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Enemy Combatant

Book review of Enemy Combatant by Moazzam Begg, published by Free Press.

Reviewed by Chris Saliba

After spending three years incarcerated at various locations by the US Army, you’d expect this book to be one long vituperative tirade. Despite Moazzam Begg’s hardships, the former Guantanamo prisoner comes across more an impatient rather than angry man.

Taken from his home in Pakistan after September 11 by Pakistani and American agents, the British Moazzam Begg would eventually be released into British custody, questioned briefly, then given his freedom 24 hours later. The whole sorry affair need never have happened.

It is perhaps unfortunate for the US that they decided (obviously with the help of British intelligence) to kidnap Mr Begg, in that he is a civilised and educated man, thus enabling him to write this surprisingly level-headed account of his experiences. (When asked to sign a confession Begg baulks at the substandard English. "The English used here is terrible. Nobody could believe that I would ever write such a document.") Begg saves most of his scorn for the ill-educated military police and MI5 intelligencers he had to deal with.

Quite a bit of Enemy Combatant reads like a black comedy. Here are some examples of the absurdities Moazzam Begg endured: they find a picture of the Pope on his computer, and then conjecture that he wants to assassinate the Pope; they try to get him to sign confessions that detail acts he simply never could have performed; at one point an MI5 agent tells him of how they had ‘interrogated a computer’. How this is done is not explained.

Begg also describes the huge cultural gap between the Americans interrogating Moazzam and his own religious beliefs and education. The Americans just don’t get Islam at all. In one part of the book, the Military Police throw copies of the Koran on the ground, just to desecrate it. Moazzam asks, "why do they do this, I would never do the same thing to the Holy Bible".

There are also some strange ironies in the book. At Guantanamo US law protects iguanas, yet the so-called ‘enemy combatants’ have no protections under US law.

Despite the bad times experienced in detention, Moazzam Begg actually makes a few friends with the guards. He comes to the realisation that not all Americans are the same, indeed, some are very decent.

One soldier that left a lasting impression on Begg was a labour relations student from Ohio in her early twenties.

"I discovered that she loved English literature and poetry. We discussed Thoreau’s Walden, which I had recently read, and Mere Christianity, by C.S Lewis, which had been sent to her by her sister. I talked to her about Islam, and even wrote a few sheets comparing the history and beliefs of the two religions."

You get the impression that one of the reasons Moazzam Begg survived his ordeals is because of his educated British accent. He could surprise guards who took him for a fire breathing mujahadeen by hurling back tart witticisms.

The book also has interest for Australian readers due to the portrait drawn of David Hicks. He appears quite a bit in the book. By the time the author met him in Guantanamo, Hicks had given up Islam. We get the picture of an out of place Australian who loved all his blokey hobbies.

Enemy Combatant highlights how unmonitored prisons, dealing with suspects of terrorism, are an absolute recipe for disaster. Now we know what happens, having seen the pictures of Abu Ghraib and read the Amnesty and UN reports on torture and humiliating treatment.

Moazzam Begg straddles two cultures: British liberalism, and the faith of Islam. If you want to get off the extremes of the debate, this is a worthwhile read by someone who has actually suffered, but is determined to try and make the world a better place.


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Terry Hicks for Father of the Year

Whatever you think of David Hicks, one cannot miss how devoted a father he has been, the constant dedication and love he shows and passion in seeking his son's safe return.

Here is an email I received.

Dear all,

I would like to see the Australian Father of the Year go to someone other than Alexander Downer this year.  I think Terry Hicks, father of David Hicks, deserves some support for his courage and love.  I hope I have a particle of his courage if one of my kids mucks up.

This is the website for nominations;  They close on 28th July.


cut and paste it in: if it doesn’t work, or if it comes out wrapped across 2 lines in the email.

most Afghans supported the CIA-led Taliban

Greg Moylan: "Karzai was initially a supporter of the Taliban when it came to power in 1994, as were most Afghans..."

Chris Shaw: "CP, I guess what I am saying is that the US artificially magnified and fed attitudes that rightfully belonged in Afghanistan's past."

So, what was it I wonder?

Most Afghans supported the Taliban. Whose influence was "artificially magnified" by the CIA.

Okay, Greg first. How do we know most Afghans supported the Taliban?

Was there an election?

Same old, same old

CP, I guess what I am saying is that the US artificially magnified and fed attitudes that rightfully belonged in Afghanistan's past.

- like promoting the Cannibal Party in Fiji (bad joke), but you get the idea.

Neither Hicks nor the Taliban are the simple entities that our government and media seem to need them to be. The young Taliban thugs were themselves victims of terrible abuse and neglect. Hicks is now copping the same treatment.

As for Karzai's government - I dunno. Since he was Mr Unocal in a past incarnation, and probably still is, given the feedstock requirements of the Dabhol Plant - I get the creepy feeling we are looking at Ahmed Chalabi Lite. All smoke and mirrors.

As for the resurgence of the Taliban, I think that we are doing the same old sh-t and expecting a different result. Looks bad.

Karzai and the Taliban

Chris Shaw, Karzai was never Mr Unocal. I covered this exhaustively on an earlier Webdiary thread. That claim came from an article in Le Monde newspaper in 2002 and has never been authenticated by that newspaper, or anyone else for that matter. The claim made by the Le Monde article was that Karzai had been engaged by Unocal in 1996 to act as an agent for it in negotiations with the then government of Afghanistan (yes the Taliban) regarding access for an oil pipeline to cross Afghan territory from Central to Pakistan. Both Unocal and Karzai denied that he had any such role or that he had in any way worked for Unocal, whether as an employee, consultant, agent or in any other capacity. But then what's new about a newspaper making things up. And silly people believing it.

The denials are credible for the simple reason that at the time that he was supposed to be acting as Unocal's agent in dealing with the Taliban he was living in exile in Peshawar in Pakistan having fled there after a falling out with them after they had murdered his father, who was the head of a major Pashtun tribe. Hardly the sort of person you'd choose for head man in your negotiations with the Taliban in those circumstances, I would have thought is glaringly obvious.

Karzai was initially a supporter of the Taliban when it came to power in 1994, as were most Afghans, who saw it as heralding an end to warlord lawlessness, but I guess that having your father murdered will tend to give you a jaundiced view and make you reconsider who you give your support to. Still what's the worth of the views of Afghans about whats good for them when we have your opinion that  those attitudes rightfully belonged in Afghanistan's past.

In what respect do you say that:

The young Taliban thugs were themselves victims of terrible abuse and neglect.

Taliban refers to Talibs, which means young scholars, and refers to boys and young men learning about Islam, principally through rote-memorising the Koran in Arabic, in madrassas in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Are you suggesting that the treatment of those boys and young men in the madrassas constituted terrible abuse and neglect? Are the madrassas to be compared to Guantanamo Bay where David Hicks languishes? Should they also be shut down and their inmates set free? Should it be our task in solidarity with those benighted souls to begin a campaign of "Close the Madrassas" and "Free the Abused Students"? Is David Hicks being forced to rote-memorise the Koran? Oh the inhumanity of it all!

Fair point...

Greg, this is my understanding:

With the "creation" of the Mujahadeen to give the USSR their Vietnam, the fallout was an armed, militant society, and a legacy of orphaned children. Having achieved their geopolitical aims, the US turned their backs.

So many young men ended up in the (by then miltant) madrassas. Jeez, God and guns. What a combination. Even as I write I am watching kids inducted into the Lord's Resistance Army (Africa) on Foreign Correspondent. That's the kind of abuse I am talking about.

The links I provided to Brzezinski and the CIA inspired schoolbooks in my first post stand firm. They are too well known and documented to be urban legends. Please read them again.

Karzai is a revelation to me and something that I admit I just took for granted - I'll get back to you on that one (thanks).

The influence of the Unocal pipeline deals goes without saying if you are a follower of the machinations of the energy giants.

(I might be a bit scatty for the next couple of days. Mother-in-law is coming for a visit tomorrow.... cheers.)

old conspiracy loon

Chris Shaw: "The Taliban didn't just appear from the vacuum, nor spring miraculously from the pages of the Koran. No, to a large extent the midwife was our friend, the CIA. It proved a difficult birth for the women of Afghanistan."

That's interesting, Chris.

So, what you are saying is that the Taliban has no authentic basis in the culture, traditions or political aspirations of the people of A\fghanistan?

That it is not an endemic movement to Afghhanistan, and it was an invention of the CIA?

So, should we not then support the elected government of Afghanistan, then?

Hicks, what a patsy... for whom?

It's all too easy to be lured into seeing David Hicks as a loser, a lame-duck of questionable intellect who foolishly put his foot in it. Casual descriptions such as "vile little creature" tempt us to stay fixated on David, ignoring all the while the obvious fact that he is merely the hole in a vast donut of criminality.

Our government and the sly-boys have played the Hicks card skilfully, but are we able to muster the required degree of naivety to swallow their spin?

For example they never tell you about the origins of the Taliban. The Taliban didn't just appear from the vacuum, nor spring miraculously from the pages of the Koran. No, to a large extent the midwife was our friend, the CIA. It proved a difficult birth for the women of Afghanistan.  

By the merest coincidence, the Guantanamo gulag is also home to the CIA, as explained by Professor McCoy recently on Lateline

"Guantanamo is not a conventional military prison. It's an ad hoc laboratory for the perfection of the CIA psychological torture. Guantanamo is a complete construction. It's a system of total psychological torture, designed to break down every detainee contained therein, designed to produce a state of hopelessness and despair that leads, tragically, sadly in this case to suicide."

The video of the interview is here

McCoy points out that the CIA, despite their generous black budget, are always keen to supplement their stipend from "unconventional" sources of money. To that end, they hang around the major centres of drug production like flies around a dog pooh. That monster surfaced briefly during the Iran Contra scandal, for those who are too young to plead amnesia. The movement of an illicit cargo such as this might best be done under the cover of a covert transport operation.

Such a system already exists. We call it rendition.

Now, unless you were an old conspiracy loon like me, or had actually been to Northern Afghanistan in person, you would never question the mainstream story of those fabulous poppy crops

Yes indeed, leave Hicksie where he is and comfort yourself with the fact that his cage was created by master craftsmen.  

NSW DPP: detention of Hicks is a disgrace

Well, Nick goes up in my estimation. For thinking it and for having the courage to have it on record.



Angela Ryan, he shouldn't have gone anywhere in your estimation.   Check his record – he has always been a fearsome campaigner for human rights within the rule of law, he's a nice bloke and he enjoys a drink.

You might find it equally surprising that the Solicitor General for the Commonwealth, David Bennett, is of roughly like mind no matter what his duty calls him to do.   Good thing for Ruddock that Legal Professional Privilege defeats FOI requests.

Hicks detention is a disgrace.

“The New South Wales Director of Public Prosecutions has described the case of Australian Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks as an unprincipled disgrace.” Here: http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200607/s1676692.htm

“He says the Government has no excuse now that the US Supreme Court has ruled that military commissions are unlawful.

Mr Cowdery says the reality is the detainees have not been treated according to the rule of law.”

It's about time Howard and his bully boys stood up for justice. The only thing that keeps a country free is the rule of law.

David Hicks, the international socceroo in the real rigged game

Margaret Beckett, the new foreign minister for UK after Straw resigned, has bowed to pressure and again David Hicks has been failed by the manipulating politics play of very nasty ruthless people. This poor man has been held by a known torture regime in conditions universally condemned after being sold to the US by bounty hunters in Afghanistan. David Hicks is an example of how slimy and low governments can degrade themselves when the questions are so very clear to anyone willing to read the details. First our own government, never known for effective advocacy of Australians who get into trouble overseas, outdoes itself in obsequiescent slime to allow incarceration and torture of this suffering man without using any of our "special influence" that Howard likes to pretend to when in front of football crowds with the emperor himself or when receiving his blood soaked medals. No-one with a heart and any concept of what our national values are supposed to be, including upholding human rights, the rule of law, justice, condemning torture and battling for the underdog-especially if they are Australian- No-One can follow the appalling treatment of David Hicks and not be deeply ashamed of having a leadership as ratlike as ours. And now the Brits bow as well.

I hope this sounds emotive, as how else can one describe such inhumane treatment of a man, languishing in truly disgusting conditions that the Brits have called inhumane and all the world condemns. David Hicks is the human face, the son of a heart breaking father, the fellow Australian and now dual Brit, that symbolises what lying regimes lead us and how nefarious their true deeds are despite their forked words of rhetoric from their jovial rara fellowwellmet masks.

 Hicks incarceration is symbolic of the issues that enshroud the current twisted morality that beguiles the people who sit back allowing their leadership to do such NAZI deeds in their name, no a worse metaphor comes, the Gulag King Stalin. Certainly on scale the two previous dark regimes of history have not been outdone on scale as to gross number of people and countries destroyed, but pause and consider the new methods of selectively targeting one's enemy or threat. The level of cruelty/torture/ internment/civilian maiming and infrastructure destruction by military and covering propaganda to deceive the people, they have excelled in targeted doses. The ultimate selective war pill. And still, as for Hitler's regime, the people vote for such and even defend such. This is why David Hicks' situation condemns us all, symbolically.

And outside our little plastic sphere, no doubt the Europeans wonder at our acute examination of the foibles of rigged sport but fail to care about the foibles of rigged justice.

Saint David

Angela, what do you think David Hicks was doing in Afghanistan?  he wasn't there skiiing. Whilst he should not be held in the conditions of Guantanamo Bay he was captured while bearing arms as a Taliban soldier and therefore he should be detained as a prisoner of war until hostilities have ended or it has been determined that he is no longer a threat. That is what the Third Geneva Convention provides for.

He is a vile little creature who left this country to engage in war on behalf of a vile regime and even if you think that he has a heartbreaking father it is irrelevant as to how he should be treated, which is in accordance with the terms of the Convention.

Fiona: Greg, I am sure that you won't hesitate to correct me, but he wasn't being detained as a POW, was he? For some strange reason, I thought that NOT being subject to the Geneva Convention was part and parcel of the whole Gitmo scenario.

St David's status

Fiona, you are correct. He was not being held as a POW and he was not being afforded to protections of the Geneva Convention. He should have been and therefore I applaud the US Supreme Court decision that has put a check on the Bush Administration.

However, giving him POW status does not offer him the "Get out of Gaol" card that Angela hopes for. As a POW he can be detained until the end of hostilities in Afghanistan, however long that takes. However he will be held humanely, as he and the other detainees should have been from the start.

Even vile little creatures like him should be treated humanely. They don't deserve our sympathy but they do deserve our humanity.

Guantanamo suicides

Worth reading the Observer's account of how suicide should have been impossible without at least negligence ...

According to Guantanamo's rules, a six-person team of military police should have been patrolling constantly, and as usual the bright neon lights stayed on. A guard should have passed each detainee's cell every 30 seconds. 'From the landing, you can see right into every cell,' said Rasul. 'They don't have doors, just gates made from wide-spaced mesh. There's no privacy. If you hang up a towel because you want to go to the toilet, they make you take it down.'

... They had not been charged with anything. Questionable as it often is and consisting of statements made after torture or coercion, the Pentagon has disseminated some evidence against more than 300 Guantanamo detainees, in federal court filings and at internal camp boards that reviewed their detention. Against the three suicides, it has presented nothing.

Meanwhile, the information available suggests that the explanation of the deaths rejected by [Guantanamo's commander, Navy Rear Admiral] Harris - that the men tried to kill themselves through despair and succeeded through the incompetence of his staff - remains more plausible.

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