The Left

spEak You’re bRanes

From The Observer, Letters Page:

Nick Cohen seemed to stress that principle, not pragmatism, should have guided the courts in ordering the disclosure of sensitive material to Binyam Mohamed in his claims of torture against the US government (“We abhor torture – but that requires paying a price”, Comment). At the same time, he was critical of Moazzam Begg, who was detained without trial for more than three years, has not been charged with any offence and has been an advocate against torture and rendition since his release.

In a different case last year, the high court acceded to national security concerns. It did not order disclosure of material in claims being brought against the Home Office, MI5 and MI6 by Moazzam Begg and other former Guantánamo detainees. The ruling means that, for the first time, a British civil court will require claimants to prove their case for damages by a process which will include secret hearings, from which they and their lawyers will be excluded. Presumably, if the rights of fair trial and open justice are paramount, Cohen will find common ground with Mr Begg as the case travels to the Court of Appeal. He may even be able to put political differences aside and unite on wider issues of principle.

Matthew Ryder

Matrix Chambers


Nick Cohen accuses Lord Neuberger of being a “spineless judge”, those who question the use of the term “war on terror” as being “third-rate political pundits” and Amnesty International of living in a “make-believe world”. The latter accusation is based on the complaint of one Gita Sahgal that AI collaborated with Moazzam Begg.

Interestingly, this was the second media attack in three days on Moazzam Begg, the first being by Joan Smith in the Independent who expands the same arguments as Cohen with the same sources. I would suggest that Gita Sahgal, Joan Smith and Nick Cohen actually read Begg’s Enemy Combatant that shows no more signs of “messianic religion” than Smith and Saghal show of messianic feminism.

Can we expect a further flurry of attacks on Begg and Binyam Mohamed? Although the betting is that Agent “B” will not be prosecuted, the civil suits now being pursued against the government look pretty healthy. But, of course, that’s a really ridiculous conspiracy theory.

Richard Heron

Wantage, Oxon

If Nick Cohen had bothered to check, he would know that Gita Sahgal, head of Amnesty’s gender unit, has not been suspended for her attack on “jihadists”. Nor has there been any evidence to substantiate the slur that Moazzam Begg is an ultra-reactionary associated with “clerical fascists”. If this was so evident, there is no way that Amnesty, as our group has done in Norwich, would share a platform with him.

Neil MacMaster

Amnesty International Group


Nick Cohen writes of his latest bogeyman, Amnesty International, that while they were “once the most principled defenders of human rights”, they have now “collaborated” with (ie defended) Moazzam Begg. He wonders what will happen when they realise that “the Islamists they embrace aren’t nice metrosexuals who support women’s rights”, and then hopes they will remember that “promoting human rights is a hard and often thankless task that has to be done regardless of the consequences”.

I’m baffled as to how this incoherent sneering is supposed to translate into a criticism of AI. If the organisation is to stick to its principles, as Cohen urges, then it has to oppose any transgression. Cohen manages to trumpet the fundamental value of universal and unconditional human rights, then point out the difficulties of consistently upholding these rights by using AI and Begg’s case as an example, then chastise AI for doing so (or is it not doing so?).

Sean Cordell