Bri­tish for­mer Gitmo pris­oner says Cana­di­ans should be proud of apol­ogy

Kenora Daily Miner and News - - NATIONAL NEWS - COLIN PERKEL

TORONTO—A Bri­tish­man com­pen­sated by the U.K. gov­ern­ment for his tor­ture and years of de­ten­tion at Guan­tanamo Bay ex­pressed dis­may on Tuesday at the public and po­lit­i­cal furor in Canada over Ot­tawa’s set­tle­ment with Omar Khadr.

Speak­ing from his home in Birm­ing­ham in the U.K., Moaz­zam Begg said Cana­di­ans in­stead should be proud of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for the pay­ment and apol­ogy to K ha dr for breach­ing his rights.

“The na­tion shouldn’t be up­set about is­su­ing an apol­ogy for some­thing that’s right,” Begg said. “If peo­ple are get­ting up­set about that, I think they need to re­visit what their morals and values are about.”

Begg is one of 16 for­mer Guan­tanamo de­tainees who set­tled law­suits against the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment in 2010. The deal, while de­cried by some, aroused lit­tle of the anger seen in Canada over the Khadr set­tle­ment, an­nounced last week, which sources said was worth $10.5 mil­lion.

For one thing, Begg said, Khadr’s pay­ment was far in ex­cess of any­thing the Brit- ons re­ceived — re­port­edly a to­tal of about $30 mil­lion. For an­other, the al­le­ga­tions that he killed an Amer­i­can sol­dier in Afghanistan were more se­ri­ous.

Nev­er­the­less, he said, Canada has led the way glob­ally in how it has set­tled with Khadr and pre­vi­ously with oth­ers such as Ma­her Arar, who was sent by the Amer­i­cans to tor­ture in Syria.

“Canada has set the bar,” Begg said. “It isn’t about the amounts, though the amounts … are far, far greater. It’s about the apol­ogy.”

Now 49, Begg was kid­napped in Pak­istan where he was liv­ing in early 2002, and turned over to Amer­i­can forces. They im­pris­oned him at Ba­gram in Afghanistan, where a hor­ri­bly wounded 15-yearold Khadr was taken af­ter U.S. sol­diers cap­tured him in July of that year.

Given the ex­tent of Khadr’s in­juries, Begg said he could scarcely be­lieve the Cana­dian teenager sur­vived the bat­tle in which Sgt. Chris Speer was killed and fel­low Delta Force sol­dier Layne Mor­ris was blinded in one eye.

In the en­su­ing months, Begg said he wit­nessed the mis­treat­ment the Amer­i­cans meted out to the “young child,” de­spite his ju­ve­nile sta­tus.

“I was shocked at his treat­ment by a lot of sol­diers,” Begg said. “They would scream at him and drag him around. He was quiet and very pa­tient. He never com­plained. I never saw nor heard a word of com­plaint from him — ever.”

Like Khadr, Begg, then 33, was also taken to Guan­tanamo Bay. He spent about three years there be­fore be­ing re­turned to the U.K., where he and the oth­ers em­barked on their le­gal quest to ex­pose Bri­tish com­plic­ity in their abuse and seek com­pen­sa­tion for the unimag­in­able or­deal they were put through.

“We were all beaten, stripped naked, tor­tured in var­i­ous ways,” Begg said. “I had the sounds of a woman scream­ing next door in a cell that I was led to be­lieve was my wife be­ing tor­tured.”

Doc­u­ments would later come to light show­ing U.K. in­tel­li­gence agents were present dur­ing in­ter­ro­ga­tions and when the men were abused, al­though the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment ad­mit­ted noth­ing.

Ul­ti­mately, the gov­ern­ment opted to set­tle with the for­mer Gitmo de­tainees. The deal was sold as a prag­matic so­lu­tion that would avoid ex­po­sure of in­tel­li­gence se­crets and stop fur­ther fi­nan­cial bleed­ing given the $45-mil­lion the gov­ern­ment had al­ready spent fight­ing them.

While the amount paid is con­fi­den­tial, Begg said the money he re­ceived al­lowed him to re­pay loans he used to help re­build his life and to pay peo­ple such as his fa­ther, who had spent thou­sands of dol­lars sup­port­ing him. It wasn’t just com­pen­sa­tion for the trauma, he said, it was for the “in­cal­cu­la­ble” fi­nan­cial harm he suf- fered. The set­tle­ment ran into some op­po­si­tion in the Bri­tish par­lia­ment but public re­ac­tion was com­par­a­tively muted.

What ran­kles Begg, though, is the lack of an of­fi­cial apol­ogy from the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment.

“If there was a com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor among the lit­i­gants, it was that we all wanted an apol­ogy,” he said.

“Es­pe­cially with an apol­ogy com­ing from (Canada’s) prime min­is­ter — I can’t stress that enough — that to all of us would have meant the most im­por­tant thing: To get an apol­ogy from those who were in charge.”

Khadr, now 30, pleaded guilty to five war crimes be­fore a widely con­demned mil­i­tary com­mis­sion at Guan­tanamo Bay in 2010. He said he did so to get out of Amer­i­can hands and re­turn to Canada in 2012, 10 years af­ter he was taken to the U.S. prison. He was re­leased on bail in 2015 pend­ing his ap­peal of the war­crimes con­vic­tion.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

Bri­tish Moaz­zam Begg leaves Bel­marsh Prison in south Lon­don, af­ter his re­lease on Oct. 1, 2014. Begg is one of 16 for­mer Guan­tanamo de­tainees who set­tled law­suits against the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment in 2010.

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