Amnesty in Cageprisoners Row: Dynamite!

The Times has an absolutely explosive exclusive:

A SENIOR official at Amnesty International has accused the charity of putting the human rights of Al-Qaeda terror suspects above those of their victims.

Gita Sahgal, head of the gender unit at Amnesty’s international secretariat, believes that collaborating with Moazzam Begg, a former British inmate at Guantanamo Bay, “fundamentally damages” the organisation’s reputation.

In an email sent to Amnesty’s top bosses, she suggests the charity has mistakenly allied itself with Begg and his “jihadi” group, Cageprisoners, out of fear of being branded racist and Islamophobic.

Sahgal describes Begg as “Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban”. He has championed the rights of jailed Al-Qaeda members and hate preachers, including Anwar al-Awlaki, the alleged spiritual mentor of the Christmas Day Detroit plane bomber.

Sahgal, who has researched religious fundamentalism for 20 years, has decided to go public because she feels Amnesty has ignored her warnings for the past two years about the involvement of Begg in the charity’s Counter Terror With Justice campaign.

“I believe the campaign fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights,” Sahgal wrote in an email to the organisation’s leaders on January 30. “To be appearing on platforms with Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment.”

“As a former Guantanamo detainee it was legitimate to hear his experiences, but as a supporter of the Taliban it was absolutely wrong to legitimise him as a partner,” Sahgal told The Sunday Times.

Sahgal, 53, is not the only critic of Begg at Amnesty. In 2008 a board member of its US arm opposed Begg’s appearance, via videolink, at its AGM, but was overruled.

When Begg appeared at Downing Street last month as part of a group delivering a letter to Gordon Brown calling for the release of the last British resident held at Guantanamo, he was accompanied by Kate Allen, head of Amnesty’s UK section since 2000. Allen is a leftwinger who was the girlfriend of Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London, for almost 20 years.

This weekend Amnesty said it had launched an internal inquiry after Sahgal raised her concerns with bosses, including Allen and Claudio Cordone, the interim secretary-general.

Anne Fitzgerald, policy director of Amnesty’s international secretariat, said the charity had formed a relationship with Begg because he was a “compelling speaker” on detention. She said he had been paid expenses for his attendance at its events.

Asked if she thought Begg was a human rights advocate, Fitzgerald said: “It’s something you’d have to speak to him about. I don’t have the information to answer that.”

Yesterday Begg dismissed Sahgal’s claims as “ridiculous”. He defended his support for the Taliban and the decision by Cageprisoners to highlight the plight of detainees linked to Al-Qaeda: “We need to be engaging with those people who we find most unpalatable. I don’t consider anybody a terrorist until they have been charged and convicted of terrorism.”

So, that would mean that he doesn’t consider, for example, Osama Bin Laden to be a terrorist.


Martin Bright says:

It is difficult to make a stand on these issues and keep one’s friends on the left and in the human rights community, so I take my hat off to Gita. I have often discussed with her how best to raise these issues and she has been deeply frustrated by the way the British liberal intelligentsia gives house-room to right-wing Islamists.

She was one of the first people in Britain to warn of the dangers of the politics of Jamaat-i-Islami, the south Asian blood-brothers of the Muslim Brotherhood. She was instrumental in the making of a Channel 4 documentary on alleged Bangladeshi war criminals who had found safe haven in Britain (I can give you no further detail because the Spectator will get an immediate letter from Carter-Ruck solicitors who are representing a key individual in the film).

It is Gita Sahgal who should be the darling of the human rights establishment, not Moazzam Begg.

Here is a Guardian apology which makes the point that Martin and Gita cannot:

Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin: we apologise for publishing allegations that he was part of a group that abducted people in East Pakistan and was involved in the commission of genocide (Prosecute Bangladesh’s war criminals, 7 October, guardian.co.uk).

Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin has never been prosecuted, charged nor even arrested in connection with these events. Mr Mueen-Uddin has consistently denied the accusations made against him as utterly false.

We are sorry for the distress our article caused him.

Britain’s absurd libel laws are another part of the jigsaw that allows champions of human rights abuses and jihadism to pose as progressives and civil libertarians. Put simply, the more outrageous and extreme your behaviour, the easier it is to cry ‘defamation’ when your politics is pointed out.

Supporters of jihadist politics have been engaged in entryism into progressive and liberal left organisations for over a decade now.

Let us hope that the tide is about to turn.

Amnesty has put up a statement. Here is an extract:

One of those who was released without charge, and has never been convicted of terrorist-related offences, is Moazzam Begg. Following his release in 2005, Amnesty International met him to discuss his experiences. Moazzam Begg’s account is consistent with the testimony of other detainees about human rights violations. He has since spoken at Amnesty International events describing his experiences and highlighting the plight of detainees who remain in Guantánamo and the need for accountability for human rights violations.

A European tour is currently underway as part of a campaign to encourage more EU countries to accept former Guantánamo detainees.

The tour was initiated by Reprieve and the Centre for Constitutional Rights but a number of Amnesty International national sections are hosting the tour in different European countries.

Tomorrow, Moazzam Begg will speaking alongside Amnesty International, speaking specifically on behalf of those detainees in need of protection in a third country.

Today, Amnesty International is being criticised for speaking alongside him and for being “soft” on the Taleban, when our record is one of unreserved opposition to their abuses over the years.

Interestingly, the US and other governments that have violated human rights standards in the name of countering terrorism justify those violations by saying that our security can only be protected by violating the rights of others. Mr Begg is one of the people that the US government defined as “other.”

But there is no place for the “other” in human rights because to argue that some people are more ‘deserving’ than others of having their rights protected is to argue that some beings are less than human.

Widney Brown, Senior Director for International Law and Policy, Amnesty International – International Secretariat.

There is no answer in the post to the specific charge that their senior employee makes, which is as follows:

“As a former Guantanamo detainee it was legitimate to hear his experiences, but as a supporter of the Taliban it was absolutely wrong to legitimise him as a partner,” Sahgal told The Sunday Times.

It is right that Begg should be heard. It is absolutely wrong to partner with Begg and his pro-Awlaki Cageprisoners campaign.

Amnesty is an absolutely vital organisation. It must not squander its political capital in this manner.


Martin Bright reports:

STOP PRESS: 16.53 Sunday – Gita Sahgal has been suspended