisoners? Because it sounds like it’s an imperative, stick ‘em in prison.

AQ:
Neither of us started the organisation. We came on afterwards…

MB:
I was in Guantanamo when it started.

MB:
My very first… when I had the first meeting with the guys who founded the organisation I said ‘You realise this is grammatically incorrect?’ So there’s always been this tension about whether or not we should change the name but there’s just so much…

JA:
Too late now.

MB:
… goodwill attached to it that it’s almost become like an unfortunate consequence of having people with very bad grammar starting the organisation.

JA:
Now I would take the Wiki out of WikiLeaks actually, but it has such capital… Um, so then we’ll go on to capturing to killing. So, Cage Prisoners represents people who are imprisoned but… with all these drones, I mean, there seems to be a policy now of not even bothering to imprison people…

MB:
Right.

JA:
… so is Cage Prisoners out of a job, but not in the way it wanted?

AQ:
Yeah, that’s a… that’s a good question.

MB:
Yeah… good question.

JA:
And then, because you interviewed Awlaki, a little bit about him and his situation, and this, er, feeds very naturally into this previous comment, and so he is the example of this, where he has been killed without due process. So there are quite a few things to go through. So, then common law and Islam – so, remember we… part of this programme is to look… you know, if you really got everything that you wanted – everything – what would it look like? So, would it look like – as far as due process is concerned – would it look like common law, some form of Sharia law? Is Sharia law concepts compatible with common law? Some amalgam between the two?

MB:
[inaudible] … written about quite extensively, so…

JA:
… And then just a little bit on the activism that you’ve been doing. Why have you been doing it, and some broad principles for… even if you’re in…situation seems so bleak, should you fight, or not? Is the point for struggle, is it to achieve ends, or is there also a point in just struggle itself?

MB:
Yeah. Yep.

JA:
… Even if you’re not sure… maybe you’re not going to achieve ends but… so, should you still do it anyway? And… then we can just have a chat.

[crew adjusting set]

JA:
So Moazzam, what have you been up to?

MB:
Well, um, I spent a bit of time abroad. I recently was in… North Africa, Tunisia. I was meeting some people over there actually that’ve been part of what I’ve done recently. And the links, of course, between what British intelligence has been doing there, and what they’ve been doing with us and all around the world. That’s been really good.

AQ:
It’s been amazing to see people who were rendition victims now taking power. That just… taking power in Libya… amazing, amazing.

JA:
Yeah, and this man who was in London – he became the Army chief of the Transition Council – who was… MI6 was involved in his…

AQ:
Yeah. Yeah, yeah. And this is… they were involved in the rendition from Hong Kong and from Thailand, straight into… what’s really amazing, I was looking into this guy called Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi… I don’t know, I’m sure you must have come across his name, but he’s the one they tortured in 2002/3 in Egypt into giving this famous confession that supposedly he was working with Saddam on obtaining WMD.

JA:
Yep.

AQ:
Um, he was then, after a series of secret prisons, sent to Libya where he conveniently died in his cell and wasn’t, ironically – you know, surprising. Well, I’m… surprising – sent to Guantanamo. He turned up dead in his cell in 2008, and I went to see the prison where he died in, and the people who were around him. So I’m making a big investigation on that. You know, we went to war based on this statement, that Colin Powell took to the UN…

JA:
Yep.

AQ:
In 2003. So, that was kind of the end of the…

JA:
I mean, that was the… sort of the original… it was the original sin of that period was the lie about WMD. So, that lie led to the Iraq War on the one hand, but it also led to the first use of torture, and rendition.

AQ:
Right. And, you know, the arguments for peace… for arguments…

MB:
Really? The first use of torture and rendition?

JA:
Yeah. In that… in the 2000s. Because they wanted to get this information. They wanted him to say that there was a connection between Saddam and Iran… sorry, Saddam and Al-Qaeda.

AQ:
… And Al-Qaeda. Yeah, yeah. No, absolutely, absolutely. For me, it was a first… I learnt about him from the CIA in Bagram. They… they had me tied up and ‘if you don’t co-operate with us we’re going to do to you what we did to this guy’. And they told me what they did to him, so that’s how I first heard of his name, and then later on I did investigations about him. Surprisingly…

JA:
And what was this guy… and what did they say they did to him, this guy?

AQ:
Um, they didn’t tell me what they had done to him. They said they’d sent him to Egypt. I learnt later on that he was… that in Egypt he was waterboarded and raped and all these sort of things, then sent over to, you know, Guantanamo in a secret camp which nobody knew existed at the time, and then to a whole series of places including probably Poland, Jordan, Morocco and, ultimately, to Libya.

JA:
What was, um, this… out of curiosity, you know, we’re releasing Guantanamo Bay personnel records… what was the talk amongst previous detainees?

AQ:
In relation to what?

JA:
When we release these Gitmo personnel files.
AQ:
Oh, well, everybody knows about it. I think the thing that people remembered the most – particularly the guys in the Gulf – were the statements by the Al Quds, and nothing with Saudi Arabia. Said that we should plant chips inside… the bodies and throw them off into the desert and leave them there. Something similar to that. Yeah, I think that resonated a lot amongst the… amongst those prisoners. And I think there was something about France also that came out. Do you remember about that? Do you remember that one? About the French prisoners, the French Guantanamo prisoners? I forget what it was now, but… it was…

MB:
It was the release… there was a release regarding, um, one of the judges admitting the fact that they had used evidence that had been gleaned from torture with… in the convictions of one of the… This was, I think, Djamel Beghal case. We used it as part of our report actually.

AQ:
Ah, ok, ok.

MB:
And it was something that you’d released… one of their judges had… had admitted that, you know, ‘We abused this. We didn’t have a case against this guy, all the evidence we’ve used was from torture and, you know, that’s how we managed to secure the conviction.’ Unfortunately, despite not… trying to use it to our best advantage, it… it hasn’t really resonated at all within the French media, which is quite a shame really because it is a very, very significant piece of evidence. I mean, they effectively admitted ‘we had nothing on this man whatsoever’.

JA:
[to crew] How are we? Are we ready? Fine, ok. The other thing that I should say is that I will introduce the interview with who you are and where you’re from and da de da de dah, so that we don’t need… if, you see, like ‘hey, he’s not saying who I am’, it’s because…

MB:
Sure, sure.

JA:
So, Moazzam, in 2006 in Guantanamo there were three suicides and in response to those suicides Rear Admiral Harry Harris, who was the prison commander of Guantanamo, said: ‘They have no regard for life, neither ours nor for their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us’. And the Assistant for Secretary of Public Diplomacy, Colin Gaffrey, followed up: ‘They don’t value their own lives, they certainly don’t value ours, they use suicide bombings as a tactic. Taking their lives was not necessary but it is certainly a good PR move’. So, um, are you now with Cage Prisoners engaging in asymmetric warfare?

MB:
[laughs] Well, first of all this took place in 2006 when I wasn’t in Guantanamo – I had been released by then – but what’s really interesting isn’t what we have to say about it… all the former prisoners… you can probably imagine. Most – in fact all of us – are united in saying that we don’t believe these were suicides at all, and I’ve met with relatives who’ve… who’ve been involved in the autopsies that were done after these men were released, because they weren’t independently done when they were held in the US. Um, but it’s interesting that you’ve got an American soldier, who’s served 17 years, um, and has been decorated by President Bush, who says that that night there were no suicides in Guantanamo. So, he’s been hushed up and he maintains that there was a secret camp there that very few people knew the existence of, including the soldiers, and that these three individuals were taken there and interestingly Mani al-Utaybi, one of the men who died, who was from Saudi Arabia, was actually due to be released and he knew he was going to be released and he told this to many of the prisoners.

JA:
If you look at this language, though… So, I know there are some, there are some… suggestive evidence that these were, in fact, murders, or some of them were murders, but this language that… the first response to either a suicide or a murder – but someone turning up dead – is that ‘It was a PR tactic’… someone would take their life, people would take their lives, after spending years in prison detained without charge as a mere PR tactic, and that is a type of warfare. Was there a sort of a strange group-think in Guantanamo, a strange dynamic that led rise to statements like that, because looking from the outside it seems completely absurd that anyone could… could say that a suicide was a PR tactic?

MB:
Well, if you look, I mean if you looked at… if one was to dissect this in terms of an investigation, it would become very, very apparent that it is not possible to commit suicide in the way that’s been described. You know, there is… there is a watch constantly, if not cameras, then there are soldiers patrolling every two minutes, passing a cell, recording, noting down the actions of the prisoners and so forth, But this attitude that suggests from the US military itself and… and Department of Defense that these are PR moves, or acts of asymmetric warfare, demonstrates their regard for life. Clearly, you’ve got a government that’s ordered targeted assassination, detention without charge or trial. Nine people have died in Guantanamo and none of those people were ever charged, so regardless of… even if were to say they committed suicide or if they were killed, Guantanamo killed them and ultimately the US government is responsible.

JA:
This sort of rhetoric… a very strange way of looking at the world that seems to rise out of the conflict between the United States and Islamic groups. Do you think that some Islamic groups also have this strange way of looking at the world where every action that is done is seen to be an attack on them?

MB:
I think clearly, you know, there’s… there’s a feeling – this is around the Muslim world wherever you go, from the East to the West – that this War on Terrorism is a war against Muslims, and that you can take a look in Guantanamo as a microcosm of that – you’ve got 40 different nations represented by prisoners, every single one of them is a Muslim. There aren’t any Real IRA members there, there’s no people from Tamil Tigers there, there are no people from the Michigan Militia, who carried out the Oklahoma bombing, so in a sense I think that you have to be blind to the reality to not see that this is the common factor… the common denominator is that the United States is engaged in a war against Muslim people around the world, but in relation to the groups that you’re talking about, of course, there are ones who feel that… that this is an attack on our very system of life. In the same way that Tony Blair once said that ‘the terrorists are trying to change our way of life’. This is precisely what is being understood on… on opposite sides by some groups, by increasing numbers of people.

JA:
When you were in Guantanamo you signed a confession, um, after a number of years in Bagram. I’ll let you actually explain it, um [clears throat].

JA:
When you were in Guantanamo you signed a confession, and I want you to look at the language of part of that confession: ‘I was armed and prepared to fight alongside the Taliban and al-Qaeda against the US and others, and eventually retreated to Tora Bora to flee from US forces when our front lines collapsed. I knowingly provided comfort and assistance to al-Qaeda members by housing their families. I… ok, I’ll start that again.

JA:
‘I was armed and prepared to fight alongside the Taliban and Al-Qaeda against the US and others and eventually retreated to Tora Bora to flee from US forces when our front lines collapsed. I knowingly provided comfort and assistance to Al-Qaeda members by housing their families, helped distribute Al-Qaeda propaganda and received members from terrorists camps knowing that certain trainees could become Al-Qaeda operatives and commit acts of terrorism against the United States’. So that… that language – is that how you normally speak?

MB:
[laughs] No, I don’t normally speak like that.

JA:
Because this sounds like it comes from a statute book.

MB:
Yeah, I think if you take a look at several of the United States, er, documents that were produced during that period of so-called confessions it’s in a similar vein, so a person will… will simply be presented with a piece of writing, in a cell where there is no access to any legal framework at all, where you have been beaten and tortured and accused of being a terrorist for several years. Um, and I think this comes to the crux of the matter here – what brought me to the point where I would sign something like this, was being tied up with my hands behind my back to my legs, with a hood placed over my head, being punched and kicked, listening to the sound of a woman screaming next door I’m told or am led to believe is my wife, my children’s pictures being waved in front of me and being asked, er, by these interrogators: ‘When do you think you will see them again?’, ‘What do you think happened the night that we took you from them?’, um, ‘Where do you think they are right now?’. When all of these inferences, which clearly suggested to me that the only way out is to either give up and sign whatever it is they want me to do, or to… to resist and to hell with what happens to my family. So, that was the stark choice that I was presented with, and in the light of that, of course, yeah I signed it.

JA:
Yeah. So, you were in Bagram in Afghanistan and in Guantanamo. I mean, that must’ve been a very dark period for you… I mean, it’s a dark period for anyone there. How did, you know, in those… in those moments of isolation and loneliness, how did you manage to get through? I mean, you’ve come out ok, how did you get through?

MB:
It varied. There were times when I didn’t get through, as it were, so you… you actually lose control of your… your senses, your faculties of understanding, of seeing, of clear consciousness and clear headedness, as it were, but at times, you know, you resign yourself to your fate. I’m a Muslim so I… I said that this is part of my destiny and I will use this opportunity to strengthen myself whether it’s from the Qur’an, whether it’s from doing a few press-ups, whether it’s from talking to some of the guards who have got a bit of sense, and then that helped me to pass through the period and of course, more importantly, you always know, don’t you, that when you are looking at your own hardships that if you look at other people’s, you can actually think ‘well, it’s not that bad for me, I could be in a worse place’, and all of those things did help eventually to pass through the time.

JA:
Your flight out of Afghanistan… You went there in the new Taliban government – you thought that there was some good that might come from the new Taliban regime… Can you speak to why you went to Afghanistan?

MB:
Yes.

JA:
… What the Taliban did right, and what it did wrong?

MB:
Sure. I went there initially to work on a project that we had begun from the UK, which was to support and to build a school for girls – which was under the Taliban – which, of course, at the time it was suggested that the Taliban would not allow female education. And that was true in terms of Western organisations doing so, but I went as part of a group of Muslims, who they didn’t feel so threatened from in terms of the ideology of the syllabuses being introduced. So, that is primarily what I did… Had my daughter going into the school, and we worked on a project also to build wells in the drought-stricken regions of the Northwest… and to be able to live there, rather than to take statements from people talking about the Taliban, to be able for me to see it directly. I did see them carry out some abuses, which I spoke about very clearly in my book and so forth, but in the great scheme of things I still maintain that if you compare what was happening prior to the Taliban, um, and the Taliban – it was clear to me that at least there was the rule of law, and that there was some semblance of a little bit of development in one of the world’s most underdeveloped countries.

JA:
So, 9/11 happens… two months later the US attacks – what do you do?

MB:
We evacuated to… first of all, to a small town outside Kabul. The school that we working on was hit by a cruise missile and was destroyed, thankfully no one was in it. Um, we evacuated eventually to Pakistan, where I have friends and relatives, and I ended up helping some refugees who were also evacuating from Afghanistan, and on the night of the 31st January 2002 there was a knock on my door in my house in Islamabad, where I had resettled, and, er, in stormed a group of people, unidentified, without any uniform, and one of them put a gun to my head, threw me onto the forecourt of my house, tied my hands behind my back, tied my legs together with shackles, put a hood over my head and carried me off in front of my wife and kids into a vehicle, er, for the next three years.

JA:
Ok. If we look at Afghanistan now, what… is Bagram more significant than Guantanamo?

MB:
I always maintain that if you take a look at the prison network system that the United States have used after 9/11, Guantanamo is the tip of the iceberg and we always know… we’ve always known it was never the tip of the iceberg that sunk the Titanic, it was what lay beneath literally, so metaphorically speaking, these secret prison networks – and Bagram is less secret than some of the other places, but nonetheless it is a place where there is no access to legal representation – the media do not go there, it’s completely sealed off, and I saw two people being beaten to death in Bagram. One of them with his hands tied above his head, suspended, with a hood placed over it and being kicked and punched to the point that he was killed, and… So, those sorts of things have happened in Bagram and it remains, um, a place that very few people know much about, and in Guantanamo is the last place – it is probably the place where you end up the longest, but it’s after a series of prisons that include Bagram but includes places even worse than Bagram.

JA:
How is it that you came to be released?

MB:
I think in the same way as, as… I don’t know how it is that I came to be taken into custody, I don’t know what the process was that had me to be released. The decisions in both cases were made at the top, and I believe that there was campaigning taking place from my father’s side and different groups and organisations supporting him – eventually putting enough pressure on the British government to call for the release of the remaining British prisoners, um, but it took three years for that to happen.

JA:
So, when you got out you joined Cage Prisoners and fought for people that you had known in Guantanamo and elsewhere to be released, or treated with due process. And so now we have this sort of rather incredible position where we discovered a WikiLeaks US Embassy cable in 2010 about you, and this is from the Embassy… US Embassy in Luxembourg, writing back to Washington – you had been in Luxembourg campaigning for Luxembourg to take Guantanamo Bay detainees. ‘Mr Begg is doing our work for us. He is 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 message to the government of Luxembourg as we are. Please consider accepting Gitmo detainees for resettlement’. How does that make you feel, that the Obama administration now sees you as their ambassador?

MB:
Um, well it doesn’t do a great deal for my street credibility, as it were [JA laughs], um, but suffice to say that if the words of the US ambassador had been taken, that would have been one thing but I am pretty certain that I am still regarded as an Enemy Combatant. One of the things ironically that has been used often by the United States government in preventing people from being released from Guantanamo is to say that they are recidivists – that they have re-joined the fight against America – and one of the things they cited was me writing a book called Enemy Combatant, which was regarded as the fight against America, and it’s this sort of nonsensical attitude which drowns out such voices, um, like the ambassador, I think, of Luxembourg, the US ambassador of Luxembourg, but being involved in the resettlement process for me was something really important because there are… there are scores people still in Guantanamo who have been cleared for release by the US yet cannot go back to their countries for fear of torture.

JA:
Asim, from Cage Prisoners’ perspective, what does it think about this tension between Obama’s view, at least in 2010, about closing Guantanamo and resettling prisoners, and what’s now actually happening.

AQ:
I mean, I think everybody gave a lot of goodwill to Obama, including ourselves, when he initially signed the Executive Order in order to have the base closed within the year. We found ourselves somewhat optimistic – maybe for the first time in many years – seeing though the way that policies have been carried out since then it’s very difficult to envisage a scenario where the base will be closed; rather, what we’ve seen is the re-establishment of the Military Commission’s processes there – what was, you know, termed a… a kangaroo court. They claim that these will be much more transparent than the previous iteration of the Commissions. However, from everything that we have seen so far, they will still use evidence that has been gleamed from torture.

JA:
But what’s going on politically? Did… was that a genuine attempt by Obama that was subverted by the Congress? Has Obama just given up? Has he now been captured by the military-industrial complex? I mean, what’s…

AQ:
Yeah, possibly. I mean, I think if you were to give him some benefit of the doubt, if he deserves any at all, you could say that, you know, his initial intention was quite good but that the way that US politics is run that he has no… no choice other than to proceed in the way… the way in which he has. Do I think that is a reasonable excuse? No. I think that as the president you should… follow up on those things that he promises, especially when they’re amongst the very first of his… of his administration.

JA:
So, I want to look now at the broader issue of the rule of law. So, Cage Prisoners is using the rule of law, or notions of the rule of law, to try and achieve justice for Guantanamo Bay detainees and others sucked into this large… um, shadow US prison system. Does it also look at other countries other than the United States? Does it also look at other types of prisoners than Islamic prisoners?

AQ:
I mean, our remit you have to understand is the War on Terror. We’re a very small organisation and so it’s important… it’s important that we stick within our remit. We do look at other countries. We look at, say, you know, Egypt and Somalia and Pakistan and Afghanistan – anywhere where the policies of the War on Terror have interconnected with the policies that the US began. So, we find that almost the entire world has been involved in some way or another. You know, we even had a case in Chile that we’ve been working on before. So… and unfortunately…

JA:
Is the rule of law breaking down?

AQ:
I believe so, and this is what we’ve seen… we’ve seen a backsliding of the rule of law, of due process, I think that’s… I think the one thing that you can identify. Everyone’s taken their… their lead from the US, in terms of the way that systematic violations of due process have taken place. I remember…

JA:
But what about in the UK?

AQ:
Of course, of course. And the UK…

JA:
You have Babar Ahmad detained without charge, for what? Seven years…

AQ:
Yeah, that’s right, and the UK has very much taken its lead from that as well, so you have secret evidence now within UK cases – individuals who are put in long-term detention without charge, without ever being able to challenge the evidence against them, and much of that stems back from Guantanamo. I was once in the northeast corner of Kenya… I met some Somalis who had been interned for the last 17 years in this refugee camp, and when I asked them how… how they could describe what they were living through, they said ‘The best thing that we can say is that it’s like being in Guantanamo Bay’. So, Guantanamo has become the very symbol of arbitrary detention worldwide, and I think that the US has to take a very long look at itself.

JA:
Where’s it going?

MB:
Well, take a look at our history in the UK. We had, through the period of the Troubles, Britain and London in particular being targeted by the IRA through a whole series of campaigns, which included 10 Downing Street being targeted and the MI5 building and Harrods and Lord Mountbatten, and as late as 1998 there were 28 people killed in the Omagh bombing, but you couldn’t detain a person without charge or trial as far as… as far as… or pre-trial detention for more than 7 days or 14 days, and the previous government wanted to increase that to 90 days. We’ve got cases where now people are being… have been convicted in the country for the dissemination of what they call terrorist literature – books, poetry, songs – in Britain, which is the land of Shakespeare and Wordsworth and Magna Carta and habeus corpus. This is where all of this stuff is happening, it’s not happening in… we’re not talking about Pakistan or… or Sri Lanka, we’re talking about Britain in 2012 and… So, when we’re talking about the rule of law we simply can… I think we can pretty much see that it’s… not only is it being eroded generally for ordinary people, it’s being eroded because the constant notion of us being under some sort of threat, being described as Enemy Combatants, being told that we are the enemies of the State, and then when we’re asked for hard evidence there simply isn’t any, and this is the sort of situation we’re in right now. Where a… a prime minister or a judge, a politician could say something about an individual that resonates around the world and that title is stuck with you for the rest of your life.

JA:
What do you think the difference is with the IRA situation? So, there we had… in the UK’s battle against the IRA we had bombings, there were telephone tappings, there were secret… secret police, and yet the decay in the rule of law didn’t reach such depths. What’s going on?

MB:
I think the belief is there – and I have met many former Republican prisoners and had these discussions with them and tried to understand the differences and the similarities – and what they say… what they say from their own mouths is that ‘Moazzam, at least they used to wait until we spoke’, meaning that there is a certain type of profiling going on here in terms of what’s perceived to be a person’s belief. So here it’s about, I would say – according to what the government has said in the past and present – it’s about ideology, and that’s why we are getting people convicted for writing books. Um, some books in some senses are… Milestones, for example, has been targeted in the UK, a certain version of it, which includes the syllabus of the Muslim Brotherhood who’ve just taken power in Egypt ironically, and somebody was convicted in this country for that. That couldn’t have happened during the period of the IRA… of the Troubles.

JA:
Where is it going? I mean, let’s imagine that Cage Prisoners is not successful in its… in its fight for restitution of people we imprisoned under the War on Terror. I mean, if we look forward for the tendencies, the dark tendencies, where are we going to end up?

MB:
On the current trajectory that we’re on?

JA:
Yeah.

MB:
I would say in a very dark place. Um, we’ve seen the government’s new ‘Prevent’ strategy, which effectively tells GPs to report Muslims who are feeling a little bit depressed because they could be, er, victims of radicalisation, because they can be easy targets, soft targets. We know that strategy also tells university lecturers to report those Muslims who are effectively talking about contentious issues within class. So, if you’re taking that as the standard for the way in which convict… future convictions will take place and the way in which Muslims will be profiled, then unfortunately – at least for the Muslim community – you know, it’s going to be a very, very, very dark place. We’ve got one of our researchers currently looking at how all of the counter-terrorism legislation policies has impacted on non-Muslims, and some of the statistics that we’ll be providing, you know, are truly shocking, to say the least – and that’s just how non-Muslims have been impacted, you know, as a result of policies that are supposed to be targeting Muslims, so I can only imagine how much worse things are going to get for us living here in the UK and indeed abroad.

JA:
Perfect. Project your minds forward – we have drone bases, 25 now in the world, numbers increasing, one-third of the US aerial fleet is… are drones; mass surveillance across the world, every telephone call in and out, SMS, in the United States are being intercepted, and many other countries as well. I mean, I’m not just talking about Muslims – they’re, of course, a particular issue with the United States and other Western countries – but… do you see… it seems to me that it’s actually very dark, that… um, if it’s not dealt with then we may end up in extremely dark place.

MB:
If you take a look at what’s happened across the… North Africa, the Arab Spring – and I’ve spent some time there in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt – you can see that decades of this sort of thing,you know. In Britain and America in one sense it’s new, although we’ve McCarthyism there and we’ve had the targeting and the tarnishing of black communities in the UK and of the Irish and so forth, but at this point round, because it’s the global issue, it’s regarded as global issues, um, the people are also responding in that way, so you’ve got – based on what’s taking place or what’s happening in the Arab Spring – you’ve got the Occupy movements here in the UK and in the United States of America – that’s just, I think, a flavour of the thing of what’s to come. People will take to the streets, and once they take to the streets all of the…

JA:
Do you think they are taking to the streets now because of the opportunities that the internet affords for extra communication – mobile phones – or because, like a man who is having his leg sawn off, they are starting to scream in pain?

MB:
Well, I think it’s a bit of both, to be honest with you. I mean, what you can see clearly what happened, you know… You are talking about… in times of economic crisis, which is what we’re in right now, that’s when it will happen, that is when you’ll look for scapegoats and that is when people will be completely, um, discontent, and that’s what we are seeing, I think, all over the place. And if you… I can’t stress enough that the… that the fact that people have risen up in the Arab world and thrown off these dictators who they know – you ask the ordinary person on the street who supported these guys, who installed them and who gave them the finance and weapons to keep us down – they’ll point north and west.

JA:
Now Asim, what is more important – rule of law or rights of Muslims?

AQ:
I believe that, you know, due process is fundamentally Islamic. I mean, this is the reason why we set Cage Prisoners up in the first place. It wasn’t… when we saw Guantanamo we said to ourselves that what’s going on here is something that is unethical both in the Islamic world and, you know, from a Western perspective as well at the same time. You know, what we were trying to do is identify effectively the one commonality that we believe that every single society has. That’s why even in our… our vision document, our strategy document, we refer to due process as being transcendental. As Muslims we believe that without due process there can’t be any justice and without justice, you know, people will always feel disenfranchised and they’ll feel alienated. That’s why it’s very easy for me to talk about, um, things such as Magna Carta, habeas corpus – because these are things that I believe in as a Muslim, not just as somebody who believes in justice, you know, as far as I’m concerned they actually hold onto very Islamic concepts of the way in which people should have the right to a fair trial. So, in terms of, you know, the rights of Muslim prisoners or, you know, the rule of law, whatever else… I think that both of these two things actually go very, very much hand in hand together. You know, if you don’t protect the rights of Muslims in the current formation that we have right now where so many of the policies are being targeted against them specifically, then in fact non-Muslims will suffer as a consequence anyway, at some point or another. Us as a suspect community, and all the laws and policies and legislation that’s… that are being passed or carried through against Muslims will end up affecting other people. You know, the EAW against yourself is one case in point. It was… it’s a… it’s a…

JA:
Yeah, it was passed in the wake of 9/11.

AQ:
Exactly. It passed in the wake of 9/11. They are trying to extract Muslims across the world and non-Muslims are being picked up as a result of it. When they passed the Extradition Act of 2003 here in the UK, they never thought that, you know, their own bankers, their best friends that they have, you know, country club lunches with and whatever were going to be the first people to be extradited. It was made for Muslims specifically, so when you start going down that route where you target a community and you change your own ethics for the sake of targeting that community, then eventually you’ll run out of people to target and it will affect, you know, those that you never intended in the first place.

JA:
Let’s talk about this extreme targeting. So, Cage Prisoners’ role is to try and… try and get prisoners released, or at least have due process for them, to advocate on their behalf, but now we see the US administration is using drone strikes to kill Muslim radicals around the world, and in fact the CIA now is killing more people than the US Air Force with airpower, which is a… quite an interesting phenomena as far as the structure of different US institutions is concerned. …Um, is Cage Prisoners out of a job? Because, you know, you imprison someone in Guantanamo Bay, they become a political problem. If you kill them, they’re a political problem just at the point of death but afterwards no man, no problem.

MB:
We wish that we were out of a job, I mean, we would love to be out of a job. This is the sort of thing that every day when you’re dealing with cases they are very painful to deal with as individuals and we’re… and for the family members of people we are advocating for. I used to say that Bush was the president under whom extra-judicial detention was taking place and Obama is the president under whom extra-judicial killing is taking place. So, Obama did promise a change, remember – he said: ‘A change has come to America’ – and this is it. The change is from extra-judicial detention to extra-judicial killing.

JA:
You knew Awlaki, an American citizen, an American cleric…

MB:
I interviewed him, yes.

JA:
… and you interviewed him and, you know, we have a quote here … So, just after 9/11 he says: ‘that the US administration has killed over 1 million civilians in Iraq does not justify the killing of one US civilian in New York, and the deaths of 6,000 civilians in New York does not justify the killing of one civilian in Afghanistan’. Um, after being imprisoned in Yemen he appears to have been radicalised and, as a result, the US has decided to kill him. Speak to that.

MB:
Well, it’s interesting because I didn’t know much about Awlaki up until I came back from Guantanamo. He’d become this very well-known figure in the Muslim world for his articulation, for his charisma, amongst English-speaking people – and also he could reference himself directly to the Arabic roots of the… of Islam. But what was interesting was that when he was detained there was a huge amount of support for him in the Muslim community, and that’s what caused me to seek to have an interview with him, and it was interesting because I wanted to know whether any Americans had been involved in his interrogation and he told me yes, they had and it was a very difficult period for him. In fact, he said that there’s some things about that that he would not like to discuss and that perhaps he might discuss it another time, but it was evident to me that whatever it was that transpired at that time, the US had a great part to play in it, and, um, that he… of course, not only was a US citizen himself – and I know this from personal experience – that once you feel that your own countryman…

JA:
… has betrayed you…

MB:
… are there to… you think they are going to come and help you, but in fact they betray you… and that is something that is very, very painful. It… it… it rocks your entire faith in your nationality or where you originate, or where you feel affiliated to. And I think that is something that happened to him and it was inevitable after what he was seeing was taking place and, of course, he was in the Arab world and the dynamic there is different to what it is in here, in the Western world, and he was seeing constantly, daily what was taking place there and I think that is what flipped him.

JA:
I mean, later on… I mean, he has spoke approvingly of terrorist attacks subsequently. The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents me in the United States, tried to represent Awlaki before he was killed… to petition that he should not be killed, that there should be some kind of due process, er, but dealing with Awlaki was not possible for US lawyers because he was put onto a blacklist, so… I mean, this is just an extraordinary situation where you haven’t been killed but you know there is a plot to get you by the government, you can’t even hire lawyers to petition, um, that they’ve got the wrong man, that there’s some mistake, that there’s another way of dealing with it.

MB:
Well, they killed him, they killed – I think – a guy called Samir Khan and they also killed Awlaki’s son as well, who I think was 15 or 16 at the time. And if you go on to the greater story of the drone attacks and you look at the Northwest Frontier in Pakistan and in that region, Afghanistan, even Somalia – the numbers being killed are simply not counted anymore. Nobody really cares, and that is just like the same thing in terms of Iraq or… the numbers detained without charge or trial, this comes back to… to an idea that really, you know, it’s these darkies over there, who cares about them? And that’s what it comes down to.

JA:
So, Asim, the Muslim community – Who does care about it? Will it have to care for itself? – and that… you know, that there are several different views about how the Muslim community is going to look after itself. In a 2006 rally you said – in quite a fiery language – ‘When we see our brother and sisters fighting in Chechnya, Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, Afghanistan, then we know where the example lies. When we see Hezbollah defeating the armies of Israel we know what the solution is and where the victory lies. We know it is incumbent upon us, all of us, to support the Jihad of our brothers and sisters in these countries wherever they are facing oppression by the West’. That… I saw that video and, to me, it looks like a fiery Muslim preaching Jihad. Why did you say this statement?

AQ:
Well, I mean this comes in the context of the Israelis having bombed Cana, and they killed masses of civilians there – this is in 2006. Now, what you have to understand is that, you know, as far as Muslims are concerned, at the moment, you know, they are under attack in countries all over the world. There are hundreds of thousands of people dying and effectively our concept of Jihad, you know – at least in its current iteration – is that, you know, as Muslims we have a right to defend ourselves. There is… you know, there is no point in saying that, you know, these people are being killed like this, in an occupation, colonial domination, racism taking place… and that these people they shouldn’t be allowed to defend themselves, they should just keep on being slapped and killed and raped and that they’re not allowed to defend…

JA:
But defence here means military resistance…

AQ:
Of course, of course, and all of these countries should be allowed to. I mean, that’s not the full speech and I talkwithin that speech as well about how we as Muslims in the UK, you know, should be supporting, you know, these people by lobbying, by campaigning, by effectively trying our best to support them, and I… and I very much believe that – that, you know, it’s part of our obligation to do so.

JA:
But what about collateral damage, because that seems to me to be the issue? I mean, how many innocent victims can be made. So, terrorist attacks – most of the victims are innocent. US military attacks – they vary – maybe 50% of the victims are innocent.

AQ:
Yeah. I mean, the point is it’s not about, er, conflict being the solution, and that is something that, you know, we advocate against ourselves – myself particularly- I don’t believe that violence is the solution, that dialogue is the only solution. However, at the same time I believe that everybody has a right to defend themselves…

JA:
But what about this defence? Beslan, as an example, in Chechnya – this attack on the school – 300 something people died. I mean, is… there were all sorts of military problems in Chechnya…

AQ:
And of course, I… [talks over JA]

JA:
…for the life of the population of Russians, but that… that is a type, they would say, those Chechen terrorists that they were defending Chechnya in that manner. I mean, is that… is that type of defence a defence that you accept?

AQ:
Look, it’s not something… it’s not something that I agree with myself. I don’t think Islamically that it’s the right way of going about doing things. Um, I don’t live in those circumstances, I can’t Islamically jurisprudentially make a statement about anything because I’m not a Muslim scholar, you know… I have disagreements with, you know, the way Al-Qaeda uses its tactics around the world. I don’t think it’s productive in terms of what it is trying,.. what the end goal it’s trying to achieve, but at the same time the general concept – and this is what I was talking about in that speech – is that, you know, people have the right to defend themselves and they should not be denied that right simply because, you know, America believes it holds all the moral authority in the world, and that’s the point that that speech tried to make…

MB:
I think there’s an interesting point to be made just about Jihad, because it’s this term that’s so… er, used so blatantly without people really understanding what it is. We supported Jihad, let’s just admit this. The British government brought over Mujahadeen fighters in the 70s and 80s, trained them by the SAS in Snowdon… in Snowdonia and in the Highlands in the use of the blowpipe anti-aircraft missile system, which was rubbish… which was replaced by the…

JA:
The Stinger…

MB:
… the Stinger… So everybody knows this – except our population, they don’t know this. Britain supported Jihad again just a few months ago when they were supporting Mujahadeen fighters – who called themselves Mujahadeen – in Libya against Gadaffi. So, you’ve got this play with words to… within the media… to say ‘Well, Jihad is bad except for when we say it is’. And this is the sort of thing that we as… Cage Prisoners as an organisation that’s part… that’s Muslim, like to introduce and explain to people that you are being hoodwinked by the politician and the media when they use these terms. Either you say that actually you don’t know what it is and will put it aside, or we simply stop demonising this, because when you demonise this concept of Islam, you demonise us as well because it’s part and parcel of our belief system.

JA:
So now, I would like to give two tricky questions… what did Bush do right? You know, he would argue that there were no terrorists attacks of any significance on the mainland of the United States post-2001- and how did he achieve that? Well, if I was arguing his side I would say he achieved by all sorts of surveillance, preventative detention, er, terrorising people, absolutely terrorising people with examples of Guantanamo Bay, detention without trial, arbitrary execution, etcetera. Um…

MB:
Um, I’d give one response to that…

JA:
Is there anything that Bush, I mean, is the… is the… that there are no terrorists attacks in the United States, is that the reason?

MB:
I think if you take a look at the numbers of plots that they’ve claimed that were about to take place, or were imminent and so forth, um, I don’t know whether Guantanamo has stopped them at all. In fact, what I do know is that when I returned from 2005… in 2005 there was four hostages that had been taken in Iraq, and one of them, of course, was a British guy. The American was executed, and he was executed wearing… being placed in an orange suit, which was resonant of Guantanamo prisoners. Some of us made an appeal, from the Guantanamo prison, for these guys to be released, and at least they were saved and later the British SAS rescued…

JA:
The other three?…

MB:
Yes, the three… um, and now, of course, they’re friends with us and they’ve sent us messages of support, so what that – just that incident in itself – told us that this is one of the effects of Guantanamo, but everywhere in the world now, people will talk about ‘Who are you, the United States, to lecture us when you have Guantanamo’. Recently, when they… when Britain tried to secure some sort of agreement to send back Abu Qatada, the uncle of the king over there said ‘It’s a bit rich, isn’t it? Britain telling… talking to us about rendition when it’s involved in rendition itself’, so these are the sort of things that are taking place…

JA:
well, the Prime Minister of Somalia said it was ok to keep Swedish journalists in prison in Somalia because of the way I had been treated.

MB:
Well, there you go. There are so many examples of… of this sort of hypocrisy, but I think in answer to your question ‘What did Bush do right?’, um, I don’t know if he did anything right in terms of the War on Terror. There was a Bush prior to that and interestingly you’ve got some Al-Qaeda-type scholars in Saudi Arabia who’ve actually said that we supported you coming to power. That’s interesting. That they actually said that: ‘We were happy when you came to power, you seemed to be a person who was of the same mind as us’… and then, of course, he said that…

JA:
Wahabi scholars?

MB:
Yes, yes… He said that ‘this crusade is going to take a while’, and once he said that everything went wrong from that point onwards.

JA:
What about Bin Laden? What did Bin Laden do right?

MB:
Well, if you take a look at what he did at the time when the Soviets occupied Afghanistan and the Americans were supporting him, he did everything right from that point onwards. He did everything right because he was being supported by the West, and that was the evidence for it. Er, what he did wrong…

JA:
Oh, I don’t mean what the West believes, I mean what do you believe?

MB:
[laughs] No, I know, I know, and as… I think that was right too… I think that was right too, for the Afghans to be able to liberate themselves with the support of everybody who was helping them, was absolutely right. But as far as, er, the ordering of the attacks, if that’s what he did, and that’s still… I don’t know, in my mind it’s not been established because he didn’t have due process… if that’s what he did, it was wrong because it started a chain reaction that we’ve not been able to recover from since.

JA:
Why do you think that he, as a leader, why… you know, you talk about whether he was successful or not, I mean, but we can say that he stirred up a lot of trouble so, as a leader, why was he successful?

MB:
I don’t know if he was a leader first of all, I mean, I think that the perpetuating myth of Al-Qaeda in the Magreb and then Europe and all of the Al-Qaeda franchises were all part of ‘Well, if you’re going to say we’re Al-Qaeda, we’ll be Al-Qaeda’, but I don’t think it really existed in the way that we’ve been told, and it is a great myth how big it was in its reaches. As a person, as a figurehead for people, um, people simply saw… if you’d go in the Muslim world, the attitudes are different. People may… most of them don’t agree with 9/11, they don’t agree with targeting civilians, and there’s been great deal of that taking place in the Muslim world, so they don’t agree with that at all.

JA:
What’s the view in the Muslim world about him before 9/11? Was he well known?

MB:
I don’t think he was, I don’t think he was greatly known. I think if anything in the Gulf countries and those people who had been part of the struggle or the fighting in the Jihad against the Soviets, he was known in that circle of people, definitely, because of his personal sacrifice and his integrity and all of the things that he’d done which you would not expect a very… a billionaire to do, but after that I think his influence has been… it’s been seen for something greater than it really is. People were going to… it wasn’t… the United States didn’t just attack Osama Bin Laden, they didn’t just go after him, they went after nations and they killed tens of thousands of people in the process. So Bin Laden may have come and gone – it’s irrelevant because those symptoms that Bin Laden was addressing are still there.

JA:
How would you primarily describe yourselves – as Muslims, as liberationists, as people who like rule of law processes, as intellectuals? What is…?

MB:
All of the above.

AQ:
No. No, no. I don’t think some of… those things don’t necessarily have to be mutually exclusive to one another. You know, being Muslim means standing up for justice, it means being a bit radical, it also means being a little bit conservative. It means all of those things at the same time. You know… you know, God says in the Qur’an that “Be just, even if it goes against yourself’”. You know, that’s a very, very important, you know, part of who we are, what our character is, that even if it meant, er, effectively having to give evidence against ourselves in some way, that we would always do what was most just in any circumstance. You know, that’s how we formulate our characters. Justice is in many ways more important than many other things. One of our most famous scholars of our past – his name’s Ibn Taymiyyah – he once made a statement where he said that effectively God gives dominion on the Earth to those who establish justice even if they are from the non-Muslims because God wants to see the establishment of justice for the protection of societies. You know, and that’s… I think that’s quite a strong concept and it is one that I, you know, I think is quite important. [16:03:58.10] That’s why we work so strongly towards due process because by even working towards a Western conception of due process we believe that it will help those societies to be better. I mean, you’ve got people like Abu Qatada and others who fled from their countries of origin because of the oppressive regimes that exist in those places – the torture, the lack of process, the… you know, the inhumanity effectively, and they came to places like the UK seeking the ability to at least if anything was to ever happen to them that they would be able to present their side of the argument. You know, unfortunately we live in a situation now where nobody has the moral high ground anymore on some very, very simple concepts, on concepts that, you know, all of us could sit down in a room and agree on. And that’s our big problem – that there is no longer that… that ground that can be worked from. There’s very few people talking in the terms of reference of what is… what is really and truly best for society? How do we stop increasing alienation and disenfranchisement from the system? It’s very difficult for us to go into a Muslim community or a group of young students and say to them: ‘This is going on in the world, and this is going on in the world, and this is going on in the world, and yeah, it does look like everything is targeting these Muslims’, [inaudible] you still make a difference.

JA:
In struggling for individuals’ liberation from imprisonment – and being imprisoned yourself – and the struggle for a people’s liberation, a group of people, their liberation – do you think this is incompatible with submission to a God?

AQ:
I don’t think so. I think we’ve got to remember that this whole discussion about God and so forth, and the removal of religion from politics and so forth, is relatively new, I think – especially, you know, especially when you talk about the Muslim world and we have to recognise that there is a Muslim world, and that Muslim world is not going to ape everything that’s being done here, simply because we colonised it and said ‘We’re going to stamp our authority on you’. The Muslim world has shown very, very clearly that it wants religion and God to be part and parcel of their governance…

JA:
Does it make you uncomfortable though, I mean? It would make me uncomfortable to submit to the will… um, to submit to the will, to agree… To agree is fine, once you understand, but to feel that I was submitting to the will…

AQ:
I think there’s nothing for you to worry about. You’re in Britain and thus you have to deal with other wills of other people and other governments to submit to…

JA:
And I find it… I find it extremely disconcerting, and annoying, but don’t you find it annoying to submit to the will of God?

AQ:
Well, let’s, let’s… We all have… we’re human beings, we have to submit to something, we all have to submit to some kind of law all the time, and I think when… My point is about the Muslim world in particular and not about the West here. The West has nothing to worry about in terms of… of us communities living here. We understand the rules and the regulations and we submit to them, even if we don’t like it in some cases. Um, but we’re talking about in the Muslim world and I think that is really important to recognise, and right across from the Ma’rib all the way to Indonesia – that is a massive population – it’s one-fifth of the world’s population want this, and that’s just from within the Muslim community, let alone what…

JA:
Sorry, they want what? They want the rule of law or something?

AQ:
Yeah, but I’m saying that they want Islam or the religion to be a part of their life in terms of governance and in terms of their daily living routine, and I think that is a choice that we should respect. The problem is we have not respected that for the past 100 or so years, and because we’ve got this attitude within the West that we really don’t want God or religion and so forth involved in our lives, thus we’re going to disrespect those guys there as well – and as a result of that we look at them with contempt, but people they have… have responded and have shown their voice in the ballot boxes where all these Islamic parties have come to power.

JA:
Do you believe that Islam can also be an imperial force, for example in East Timor – the Islamic colonisation of Indonesia?

AQ:
I think, historically speaking, of course it’s happened. You know, there’s been colonisation everywhere, it’s not just the West that has done colonisation, it’s just the blatant racism that we have seen seems to have stuck in ways that we’ve not seen with other groups of people. Um, Islam has transcended and has remained in places where not a shot was fired – in Indonesia, in Malaysia and so forth, and you can see sort of in terms of the rise or the resurgence – it’s called the ‘Sahwah’ or the reawakening of the Islamic world – this is very much a force to be reckoned with and it is one that should be recognised rather than, as I said, um, left aside.

JA:
What do you think about this movement towards Tahrir – can you pronounce it for me?

MB:
Hizb ut-Tahrir

JA:
Hizb ut-Tahrir – this movement, which seems to be amongst the Islamic diaspora of… started in Palestine… of desire to unite Muslim peoples into one Islamic caliphate, and one central point I suppose, of rule of law and that law being Sharia. Do you see that as a possibility?

MB:
I mean, I think right now the way that we’re seeing the Muslim communities around the world are developing, I mean, especially I think the Arab Spring has given Muslims a lot to think about. You have different phenomena emerging in each country and it’s very, very different from place to place, so what’s happening in Tunisia and Rashad a-Ranoushi is very, very different to what’s happening in Egypt in under… now the Muslim Brotherhood and the Al-Nour Party. So I think what we’re seeing is that the kind of statements that were made previously, you know – and a lot of Muslims will agree, generally speaking, with the concept of the Muslims uniting together – that the, you know, the re-establishment of a caliphate, I mean these are kind of, you know, orthodox positions that, you know, people have always held, but what is the substance of those positions? How does that formulate in terms of the modern world? And we’re going to be watching Muslims all over the world – what’s happening in Tunisia, what’s happening in Egypt, what is going to happen in Libya – as they try and organise themselves better with a lot of interest, because these guys are going to actually, for the first time, really have the authority to try and, in a normative way, balance up, you know, what the Islamic law, what the Sharia requires of us as Muslims alongside living in a Western… in a, should I say, in a modern world. So of course, having a foreign policy that, you know, is in tune with being part of, you know, nation states – that’s not necessarily a scenario that was envisioned in the past. The nation state is, generally speaking, quite a new concept still, you know, so how does that relate to the Islamic law? So, all of these things are… things are going to have to be thought about very, very carefully and I think organisations like the Hizb ut-Tahrir, who have some following around the Muslim world, you know, I think they’re going to have to think about all these things a lot more carefully in light of some of the statements and comments that they make.

JA:
I’ve seen statements by Hizb ut-Tahrir that ‘You are either with us – Tahrir – or you’re with the Americans’, which is the exact mirror of what Bush said: ‘You are either with us or you’re with the terrorists’. I can see that a group-ism if you like, a strong group-ism…

MB:
Um, just in terms of our work… we… you know, we always joke amongst ourselves that, you know, we work with so many non-Muslims who have aided and assisted our work in ways that, you know, most Muslims haven’t even. In fact, it was non-Muslims who really supported our work before any Muslims really, er you know, came along, so that’s not necessarily the right perspective, depending on which angle you are coming from. I mean, do we share a brotherhood and a kinship of faith with Muslims who we’ve never met? Yeah we do, it’s part of our religion to have that. Our prophet said ‘A Muslim is a brother to another Muslim’, but how does that figure in terms of, you know, the daily operation of our work? I’m not going to, you know, work alongside a Muslim just because he is a Muslim if he is not adding any value to, you know, the causes that we are trying to achieve.

JA:
But let’s look forward to… imagine that the Muslim people – well, maybe it’s one country or several countries, maybe the Magreb forms into a union of Muslim states, say maybe a bit like Mercosur in South America – what does your ideal system look like? Is it common law, Sharia law, some amalgam between the two?

MB:
Well, these are big questions and, you know, we mostly deal with the issue of people detained without charge or trial…

JA:
I know.

MB:
…and stick to it. We don’t really… that’s not part of our remit… is not solving the world’s problems but, you know, speaking on a personal level, I think this is the great fear – when they talk about this system, the Caliphate, everybody gets terrified but, in essence, what would it be? It would be a union of countries where they all speak Arabic. For goodness sake, if in Europe we’ve got 50 different languages and people are trying to come together and have no states and one monetary union and so forth…

JA:
Well, they are trying to introduce the European Union, which has caused me a bit of grief actually.

MB:
Of course it has, of course it has. Yes, and extradition warrants which allow people to be moved in… freely, yes.

JA:
I’m not sure big, big super-States are actually the way to go.

MB:
Right. It’s not necessary to be, to us too… But here the difference… I mean, what I’m talking about is, er, what… what links Morocco to Iraq? What are the links? Cultural, and most important, language.

JA:
Yes.

MB:
Everybody… you know, I can… you can go to Morocco and speak Arabic, and speak Arabic all… and every country right in between… there is something… and that’s a unique fabric of a society if… and what separates us in Europe is the language – it is primarily language.

JA:
Yes.

MB:
And so you have already got that there, and because historically it used to be there before, and if you look at the countries…

JA:
Right, but I mean they already speak Arabic, so what would be the new thing?

MB:
So, what would be new is the unity would not be based upon on their own personal nationalism, and this would be the difference, because that’s what it used to be like before. Their nationalism has only been instilled after somebody came along and on a map of Africa drew a line and said you’re Libya, and you’re Algeria, and you’re so and so. They… if they are able to return to, in the modern context of course, to something that allows that sort of unity, it would give them a great deal of strength, and I think that’s where the worry is in terms of the West, is that we will have another powerhouse here established on our southern doorstep that we don’t want. But I think we’ll…

JA:
But you also have Iran and Indonesia with their own languages…

MB:
You will, but I don’t know if all that sort of union is going to take place…

JA:
Yeah.

MB:
… but I think it makes sense that the people and the countries in North Africa would do this if they’ve got a shared history and a shared modern history.

JA:
Now, what about what type of rule of law… would you envisage?

MB:
Well, I mean look…

JA:
I’m not talking about that is actually practical to implement now. I mean, if you were Allah for a day, you know, what would you do…?

AQ:
We neever really use those terms for reference but… Um, Islam is a normative legal system just like any other. We have effectively statue and case law like any other normative legal system anywhere in the world, and so for us there is a rule of law that we have to follow, you know, and in many ways some of the complaints that you often hear about the way that Islam is implemented, or the Sharia is implemented, is the fact that it totally goes against, what the rule of law requires from the Sharia, from the normative legal system itself. So for example, you know, when you consider the issue of stoning for adultery, the requirement – the evidentiary standard – is four live witnesses to the act of sexual relations at the time that it is taking place. From an evidentiary perspective, it’s almost impossible to establish that unless it’s some kind of party that has gone a little bit weird, you know. It’s very, very difficult to establish that criteria, so the fact that you have…

JA:
And… but the punishment is stoning to death?

AQ:
Yeah, but the fact that you have the punishment even taking place means that effectively the rule of law is being abused at some point, because it’s impossible to establish that evidentiary standard… [inaudible]

JA:
But you would agree with stoning to death for adultery?

AQ:
I mean, the whole point is that that was never envisaged really to…

JA:
But, I mean, you would agree to the stoning… ?

AQ:
I mean, I agree with Islamic concepts of… of how we… um, practice our punishments, ok, generally speaking, what they are. Whether or not they’re… they’re even applicable…

[all talk over each other]

JA:
So, that’s …

MB:
I’ll tell you what’s really important terminology…

JA:
Guys! So – I think this is important – so the Cage… well, the difference between Cage Prisoners and your personal opinion, I accept that.

AQ:
Yeah, this is… this is purely my own personal opinion.

JA:
But – purely your personal opinion – is that the death penalty is ok?

AQ:
From a Islamic perspective, yes, as long as all the due process elements are met then it can be, depending on if all the elements are there.

JA:
Ok.

MB:
I think that, you know, what happens when people discuss Sharia it’s… um, everyone discusses crime and punishment or the punishment – the Hudood – so what we’re talking about here is the Hudood, the punishment aspect – that’s not Sharia. The Sharia is the law.

JA:
Yes, that’s that whole rule of law process…

MB:
Yeah, right – it’s the whole process, yeah.

JA:
… which is what I want to get at.

MB:
And none of us… none of us are really sort of qualified to talk about it in the way that it should be discussed in terms of a country establishing itself and formulating these rules, and primarily because no country has applied them since the fall the, you know, the Caliphate of the Ottomans, so it’s in essence a theoretical discussion which has no proper working… And let’s remember – with the countries that do operate it – Britain has a fantastic relationship with, so…

[interview interuppted to change batteries]

JA:
I think that you were saying that these countries that currently claim Sharia law but are abusing it, or…

MB:
Right, right, right… Ok, yes…ready?

All:
Yes.

MB:
It’s… it’s important to remember that a lot of this discussion about Islam ruling a country and the Sharia being implemented is pretty theoretical because we haven’t had the implementation of the Sharia in an Islamic state properly at least since the fall of the Ottomans and some people would argue even well before that, perhaps a couple of hundred years before that. What we do have, however, is some countries that do implement parts of the Sharia like Saudi Arabia and others who have a brilliant relationship with not just Britain but also with the United States of America. So I think when we are having this discussion we have to always remember that. When we are having that discussion of the veil, having the discussion of the Hudood or the punishment, of halal meat and all of those sorts of things. We love to hate those matters within our country because we don’t like that as part of the system within where we live but we have very good friendships with people who do. and so…

JA:
So what’s your point? Would it be a…

MB:
I think the point is that there is a point when we are very happy to respect things that we don’t agree with, and have a very good relationship with those people who do, and I think once that is recognised properly we might be able to move forward and say that there will be a difference, there will be a parting of the ways in terms of how people have their belief systems and implement them, but we can respect them. And I think that’s something that we have to develop…

JA:
Do you think this… the… if you go back to the Ottomans and the Ottoman Caliphate, that the absence of an Islamic state – that most people would want to live in – it seems, would you agree, that that’s not too many – maybe Oman, I’m not sure…?

MB
Let me tell you a very interesting point. When… when the Caliphate was abolished…

JA:
The Ottoman Caliphate?

MB:
… the Ottoman Caliphate was abolished one of the first people to advocate for it was Mohandas K. Gandhi, and the reason why is because he understood that this was something that was central to the fabric of Islamic history and… and so I think the call for the establishment of a caliphate – or perhaps not even using that word, but a united Muslim block – um, is something that most people would want in the Arab world. Just in the Arab-speaking world, there’s this song that children learn from a young age and it says that the… that ‘The land of the Arabs are mine and every Arab is my brother’, so… and there’s a statement of the prophet which says that ‘All of you are one brotherhood’. So I think that’s still very vibrant amongst ordinary people. When a Muslim meets another Muslim, the first thing he says to him isn’t ‘Hello, how’re you doing?’, it’s ‘As-Salamu Alaikum’, which is ‘Peace be upon you’, and this sort of bonds the beginning of the introduction and brings within them this sort of communication that wouldn’t exist elsewhere…

JA:
And what is that… what does that state look like in practical terms? Does the Imam… the people, they vote for a leader who’s a caliphate? Do they have local representatives? Do they have…?

AQ:
I think part of the modern world that we are living in is actually going to give some insights into that. I mean, we’re looking at… right now we’re seeing people who were completely against democracy who were… previously would even speak out against it, actually now in parliament in Egypt, you know, who took part in the elections who, you know, who, er, really pushed for them to actually… for themselves to have seats within some kind of parliamentary democracy…

JA:
You’re talking about the Muslim Brotherhood?

AQ:
Yeah. Actually, further than that, talking about the Al-Nour Party really here. The Muslim Brotherhood have accepted democracy for many years before that and had always politically campaigned, but if you look at, say, those who are within the Al-Nour Party – I mean, these people who were against the entire system previously and yet now they find themselves realising that actually no, that we can’t operate in that way anymore and if we want to have…

JA:
Well, the Communists versus the Mensheviks, they accepted it for a little while.

AQ:
But I don’t think… I don’t think that’s a problem either, to be honest with you, the Algerians tried it as way back as 1992, the Islamic party there – the FIS, the Islamic Salvation Front – was poised to win the elections, the government cancelled the elections and a terrible civil war ensued. What was interesting again was Britain, France, America and every other Western nation was entirely silent and supported the military dictatorship against democratic elections. So, I don’t think this is a problem – Muslims not wanting to enter democratic process – it’s one that Muslims supported…

JA:
But, I mean, do… I mean, they are – it is a fact – that Muslim parties, you know, throughout the Middle East where there’s been the Arab Spring are entering the democratic process from Morocco to Tunisia, but is that the goal? I mean, is that what an Islamic caliphate looks like? Is it parliament? Is it regions? Is it representatives? Is it…? What is the relationship?

MB:
As I mentioned before, right now we don’t actually know. You know, we’re seeing a completely new phenomena for the first time. We’re seeing a situation where for the first time Muslim governments are moving away from dictatorships. I mean, the Western world for so many years was criticising the Muslim world for various of its… of its practices and whatever else, but all of that was under dictatorships that the Muslims themselves didn’t want. They’ve actually taken power now, they’ve taken control and they’ve decided for themselves that ‘Ok, we want to be part of the political arena ourselves’. Now, how that plays out further we’re still going to see. I mean, myself I’m not, you know, a political animal in that sense, you know, and it’s difficult to envisage exactly how some of the things are going to be brought out, but we’re going to be learning a lot from these countries, from these new governments – how they establish themselves, how they establish the Sharia, using Islamic scholars who know what they are talking about from an Islamic perspective as well as people who are technocrats, who know how to run the institutions of a… of a country, and I think between them they might give us some insight as to… as to what those processes might look like.

JA:
Why do you think that Muslims need to get together? Is it collective defence? To homogenise the different cultures?

MB:
I think essentially because they are already. They’re.. they already were – that’s what it began with, that’s what it permeated to… As I said, [inaudibe] the description of the Arab world – to this day, the thing that unites the Muslims is the Arabic language. The children in Indonesia, all the way to China, to Bukhara in Samarkand in Uzbekistan, still read the Qur’an in Arabic. They learn the Arabic language, and… and that is in essence…

JA:
But do they… do they need more?

MB:
They do, they do…

JA:
If they have what they have now – why do they need tighter integration?

MB:
But it’s preserv… so what I mean is… so they have this preservation in the Qur’an and the Qur’an you’ll find will be part of the constitutions of even secular countries before in the past, well, because they know that this is the fabric of what unites and holds these guys together. Within those countries there are minorities of, you know, whether it’s Druzes, whether it’s Christians, whether it’s Maronites or whatever they are, um, and they’ve lived there for… well over a thousand years in peace and harmony because that same book, that same constitution that was written 1,400 years ago respects and recognises their positions very… very, very clearly before ever anybody else did.

JA:
Don’t you think Tunisians would go: ‘We’re Muslims, we’re in Tunisia, we speak a bit of French, a bit of Arabic and we want self-determination, and self-determination is best met by not palling up too much with Egypt because the numbers in Egypt are much larger’.

MB:
I think, of course, that’s… you know… and the Arabs have attempted it, they’ve tried to do the different organisations of just Arab unity, but this goes beyond Arab unity and this is… and I’m talking about Islamic unity, which includes Turks, it includes Iranians, it includes Pakistanis and Indonesians – it’s huge, it’s massive.

JA:
But why have unity?

MB:
Well, why would Europe want unity? The whole point of unity there is that there’ll be a…

JA:
I think… I think the reason Europe wanted unity, actually it was set up by the United States to make a United States of Europe that would be economically powerful enough in order to combat the Soviet Union – that’s why I think Europe wants unity.

MB:
… and I think that…

JA:
…and now… and now it’s a trade block.

MB:
Right. The reason for unity would probably be economics, of course… er, defence of course… and, you know, harking back to a history where you could travel from one point to another unhindered because you’re citizens, you’re a citizen of this land, and that this land isn’t divided based upon colonial principles.

JA:
So you get a Muslim passport, and are free to travel…?

[talking over each other]

AQ:
Well, I don’t know… I mean…

MB:
I don’t know about that. Just the same ways as you have in Europe, you have the ability to travel within Europe and very, very freely. Part of the own nation shares…

JA:
And you have the right to work in any country.

MB:
Right, right, right.

AQ:
… Possibly. We’ll see.

JA:
Very interesting. Ok, so now let’s come back to Cage Prisoners. So, why are you doing it? Like what… there’s all sorts of things to do in life, why are you doing Cage Prisoners?

MB:
I think for me it’s obvious, it’s part of something that I have been affected by, something that I am constantly, er, even if I didn’t want to do it, I would be affected by it to this day so it’s something that, um, I think people would say that it’s something called survivor’s guilt, that you will survive a particular trauma but other people left in that situation are not surviving so you have an obligation upon yourself to fight for them. I feel I have not just a moral and religious but also an ex-… a duty based upon my own personal experience, and ability. If I know I can do it, then I have to do it, and I think I can do it.

JA:
Asim?

AQ:
Well, I’m supposed to be a corporate lawyer so I find myself changing quite radically but, I mean, you see something like Guantanamo, somebody who’s studied law, you know, there’s no way you can see something like that and not get the fact that it goes against every fibre of everything you’ve been taught. You know, I used to go around the UK teaching the values of the UK justice… I was, in fact, commissioned by a group of Imams to teach the importance of studying Western law, you know, because we felt that, you know, it does provide due process. It’s something that… it’s a noble profession, it’s something… due process is something that Muslims can get behind, so I always felt like that – even before Cage Prisoners – but then seeing Guantanamo, seeing indefinite detention without charge in the UK, seeing the Extradition Act, you know…All of these things culminate in telling you, well actually, the law’s being abused here and for a very specific purpose, and all of that kind of convinced me that I needed to be involved with something that was working against these policies. And Cage Prisoners is an important voice for Muslims, it’s an empowering voice, it’s one that we hope tells Muslims that you can actually stand up for yourself, you can stand up for the… for the right thing without feeling as if you’re doing something criminal for doing so, and that’s quite strong.

JA:
Thank you.

AQ:
Thank you very much.

MB:
Ok. Thank you.

JA:
Well done guys.

MB:
Someone told me it’s not going to be a Paxman.

JA:
[laughs] Don’t worry, don’t worry.

AQ:
I’d rather take on Paxman, to tell you the truth.

MB:
Yeah. Right.

[interview finishes – off camera chat]

AQ:
He’s… nowhere near as… fast [?]…

MB:
… can’t stay obsessed… he can’t stay obsessed with one subject…

AQ:
Oh, God…

MB:
It’s the one thing… it’s nice doing something like this… you found something interesting there.
You caught his…

JA:
That was very… very very interesting.

MB:
Yeah, and you were able to pursue it, that’s what makes it more…

AQ:
You’re a… you’re a big hero of mine, by the way Julian. So, I didn’t tell you that.

MB:
Yeah, thank you for everything you do.

[crew offers tea]

MB:
I’m just interested… have you, like, got any plans… a thought, um, a plan if.. if you’re, you know – and God protect you – but if you’re sent over there to… to… to the US?

JA:
Erm, I mean, yeah… We have a bunch of people, we have… I mean, yeah… We don’t yet have a full-time crew and lawyer appointed just for this case but we have CCR and [inaudible]…

MB:
Who are you dealing with in CCR?

AQ:
CCR represented me when I was at Guantanamo, so…

MB:
Yeah, they’re very good friends of ours…

AQ:
Yep.

JA:
Um, Michael Ratner.

AQ:
Oh yeah.

MB:
yeah, I know him… I know him really well.

AQ:
We’ve just had Michael Ratner coming over actually, to do a whole series of events with us actually… great guy, yeah…

MB:
He was just…

JA:
Oh, I think he met you the day after he met me.

MB:
That’s right.

AQ:
Oh, ok.

JA:
Or the day before, something like that…

MB:
No, he’s been… brilliant guy, absolutely brilliant…[inaudible]

JA:
No, he and Gareth… I mean, Gareth is a saint.

AQ:
Saint Gareth, yeah…

MB:
Are you coming to the do on… on Friday?

JA:
Yeah, I will. I have to…

MB:
Ah, well, we’ll see you there, yeah…

JA:
I have to go early, because of the curfew, but, um…

AQ:
Oh, the time curfew… yeah…

MB:
Ok, we’ll see you there then…

AQ:
We’ll see you there then.

MB:
We’ll say a few words about, um, she’s just one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met…

AQ:
You know in Long Lartin, they call her Al Umm, which in Arabic means ‘the mother’.

MB:
Yeah, yeah…

JA:
I’m sorry… in where?

MB:
In Long Lartin prison.

JA:
Long Lartin prison.

MB:
You know, that’s where Babar Admad, Abu Qatada, all these other guys are all held there. It’s a…

JA:
They put all my things up at Belmarsh, it was a bit weird…

AQ:
Belmarsh?

JA:
Yeah, the court, um, for my extradition case.

MB:
Right. I mean, they have a lot of respect for her, so much… I mean, to give her a title like that, you know, it’s…

JA:
Yep.

AQ:
She’s so.. so amazing. Gerry Conlon will be there, I think, as well. I mean, I don’t know if you’ve met him? He’s…

JA:
No.

AQ:
Do you know who I’m talking about?

JA:
No.

AQ:
He was imprisoned for 16 years for the IRA… for the Guildford, er…bombing.

JA:
Ah, he’s… Really?

MB:
Yeah, the one they made the film on…

JA:
… one of the Guildford Four…

MB:
Yeah, yeah.

JA:
Connolly House, or something…

MB:
The one that Daniel Day Lewis plays in the movie…

JA:
I confess I started watching it and fell asleep. [all laugh] It did look like it was alright actually but, you know, I just… am so busy that the only time I have to see movies is just, like, ten minutes in bed and then [mimes crashing out]

MB:
Yeah, yeah.

[crew requests pick-up shots – arriving, shows interviewees travelling here because don't have any travelling shots of JA]

JA:
‘Cos part of the issue… I can’t hijack the interview and say: ‘Oh, it’s so bad, me being under house arrest’ obviously – ‘cos you’re the stars really, I’m just… to get things out of you, so…

MB:
Yeah, yeah.