Important questions from Gita Sahgal

// 7 February 2010

The detention of Moazzam Begg and others in Guantanamo Bay was and is a violation of their human rights, which Amnesty International is right to criticise.

Moazzam Begg and his organisation, Cage Prisoners, are not defenders of human rights, and are therefore inappropriate allies for Amnesty.

It is not hard for both of these observations to be simultaneously true. The victims of human rights violations are not thereby automatically immune from having problematic political positions. So why has Gita Sahgal, head of Amnesty’s gender unit, been suspended after raising these concerns?

Here is her full statement:

Amnesty International and Cageprisoners

Statement by Gita Sahgal

7 February 2010

This morning the Sunday Times published an article about Amnesty International’s association with groups that support the Taliban and promote Islamic Right ideas. In that article, I was quoted as raising concerns about Amnesty’s very high profile associations with Guantanamo-detainee Moazzam Begg. I felt that Amnesty International was risking its reputation by associating itself with Begg, who heads an organization, Cageprisoners, that actively promotes Islamic Right ideas and individuals.

Within a few hours of the article being published, Amnesty had suspended me from my job.

A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when a great organisation must ask: if it lies to itself, can it demand the truth of others? For in defending the torture standard, one of the strongest and most embedded in international human rights law, Amnesty International has sanitized the history and politics of the ex-Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg and completely failed to recognize the nature of his organisation Cageprisoners.

The tragedy here is that the necessary defence of the torture standard has been inexcusably allied to the political legitimization of individuals and organisations belonging to the Islamic Right.

I have always opposed the illegal detention and torture of Muslim men at Guantanamo Bay and during the so-called War on Terror. I have been horrified and appalled by the treatment of people like Moazzam Begg and I have personally told him so. I have vocally opposed attempts by governments to justify ‘torture lite’.

The issue is not about Moazzam Begg’s freedom of opinion, nor about his right to propound his views: he already exercises these rights fully as he should. The issue is a fundamental one about the importance of the human rights movement maintaining an objective distance from groups and ideas that are committed to systematic discrimination and fundamentally undermine the universality of human rights. I have raised this issue because of my firm belief in human rights for all.

I sent two memos to my management asking a series of questions about what considerations were given to the nature of the relationship with Moazzam Begg and his organisation, Cageprisoners. I have received no answer to my questions. There has been a history of warnings within Amnesty that it is inadvisable to partner with Begg. Amnesty has created the impression that Begg is not only a victim of human rights violations but a defender of human rights. Many of my highly respected colleagues, each well-regarded in their area of expertise has said so. Each has been set aside.

As a result of my speaking to the Sunday Times, Amnesty International has announced that it has launched an internal inquiry. This is the moment to press for public answers, and to demonstrate that there is already a public demand including from Amnesty International members, to restore the integrity of the organisation and remind it of its fundamental principles.

I have been a human rights campaigner for over three decades, defending the rights of women and ethnic minorities, defending religious freedom and the rights of victims of torture, and campaigning against illegal detention and state repression. I have raised the issue of the association of Amnesty International with groups such as Begg’s consistently within the organisation. I have now been suspended for trying to do my job and staying faithful to Amnesty’s mission to protect and defend human rights universally and impartially.

Comments From You

gadgetgal // Posted 8 February 2010 at 8:17 am

Being the big old liberal that I am I’ve always had a lot of respect for Amnesty International, but it’s taken a bit of a knock from this. Not so much because they may have been supporting the wrong person (that can happen when your interests are spread so wide) but that Gita Sahgal raised the issues twice and was ignored, then suspended, and in the end she had to write to a national newspaper to get them to investigate. They shouldn’t have had to have been embarrassed into it, they should have taken their members’ concerns seriously (and it wasn’t just hers, either). As head of the gender unit it was her duty to bring this to their attention, and she should never have been punished for that.

earwicga // Posted 8 February 2010 at 9:02 am

Hi Jolene

I would like to see the evidence for your claim in the OP:

“Moazzam Begg and his organisation, Cage Prisoners, are not defenders of human rights, and are therefore inappropriate allies for Amnesty.”

If it is from the Times article which seems to source this claim as being from a paragraph from Moazzam Begg’s book then I think this is spurious to the extreme and this post should be taken down as libelous.

Gita Saghal has been quite rightfully suspended from her position at Amnesty.

Their official statement:

Human rights are for all: Response to media article

Posted: 07 February 2010

Amnesty International is being accused in a media article today of putting the human rights of some people above those of others. This is not, and has never been, true. Implicit in the accusation, is the view that we should choose those whose rights we promote. We reject this view utterly. Amnesty International campaigns for all internationally recognised human rights for all people – it is not about their views, their political opinions, their actions – it’s about upholding the universality of human rights: these are the inalienable rights of all human beings. As part and parcel of promoting human rights, we also have a long history of demanding that those who perpetrate human rights abuses be brought to justice – whoever they may be. We make this call because victims deserve to see justice done, to know that the harm done to them has been exposed and to seek reparations.

Whenever Amnesty International accuses governments or other actors of committing human rights violations – based on our research – they typically make one of two defences. Either the violation never happened, for example, denying the existence of secret detention facilities or that the victim got what he or she “deserved.”

When the US government defended its detention of people it suspected as terrorists in Guantánamo Bay, then President Bush famously described the detainees as the “worst of the worst.” Translation – these men got what they deserved. They got years of detention, torture and ill-treatment, solitary confinement, complete isolation from the world and of course, no means to defend themselves against the charge of being the “worst of the worst”.

Amnesty International responded to President Bush’s claims by calling on the US authorities to either try them in a court of law in proceedings that met international standards for fair trial or release them. In a tacit acknowledgement that they got it wrong, the US authorities have released more than 500 detainees without bringing charges.

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.

CM // Posted 8 February 2010 at 9:07 am

I’ve just written a letter asking Amnesty to reinstate Gita Sahgal, and it has a very unpleasant resonance with all the letters I’ve written thanks to them for prisoners of conscience over the years. I’m not suggesting that wrongfully suspending someone is as serious as wrongful imprisonment, but Amnesty must get its own house in order if it’s going to continue to be credible in defending ideas like free speech, tolerance and human rights.

earwicga // Posted 8 February 2010 at 9:07 am

From Cageprisoners, which is a very important organisation and provides much needed information in a world where we are blinded from the truth by a terrible version of journalism:


Cageprisoners Ltd is a human rights organisation (company registration no: 6397573) that exists solely to raise awareness of the plight of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and other detainees held as part of the War on Terror. The site was launched in October 2003 during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan by individual Muslim volunteers who came together for the reasons set out below. The inspiration for the web-site came from two other web-sites on the cage prisoners, Al Asra (in Arabic) and Prisoners of the West (both now defunct). We have the backing of both Muslim and non-Muslim lawyers, activists, former detainees, families of prisoners and academics. Click here to read what some of these individuals had to say about Cageprisoners Ltd.


1 . EDUCATE the public by being a comprehensive resource of information on Guantanamo Bay and other detainees held as part of the War on Terror highlighting their plight and ensuring that they are never forgotten.

2. CAMPAIGN for the repatriation or asylum for the Guantanamo Bay detainees in particular and that other prisoners are treated within the civilised norms of justice, and to ensure that they are given their due rights namely:

•the right to humane treatment and conditions

•the right not to be tortured

•the right not to be detained ndefinitely

•the right not to be disappeared

•the right to open fair civilian trials

•the right to legal representation

•the right of access to the Red Cross and medical personnel

•the right of access to their families.

3. SUPPORT their families emotionally and financially via HHUGS

4. MOTIVATE others to take organised political and legal actions on both a local and international level.

5. CO-OPERATE with other individuals and organisations for these ends

6. PREVENT similar treatment of other communities in the future by developing, building and placing political, legal and social infrastructures.

Our work can be summed up in six points:







Personally I find it obscene that Gita Saghal has taken this course of action.

Dr Aisha Gill // Posted 8 February 2010 at 9:50 am

It is tragic that when a genuine well respected human rights defender takes a stand in the name of ‘human rights for all’ that she is vilified and attacked. It is evident that in this whole debacle shows how the blind spots have been ignored in terms of the serious concerns raised by Gita Saghal “I believe the campaign fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights”. AI and CP – have got this so wrong and it is indeed shameful that AI should then suspend Gita – complete travesty!

Adam // Posted 8 February 2010 at 11:01 am

Cageprisoners is a pro-taliban pro-jihad propaganda organisation. A moments attention paid to those they defend and promote makes this irrefutable.

Ana // Posted 8 February 2010 at 11:28 am

Anyone who is interested should take a look at Caged Prisoners ‘Prisoner List’. I for one was not aware that Abu Hamza was a prisoner of conscience! He was arrested and tried in this country for incitement to murder and stir up racial tension.

They are also fans of Awlaki, who has links to Al Q, called the Fort Hood shooter a ‘hero’ and quite possibly helped to ‘mastermind’ the Christmas Day plane attack. They also support Mohammed Hamid, in jail for soliciting murder in relation to the failed 21st July attacks in London. They refer to Sheikh Abdullah al Faisal as a ‘renowned Muslim cleric’ even though he was imprisoned in this country for calling for the murders of Jews, Christians and Hindus.

AI international should support the rights of everyone Moazzam Begg included, but I think picking him and Caged Prisoners as a partners is a mistake. I believe in free speech, as does AI but I would be surprised to see them touring Nick Griffin or Irving to illustrate that point.

If you are all very lucky Yvonne Ridley will pop up in the comments shortly as she appears to be doing the rounds on the blogs defending CP.

Gita Saghal has a long history of involvement in human rights and the rights of women including Southall Black Sisters and Women Against Fundamentalism she has stood up for our rights, and now we should stand up for hers.

gadgetgal // Posted 8 February 2010 at 11:38 am

I’m really disappointed with Amnesty’s released statement as a response:

“Amnesty International is being accused in a media article today of putting the human rights of some people above those of others.”

No, they aren’t – they are accused of associating themselves with people and organisations that could be detrimental to their reputation as an organisation without bias. This misleading response they gave is pretty disappointing, I don’t like it when words and meanings are twisted to meet your own ends, and I really did not expect Amnesty to ever do something like that. Sahgal herself stated: “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”. I don’t know the ins and outs of this case, because we don’t have all the information they have and what she and her colleagues presented to the council, but on the face of it, if there is evidence to demonstrate it, then that statement is fair enough – Amnesty’s greatest strength is it’s lack of bias towards anyone person or organisation, and in order to retain public support they not only have to do right but be seen to be doing right.

earwicga // Posted 8 February 2010 at 12:42 pm

Via Cageprisoners


7th February 2010

Richard Kerbaj

The Sunday Times

Dear Mr. Kerbaj,

Your Article: ‘Amnesty International is ‘damaged’ by Taliban link’

I was shocked and extremely disappointed to see your article in today’s Sunday Times make no reference at all to the questions you so ardently sought to have answered (as mentioned below) and, that I explained to you in some detail in our telephone conversation yesterday.

Your headline makes a serious accusation: that it proves to expose a tangible link between Amnesty and the Taliban. Can I ask exactly who in the Taliban you are referring to that is either linked to Amnesty or me?

It seems very odd that your article, which is entirely about Amnesty’s relationships with me, carries very little in the way of responses from me which you so clearly went out of your way to seek. Why is that?

When asked about the nature of my relationship with Amnesty you make no mention of my response: that I work very closely with them and that it stretches back to the time that Amnesty worked with my father when I was in Guantanamo.

I told you clearly that if you wanted to know my (and Cageprisoners’) views about Awlaki to refer to the article that is on our website: in which you could have quoted, had you wished, the following:

“Cageprisoners never has and never will support the ideology of killing innocent civilians, whether by suicide bombers or B52s, whether that’s authorised by Awlaki or by Obama. Neither will we be forced into determining a person’s guilt outside a recognised court of law.” This article also deals with any concerns about the recent Christmas day plot – something you asked us about.

When asked specifically about the Taliban I told you my view: that I have advocated for engagement and dialogue with the Taliban well before our own government took the official position of doing the same – only last week – although, I did not say, like the government, we should be giving them lots of money in order to do so.

I also clearly told you, though you deliberately chose to ignore, that I had actually witnessed what I believe were human rights abuses under the Taliban and have detailed them in my book, from which you conveniently and selectively quote. I added that the US administration had perpetrated severe human rights abuses against me for years but that didn’t mean I opposed dialogue with them. I even told you that Cageprisoners and I have initiated pioneering steps in that regard by organising tours all around the UK with former US guards from Guantanamo and men who were once imprisoned there. Cagreprisoners is the only organisation to have done so. (One of these soldiers, upon in response to your article sent this message to me: They are attacking you and your causes…don’t forget you have real support by some of us ex-Soldiers who have seen the light… I expect he too will be accused by your likes of being brainwashed by me). Instead, you simply say, without qualification, ‘He defended his support for the Taliban….’

Had you – and Ms Sahgal no doubt – done your homework properly you’d have discovered also that I was involved in the building of, setting up and running of a school for girls in Kabul during the time of the Taliban, but of course, that wouldn’t have sat well with the agenda and nature of your heavily biased and poorly researched article.

In relation to MS. Sahgal, I told you – and you were fully aware – that I appeared on a BBC Radio 4 show, Hecklers, alongside her, Tariq Ramadan, Lord Nazir Ahmed, Tahmina Saleem (ISB) and Daud Abdullah (MCB). I told you that her analysis of the situation on this programme was so poor and skewed that she referred to all of us as ‘partners of the government in the war against terror’ until I reminded I was sitting on the panel.

I told you too that I have never since spoken to Ms. Sahgal and that if she had any concerns about my work she has never put them to me and that I found it most odd that she found it more appropriate to discuss this in the media first. Again, had you done your research properly you’d have made some reference to our first meeting on Radio 4 where I iterated that the way to solve conflicts can be found in the Northern Ireland model (engaging with ‘terrorists). I have engaged in several such initiatives, some of them hosted by Amnesty, asking people to look at this episode as a place to find solutions. Bizarrely, Ms. Sahgal, through her argument, seemed to reject this view. Whilst it gives me no personal pleasure to hear of the suspension of Ms. Sahgal for holding her view the newspapers were not the right place to air them without first putting them to Cageprisoners or me.

You had also interviewed my colleague, Asim Qureshi, but again failed to mention anything thing he said to you in relation to the work of Cageprisoners and our relationship with Amnesty International.

To conclude, I believe your article, is written in a style clearly designed, intentionally or by negligence, to damage our relationship with human rights organisations and discredit the work we do in advocating for the rights of those who have suffered terrible human rights abuses. As such, I have referred your article to your editor and the Press Complaints Commission as a formal and major complaint and, to my lawyers to pursue legal action.

Moazzam Begg


Cageprisoners Ltd

27 Gloucester Road


United Kingdom


Richard Kerbaj’s Questions for Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners – 6th February 2010

As discussed earlier, I am working on an article about Amnesty International’s relationship with Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners. I have interviewed a number of current and former Amnesty officials who have raised their concerns internally about the “unsuitable partnership” between the organisation and Begg and Cageprisoners.

Questions for Moazzam Begg:

Can you please describe the exact nature of your organisation’s work with Amnesty International?

What are your current views on Anwar Al Awlaki – the Yemini-based cleric who is believed to have inspired the man behind the Fort Hood massacre and Umar Farouk Abdulmuttallab, the man behind the Detroit bomb plot?

What are your current views on the Taleban? And do you think the Taleban’s views are contrary to human rights?

Has Amnesty International ever questioned your views on Awlaki, Abdulmuttallab or the Taleban?

Questions for Cageprisoners:

Can you please describe the exact nature of Cageprisoners’ work with Amnesty International? And can you please outline the number of projects Cageprionsers has worked on – and is currently working on – with AI?

What are Cageprisoners’ views on Anwar Al Awlaki – the Yemini-based cleric who is believed to have inspired the man behind the Fort Hood massacre and Umar Farouk Abdulmuttallab, the man behind the Detroit bomb plot?

What is your organisation’s views on the Taleban?

Has Amnesty International ever questioned any Cageprisoners officials on their views on Awlaki, Abdulmuttallab or the Taleban?

Cageprisoners has been described by a senior official at Amnesty – Gita Sahgal, who I have interviewed on the record – as a “salafi/jihadi” organisation parading as a human rights group? What is Cageprioners’ view on that claim?

Please get back to me at your earliest convenience because we are running the article this weekend.

Best regards,

Richard Kerbaj

The Sunday Times


(please note that Moazzam Begg is planning legal action against the claims which have been regurgated in the OP)

LM // Posted 8 February 2010 at 1:22 pm

Gita Sahgal was very brave to take the stand that she did, particularly since she will almost certainly lose her job for doing so.

Amnesty’s statement completely fails to address Gita Sahgal’s key point, that Amnesty went far further than simply defending Moazzam Begg’s human rights, but in fact turned him into a spokesman for Amnesty UK, in spite of his openly professed admiration of the pre-2001 Taliban regime in Afghanistan and its ‘pure’ version of Islam.

I shall be making my donations to Human Rights Watch in the future.

stroppybird // Posted 8 February 2010 at 6:52 pm

You may be intrested in how one blog , Islamaphobia Watch , has chosen to dismiss Gita and WAF in quite sexist terms.

Kevin // Posted 8 February 2010 at 9:41 pm

I’ve been supportive of the work of Southall Black Sisters for 20 years and have a number of friends who are involved in Women Against Fundamentalism. I am, nevertheless, really troubled by the lack of specific detail in the allegations against Moazzem Begg and Cageprisoners.

I too don’t like it when words and meanings are twisted but everything I have read and heard so far has lacked clear information to substantiate allegations against Begg and has been incredibly opaque. This has been exacerbated further by the way this story has been launched within the pages of the Sunday Times and nurtured through the Spectator. The apparent demand that Gita Sahgal is supported primarily and unconditionally because she has a great track record as an activist, not because of the detail of her allegations, is troubling too. None of the activists I know are infallible and we should ask for rather more than this.

Moreover, if it turns out that Ms Sahgal has important information that needs wider debate, then she is a brave whistleblower precisely BECAUSE she knew there would be consequences in her decision to talk to journalists, not because an organisation like Amnesty International is somehow acting improperly in suspending a member of staff for criticising her employer in the press (suspending whilst investigating further, mind, not firing). Overheated arguments suggesting that Amnesty is denying anyone free speech seem to show a lack of understanding about the way that respectable, very mainstream NGOs are also very mainstream employers that are concerned to protect themselves. When someone takes a stand, this is what inevitably happens.

Then there is the issue of Begg himself. Whatever his beliefs may be, his decision to use his experiences to campaign for the closure of Guantanamo, to speak alongside some of his former US army guards and most importantly of all, the nature itself of the ordeal he faced in the name of ‘freedom’ during his incarceration, means that he probably deserves a little more courtesy and consideration than vague rumours and suspicious innuendo about whether he is a ‘suitable partner’ to work with Amnesty International.

Until we hear a little more of real substance, how are we supposed to make an informed judgment on this situation?

HarpyMarx // Posted 8 February 2010 at 10:11 pm

I agree with what Kevin says, I too have supported Southall Black Sisters and WAF. I attended their first conference (WAF) way back in ’89 and have supported them since.

But this rather worries me especially as the right-wing press have taken this up. I am also troubled by what she says about human rights, that she isn’t against defending Moazzem Begg’s human rights but against him being a human rights activist. Why? She hasn’t hasn’t gone into any firm details instead she says ‘Islamic Right’… What does that mean?

There are so many unanswered questions. It’s half of a story shrouded in assertions.

As Kevin says, with little substance to the story how are we to make an informed judgement?

Jolene Tan // Posted 8 February 2010 at 10:50 pm

Thanks everyone for your comments.

I can’t speak to what Gita Sahgal herself might have to say, but my own unease with Moazzam Begg and Cage Prisoners leads me to sympathise with the general concerns she raises. My unease is based in the activities of some of the individuals they quote and promote. For example, Anwar Al-Awlaki, on whom more here:

Their website also includes, in their prisoner list, Abu Hamza, a selection of whose opinions can be found here:

While Abu Hamza deserves human rights as much as anyone else, the rationale for including him as some kind of unfair casualty of the War on Terror escapes me.

Adam // Posted 8 February 2010 at 11:29 pm

I REALLY REALLY REALLY hope M.Begg and CP do take legal action against The Times. Really, I do.

I also hope someone asks M.Begg how intimate his ties with these ‘prisoners of conscience’ are, since he (for example) has accepted emails for Al-Awlaki through his own email address.

(scroll to bottom:)

Slimy lawyer’s letters are not going to make this go away, CP.

Kevin // Posted 9 February 2010 at 12:42 am


“While Abu Hamza deserves human rights as much as anyone else, the rationale for including him as some kind of unfair casualty of the War on Terror escapes me.”

Except that it not what Cageprisoners argues. It DOES argue that holding him first in indefinite detention in Belmarsh and then under a control order that amounted to house arrest, rather than bringing him to trial, was an abuse of human rights that has dangers for us all. It also says that his family should not have to suffer as the result of his detention. I agree with them on both, even though I consider Abu Hamza to be truly obnoxious.

Presumably that puts me in the camp with the Islamic Right too?

Lucy // Posted 9 February 2010 at 2:04 am

If Abu Hamza’s human rights have been violated as part of the continuing blasphemy that is the so-called War on Terror then he is an unfair casualty even if he is a terrorist. This is where otherwise liberal people seem to fall down on this issue. You can’t espouse something as a human right if all humans don’t get it as a right. Pretty simple, actually.

Jolene Tan // Posted 9 February 2010 at 8:46 am

Lucy, Kevin, I agree with you as to Abu Hamza’s human right not to be detained without trial. I do not agree with the acts taken against him that violated the rule of law.

However, I can’t find the place where Cage Prisoners make the argument you refer to, Kevin. It’s not on their profile of Abu Hamza on their website, which is a straightforward catalogue of events in which no distinction is made, in terms of framing or importance, between the initial enforcement actions and the eventual charges for inciting racial hatred. Surely these things are very different for the purposes of the human rights argument? Have they made the argument you refer to somewhere else?

The question of their consistent promotion of Anwar Al-Awlaki also remains. Why does this take place?

gadgetgal // Posted 9 February 2010 at 9:08 am

“It DOES argue that holding him first in indefinite detention in Belmarsh and then under a control order that amounted to house arrest, rather than bringing him to trial, was an abuse of human rights that has dangers for us all. It also says that his family should not have to suffer as the result of his detention. I agree with them on both, even though I consider Abu Hamza to be truly obnoxious.”

I would also agree with that statement, doesn’t make me the Islamic Right, nor you. But you’re forgetting something about the difference between Amnesty International and Cageprisoners – Cageprisoners is specifically doing their work for the release of these prisoners, whatever their political views (which is good, I have no problem with that). However, Amnesty cover more than just the unfairly imprisoned – they cover general worldwide human rights, human rights specifically for China, campaigning for fair and effective asylum systems, controlling the arms trade, ending the death penalty, ending torture and stopping violence towards women/gaining them basic equal rights. Now they also campaign for individual rights (again, good) but actually openly working with and touring with someone who’s record in one or more of these areas may be a bit dodgy isn’t clever, it makes people like me (the ordinary ones who just donate what they can) suspect that perhaps certain areas of their campaigning aren’t as important as others. And in this case one of the areas I feel very strongly about.

I agree with Harpymarx and Kevin that we really need more information to make any kind of informed judgement, and really that’s for Amnesty and possibly an employment tribunal to decide, but to make an initial assessment of how I feel about something I don’t. And I’m uneasy about this too – I don’t think this has been a great decision by Amnesty, like I said before, they don’t just need to do right, they need to be seen to be doing right!

Jolene Tan // Posted 9 February 2010 at 9:21 am

Some more information:

gadgetgal // Posted 9 February 2010 at 9:49 am

Cheers for that link, Jolene – and the plot thickens…

earwicga // Posted 9 February 2010 at 6:52 pm

@ Jolene

You have written: “my own unease with Moazzam Begg and Cage Prisoners” – can you expand a little further. For example, is this an ‘unease’ you had prior to the ST ‘article’ and reading the other sources you have quoted, or is based on anything else such as reading his actual words?

Btw, have you seen Rod Liddle’s motion today about Moazzam Begg – Liddle is comparable to the other links you have provided to show where your current linek of thinking comes from.

coldharbour // Posted 9 February 2010 at 8:43 pm

“Some more information:

This is the same journalist who supported the war in Iraq (in the same paper) that has cost at least hundreds of thousands of civilian lives, hardly give Mr. Aaronovitch much moral currency dies it? Still, they don’t count do they? Just a bunch of woman-hating ragheads who need to be bombed into civilization(sic). It’s funny how every right-wing newspaper suddenly becomes interested in womans rights when it’s an excuse to blurt out some racist colonial attitudes. I think I’ll let Mr. Chomsky do the taking on hypocrisy….

Jolene Tan // Posted 9 February 2010 at 9:38 pm

@earwigca and also coldharbour

I disagree with a lot of the pro-war left on many things (not least in not being in the slightest pro-war!!), but I think they are correct in identifying a failure by some of the left to recognise the nature of some political movement and figures. I’m not keen on all the company who share this view, but it is what it is.

Yes, I have read Enemy Combatant and some material on the Cage Prisoners website. My doubts remain.

@earwicga, I understand you apparently disagree with me on the significance of some of the issues raised in the links, but you don’t seem to be making any effort to explain why they are wrong, or point me to material which might help explain. I’d appreciate it if you would. Otherwise, this comments exchange isn’t dialogue, it’s just you demanding that I answer questions.

Jolene Tan // Posted 9 February 2010 at 9:42 pm

Rahila Gupta in the Guardian:

Jolene Tan // Posted 9 February 2010 at 10:55 pm

Gita Sahgal and Asim Qureshi of Cage Prisoners on BBC World Service Radio:

earwicga // Posted 9 February 2010 at 11:08 pm

@ Jolene

I’m not demanding anything from you. I asked for the basis of your stated “own unease with Moazzam Begg and Cage Prisoners” and you have declined to answer.

I am deeply saddened that you have written this OP in the way you have. You haven’t bothered to update it with anything further than Gita Sahgal’s statement which is telling. The links you have posted all have an anti-islamic bias I thought you would have been aware of.

I have written a post on my own blog which contains a lot of links.

@ coldharbour


earwicga // Posted 9 February 2010 at 11:51 pm

@ Jolene

Thanks for your links. The CIF article is horrible, but the comments do contain some sense.

Btw, there is a direct link to the BBC interview rather than going through another biased source which is:

Andy Worthington’s book ‘The Guantanamo Files’ is an important read as it details how so many innocent people were swept up into American prisons in Afghanistan and also Gitmo. It also details particular Islamic traditions which aren’t obvious in a western context.

Jolene Tan // Posted 9 February 2010 at 11:56 pm

I haven’t at all declined to answer. I’ve pointed to links with Anwar Al-Awlaki; the framing with which convicted offenders are presented on the Cage Prisoners website; and (via Aaronovitch) a video of Asim Qureshi speaking at a Hizb ut-Tahrir rally. You can have the direct link to the video if you like:

Whatever bias there may be in the sources for these items, they are matters of fact, and I think it’s disingenuous of you to claim I haven’t answered your question, especially since your question comes *after* I pointed to them! Your links don’t address the questions the facts raise. For example, you quote Moazzam Begg on “innocent civilians”, but what does he mean by this? Are there civilians who aren’t innocent? Is it okay to kill those? Is that consistent with human rights? If there’s an answer to these questions, great – point me to them. If not, I remain, yes, uneasy.

earwicga // Posted 10 February 2010 at 12:07 am

Fair enough. I continue to feel more than uneasy at the accusations of Gita Sahgal. It’s not like Moazzam Begg hasn’t had these accusations thrown at him before. At least he wasn’t wearing an orange suit this time when he answered the allegations quite clearly.

As I think you and Gita Sahgal are completely misrepresenting Cageprisoner then I can’t accept the points you put forward as facts.

coldharbour // Posted 10 February 2010 at 10:34 am

“I think they are correct in identifying a failure by some of the left to recognise the nature of some political movement and figures. I’m not keen on all the company who share this view, but it is what it is”

I think it’s extremely ignorant and naive to suppose the West opposes regimes like the Taliban on moral grounds, the critique of such regimes in the right-wing press is merely a crude pretext to wage war for material gain. The West supported the Taliban (or the Mujahaden as they called them then) to the hilt when they were fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, if they are terrorists now what were they then? Indeed, when the Taliban were fighting the Soviets they were called freedom-fighters in the glorious noble war against Communist aggression, there was no question of them being castigated in the Western press regarding their beliefs on woman. Being anti-war is is not to ideologically endorse those regimes the West trying to overthrow, it’s to evaluate the cost of the vast numbers of dead and mutilated and understand what is going to replace it, most likely a just as repressive Western client-state that probably isn’t going to get any bad publicity in our media because they are not our enemy’s anymore. The right-wing media has tried to engage feminists in Muslim baiting for a long time now since the end of the cold-war, it’s not very difficult to see where their interests lie. They will get anyone on their side who will give value to their materialist imperial desires. Again Chomsky in my mind is one of the leading authority’s on Afghanistan.

Jolene Tan // Posted 10 February 2010 at 10:50 am

“I think it’s extremely ignorant and naive to suppose the West opposes regimes like the Taliban on moral grounds,”

Where have I supposed any such thing? I did not and do not support the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. I agree that the Western right has frequently co-opted feminist rhetoric and support without addressing women’s real interests. (This nonsense in France about banning the veil is a prime example.) None of this is inconsistent with my discomfort with Amnesty’s partnership with Moazzam Begg and Cage Prisoners.

coldharbour // Posted 10 February 2010 at 11:14 am

“Where have I supposed any such thing?”

The thread is in itself predicated on lies told by the Times to justify to Wests stance on Afghanistan and they way Muslims are treated in general, in the continued phoney ‘war on terror’. It’s MCcArthyism all over again, anyone who opposes imperialism must be slandered as a traitor and a terrorist. Giving credence to these lies only gives tacit support to their actions in the greater sphere.

gadgetgal // Posted 10 February 2010 at 11:23 am

“I think it’s extremely ignorant and naive to suppose the West opposes regimes like the Taliban on moral grounds”

I don’t think anyone here said otherwise – but two people can be against the same thing for entirely different reasons. They’re against them because it costs them money and political influence, I’m against them because of their treatment of women. It doesn’t mean I don’t see the West’s position for what it is, or that I excuse them for it in any way – I can both dislike the Taliban AND the West for their actions. I don’t see why disliking one should then make us disregard the other.

Jolene Tan // Posted 10 February 2010 at 12:02 pm

In my view, someone can oppose some elements of imperialism and still hold views or take actions that are deeply problematic from a universal human rights perspective. I reject the idea that all criticism of “anyone who opposes imperialism” must automatically be invalid. I also agree with gadgetgal’s last comment.

earwicga // Posted 10 February 2010 at 12:33 pm

I have transcripted Gita Sahgal’s interview this morning on Radio 4’s Today programme. Her words make me feel extremely uneasy about why she has decided to pursue her actions in this way!

earwicga // Posted 10 February 2010 at 12:38 pm

@ coldharbour

I appreciate your critique of this thread and the OP. McCarthyism is a particularly pertinent comparison to the propaganda evident in our press and the words of our public figures, and is one I have been meaning to write about for a while. I would also add that it seems to me that Islam isn’t compatible with capitalism.

gadgetgal // Posted 10 February 2010 at 1:15 pm

I actually listened to it and I still don’t see how she could have done it any other way – she raised concerns that she had and also that people in her department raised with her, never got a reply, went public (which, in light of it being a very public and charitable organisation seems fair enough) and then was suspended. Although this is only her own side of the story, as AI have refused to answer her back in public (as their answer to a charge she hadn’t made above shows), it seems to follow everything she’s said before.

To put it in perspective: if I ran a department (I’m making a presumption here that as head of a department for a large organisation like AI she’d have more than 2 or 3 people in it) and my employees either raised or confirmed a problem (whether real or not) the first action I would take would be to seek assurances from from MY bosses about those concerns. If this didn’t happen and I was ignored, and I felt the matter was of great concern, I would probably go to an outside mediator if they agreed. If not, and I was in the binding position of very little clout (which I’m presuming she doesn’t have a whole lot of) I might consider going public with my concerns. It would basically depend upon how great I felt those concerns were.

So far I see no hidden agenda in what she did – whether right or wrong she’s doing what anyone with responsibility for others (her department as well as the general public) would do. She would be in the wrong if she knew her department had these concerns and did nothing, just speaking from a employee’s perspective.

coldharbour // Posted 10 February 2010 at 1:30 pm

“oppose SOME elements of imperialism”

I’m interested to know them which aspects of violent conquest you do find morally acceptable then.

Jolene Tan // Posted 10 February 2010 at 1:39 pm

“”oppose SOME elements of imperialism” I’m interested to know them which aspects of violent conquest you do find morally acceptable then.”

You’ve misread me entirely.

The reason for that phrasing is to indicate that the very same person who speaks up or takes action against one form of oppression may nevertheless condone, or indeed actively promote, another. For example, an individual may oppose arbitrary detention (therefore, oppose one form of oppression) but support or be indifferent to the subjugation of women (thus, not oppose another form of oppression). I feel that simply describing such a person as “opposing imperialism”, without qualification, is one-dimensional and inadequate.

earwicga // Posted 10 February 2010 at 1:44 pm

Andy Worthington has responded to Gita Sahgal’s accusations:

coldharbour // Posted 10 February 2010 at 2:00 pm

“I feel that simply describing such a person as “opposing imperialism”, without qualification, is one-dimensional and inadequate.”

As I said before: “Being anti-war is is not to ideologically endorse those regimes the West trying to overthrow, it’s to evaluate the cost of the vast numbers of dead and mutilated and understand what is going to replace it, most likely a just as repressive Western client-state that probably isn’t going to get any bad publicity in our media because they are not our enemy’s anymore.”

I’m not saying your wrong for criticizing the Taliban, although they have killed and subjugated a fraction of the people the U.S. occupying forces have. My criticism is that you have presented lies and misinformation about Cageprisoners supporting the Taliban published in a pro-imperialist newspaper that has supported ethnic-cleansing and destruction round the Muslim world. Why you still think they are a credible source is beyond me. The problem isn’t my support for anyone that is anti-imperialist, the problem is yourself subscribing to lies published in right-wing rags like the Times.

Kristel // Posted 10 February 2010 at 2:37 pm

Coldharbour, that is such a good point you make, to remind how the West supported the Mujahideen/Taliban ‘to the hilt’ when they were fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, and never once castigated them for their treatment of women. As you say, how could they be ‘freedom fighters’ then and ‘terrorists’ now?! I also remember feeling furious when Kofi Annan criticised the Taliban for blowing up those budda statues when (as far as I was aware) he hadn’t once spoken out against the way they treated women.

I feel deeply ashamed, as a human being, that a prison such as Guantanamo Bay ever came into existence. I would never under any circumstances condone torture and wrong imprisonment. It makes me sick that the people who engaged in it won’t admit that what they did/do is torture, they prefer to give it ridiculous euphemisms. Even some of the soldiers who ‘worked’ there are ashamed of what went on. The men imprisoned there totally deserve an organisation to help them and speak out for them.

That said, it makes me very uncomfortable (if it’s true) that Moazzem Begg took his wife and daughters to live in a Taliban-dominated place. He must have known how their human rights would be denied and that he was even putting their lives in danger. Why would he do that? If he was in power, do you think we could still debate stuff on a feminist website?

I think gadgetgal’s comments are very good. I do feel that Gita Saghal, ultimately, is right to raise the concerns she has raised. And that AI simply suspended her without addressing those concerns says nothing good about them, in my view. I have had problems with AI’s behaviour in the past, which was why I stopped being a member.

HarpyMarx // Posted 10 February 2010 at 2:47 pm

The problem is that right-wing press has jumped on this along with the ‘decent’ pro-war ‘left’. The problem with Aaronovitch et al is that they have an ideological axe to grind along with the Times. This is called jumping on a bandwagon and these people have not shown even the slightless scant interest in the massive number of Iraqis and Afghans who have died in unjust and barbaric wars, neither have they spoken out against the injustices and attacks on civil liberties in this country in the name of the War on Terror (and remember Nick Cohen’s appalling article re Jean Charles de Menezes inquest).

Where were they demonstrating on the streets against war in Iraq, they supported it? Nowhere as they supported it!

They jump instead immediately on that catch-all, all-encompassing term, ‘Islamic Right’ and use it as as a stick to beat the likes of Moazzam Begg and that really really worries me and there is something nasty lurking beneath the politics of these people who call themselves ‘decents’…

So how can you come to an informed conclusion when all you see is assertions shrouded in the right-wing media whipped by the pro-war ‘left’?

Jolene Tan // Posted 10 February 2010 at 5:33 pm


Of course there is an Islamic Right, and no, there is nothing all-encompassing about it. It refers to very specific political groupings and movements.

There are right-wing fundamentalist political movements trying to fly under the colours of a whole host of religions, and Islam is not somehow specially immune. A recognition of these many movements and the threats they represent to rights and equality, especially for women and sexual minorities among others, is (as I understand it, although obviously I don’t speak for them) precisely one of the bases for the existence of an organisation like Women Against Fundamentalism. Do you have any doubt of the existence of the Christian right, especially in the United States? There are also Hindu right-wing groups like Sri Ram Sena, who recently famously attacked women in a Mangalore pub. And yes, there are Islamist right-wing movements (for example, Jamaat e Islam), and some of them are transnational with a British presence.

If an organisation kept citing (say) Pat Robertson with approval, wouldn’t you waver in your belief of their commitment to universal human rights? Well, I would, anyway, and the Al-Awlaki connection also gives me pause for thought. Or are you suggesting the Times has fabricated accounts of both Al-Awlaki’s views, as well as Cage Prisoners’ connections with him, out of whole cloth? I fully agree their news reports must be parsed with institutional or personal biases in mind, but that doesn’t mean every sentence in them must be 100% false. Some factual claims are clearly open to verification. Aaronovitch refers to a video of Asim Qureshi speaking at a Hizb ut-Tahrir rally – is the copy on YouTube necessarily a fake, because the Murdoch press mentions it?

Significant as Western abuse of military might may be, the world does not consist only of “empire” and “resistance” interacting in a binary morality play. There are other actors and dynamics which deserve attention too. I grew up in a country which has been dominated by one political party for more than 50 years now, and currents of this discussion remind me of people back home who acknowledge threats to human rights and equality from the ruling party, but not from (for example) Christian fundamentalists. I am also reminded of those feminists who only ever acknowledge the gendered oppression of women, and no other injustice. In my opinion, trying to put everything in the world into the perspective of a single lens is wrong and dangerous. I will probably avoid replying further to comments that implicitly ask me to do it, as I’m not sure productive conversation will result.

Kristel // Posted 14 February 2010 at 12:56 pm

It seems that Gita Saghal, having exercised her basic human right to speak out about something she was unhappy about, is now in fear for her own and her family’s safety.

Lucy // Posted 14 February 2010 at 2:14 pm

The goal posts keep changing and the attacks on Amnesty, however, remain the constant goal. Guilt by association is the lynch pin for all the arguments and it is done at a time when Amnesty is launching a major campaign to find a safe haven for the release of prisoners not charged with any offence from Guantánamo. First it was Moazzam Begg himself whose main crime we are finally told is that he ‘admitted’ that the last 25 years in Afghanistan had seemed to him to have been the best. That is horrible but it is weasely to suggest that this is the same as saying the Taliban are wonderful. The reason it isn’t the same is that it is a comment about the Taliban that has been made by many Afghan experts, historians and commentators as an explanation for why the Taliban achieved power – and that has to do with the previous horrors the Afghan people had lived through since the Russian invasion and since the havoc and constant chaos waged by the fighting among non-Taliban fundamentalist warlords, many of whom, lest we forget, had enjoyed the encouragement and financial support of the West [see ‘Charlie Wilson’s War] in order to fight the Soviets. Women’s rights played no part in that calculation. Neither by the Russians, nor by the West. If that is what Gita Sahgal is after, it is dubious, highly dubious, that an attack on Amnesty and, indeed, CagePrisoners, as an institution, is the way to go about it. It seems more of a distraction than anything else. What, specifically, should be done to help the women in Afghanistan, please, Gita. Say it and say it loud and clear. Changing the platform speaker for the release of Guantánamo’s prisoners? Is that going to do it? The grandstanding feels vindictive more than anything else and it is not helpful.

Malik // Posted 16 February 2010 at 12:21 am

Global Petition to Amnesty International: Restoring the Integrity of Human Rights

earwicga // Posted 16 February 2010 at 2:40 am

@ Lucy – I saw your comment in the ST and included it on my blog. Says it all really!

A round up of important links:

Please have a read of the Amnesty statements and those of Moazzam Begg and others who know him, before going to the petition link above on the Gita Sahgal fanpage so you can make an informed decision.

Lucy // Posted 16 February 2010 at 9:01 am

Moazzam Begg has made a statement explaining why he will not be attending this evening’s Amnesty event.

Claudio Cordone, interim Secretary General of Amnesty International, has responded to the Sunday Times …and in conclusion states that “Gita Sahgal was not suspended for voicing her concerns in our internal debates. The suspension is not a sanction. She remains employed on full pay.”

The campaign for the release of Guantånamo prisoners is ongoing. Moazzam Begg fears that his relationship with Amnesty “is now being severely tested by both internal and external forces that would like nothing better than to see that work damaged, or even terminated.” This cannot in any moral, ethical, human terms be the outcome to the Amnesty campaign for Guantánamo prisoners’ rights that Gita Sahgal wants. How can it encourage the work for women’s rights as human rights by others if it appears that all she has wanted is to push Moazzam Begg off the platform ? She has acknowledged that the detainees rights had been violated and that she campaigned in the past for them. But right now that statement risks appearing all too casual. Her public profile has magnified considerably. If she cannot show solidarity now with the Guantanamo campaign, I do not see how she will be doing the best she can to support her issues – with Amnesty.

Jolene Tan // Posted 16 February 2010 at 9:20 am


“Showing solidarity” with the Guantanamo campaign does not require supporting the inclusion of Moazzam Begg on an Amnesty platform. It is entirely possible for Amnesty to campaign against abuses of state power against alleged terrorists, without featuring and promoting Moazzam Begg.

You ask how Amnesty can fight for women’s rights as human rights if Moazzam Begg isn’t on its platform. It is a very odd question which seems to me to entirely miss the critique Gita Sahgal has made. From a universal human rights perspective there are certain red flags about the political agenda of Cage Prisoners. When Amnesty gives them a platform this political agenda benefits from an additional patina of respectability, whether or not it is in fact substantively compatible with Amnesty’s goals.


Here is a statement by Algerian survivors and family and friends of victims of fundamentalist violence on the issue:

Lucy // Posted 16 February 2010 at 9:40 am

Jolene — What I said has been twisted completely. I was talking about the ‘work’ vis à vis the Guantánamo campaign and I was referring specifically to the Guantánamo campaign whilst making a broader point – on behalf of that campaign! What is Gita Sahgal going to do to support that campaign? It is not an abstract question. To quote myself: “If she cannot show solidarity now with the Guantanamo campaign, I do not see how she will be doing the best she can to support her issues – with Amnesty.”

HarpyMarx // Posted 16 February 2010 at 10:20 am

I think Lucy makes goods point re the goal posts keep shifing and that it is guilt by association. Indeed this is being used a distraction. And during the past week or so you have apologists appearing in the media defending torture.

Everything that Gita Sahgal has said about defending universal rights has disappeared into the void when it comes to the right-wing media and the apologists for imperialist wars instead they hone in on ‘Islamic Right’ which they use as a convenient stick. They don’t care about evidence but progressives should as we are mirroring

the Blair/Bush interpretation of evidence.

And because no firm rebuttal evidence is available the debate degenerates and this is looking like a witch hunt.

gadgetgal // Posted 16 February 2010 at 11:11 am

@Lucy – “What is Gita Sahgal going to do to support that campaign?” “If she cannot show solidarity now with the Guantanamo campaign, I do not see how she will be doing the best she can to support her issues – with Amnesty”

Kind of sounds like the arguments MRAs come up with when we talk about women’s rights, rape, sexual assault, etc. etc. and they say “what about the men who have suffered sexual assault?” and “why aren’t you campaigning for mens’ rights too?”- if our aim is to lessen the sexism that is happening to women, why should we? And if Gita Sahgal’s department is the Amnesty Gender Unit, then shouldn’t women’s rights and how it’s affected by fundamentalism be her focus? She’s already said she supports what Amnesty are doing for the inmates (former and present) of Guantanamo, but her focus needs to remain on her job in the organisation, which is in the Gender Unit.

Again, my frustration at the lack of understanding of how a business (whether capitalistic or charitable) is run is now causing me to repeat myself – in my company the head of one department DOES NOT do the job of another – they can make suggestions, they can show support, whatever, but it is not their position or place to do so, nor should any of us expect them to! I wouldn’t comment on work anyone here does unless I thought they were doing it wrong and it was affecting MY work, which is exactly what she did!

Seriously, we complain (as a group) when we have to qualify every remark we make about sexism with “and of course, this kind of thing happens to men too, which is also unfair” even if it’s only happened once to one guy who doesn’t even live near here, so why is this any different? Amnesty AS AN ORGANISATION need to remain well-rounded in their activism, their head of one specific department does not, she was hired for one specific role, and she’s allowed to (and quite frankly she should) stick to her own area of interest because otherwise the organisation as a whole would be less effective.

This is simple – there is a clash between two departments and two department heads in a company. That is what tribunals are made for. AI have now been shamed into doing this because they were unwilling to do so before. Good! And if it’s in the public eye so we can all make sure proceedings are fair, even better!

Lucy // Posted 16 February 2010 at 5:40 pm

I find it a stretch too far to think of this as a departmental employee/employer issue and nothing more. That makes this whole affair sound very banal compared to what in reality it has become …worldwide… and what passions it has aroused. There are rightwing statements coming out in the press in support of torture, in support of the torture of ‘wives and children’. Not the moment to advocate going all job’s worth about departmental differences! Gita Sahgal considered it important to avail herself of the very loud voice of the Sunday Times in order to forcefully criticise the strategy of Amnesty’s Guantánamo campaign and what she calls generally the ‘political legitimization of individuals and organisations belonging to the Islamic Right’. But she has since stated that her quarrel is not with Moazzam Begg.

Part of her statement (on this blog at the top) also contained her commitment to the ‘necessary defense of the torture standard’. She writes that the ‘treatment of people like Moazzam Begg’ … ‘horrified and appalled’ her’. But (given the basis for her profile now) if she does nothing new to show strong support for Amnesty’s campaign to highlight the plight of detainees still in prison – a matter which clearly cuts across departmental lines – her primary and most contentious achievement may well appear to many to be her dissing of that campaign and her stopping Moazzam Begg from actively taking part in it. …He is precisely the sort of person who knows what went on at Guantánamo – and I don’t think Gita Sahgal is contesting that. So what gives?

Moazzam Begg has declined the platform.

This has happened because of his associations more than anything else, it seems, but this does not help Gita Sahgal’s stance –

(a) without her rallying anew to the defense of those still detained –

(b) without having produced at the start, as Harpy Marx says, evidence that justifies her having gone after him, specifically, in the first place

It will look – actually does look – like a witch hunt. And it would be a bit late in the day to be coming up with something new now. That seems an unlikely scenario.

Worse, within the void that has been created, a lot of rightwingers have come up with everything and the kitchen sink to throw at him. Will she agree with everything they say? Many readers will have no way of knowing. Some may feel assured by the knowledge that the Internet going viral is what it is …and is known for being what it is… But this cannot be good enough for a human rights campaigner.

On another site – a torture site – an avowed supporter, at least one, of Gita Sahgal’s position is arguing that assertions made by Binyam Mohamed – while under torture – are still a reason to disbelieve he was tortured! This cannot be a welcome supporter.

When all is said and done, why should Moazzam Begg not speak on a platform with Amnesty about the plight of prisoners still detained at Guantánamo? He sounds rather qualified to do precisely that.

Jolene Tan // Posted 16 February 2010 at 6:13 pm


I’d like to point out once again the statement from Algerian survivors and families of victims of fundamentalist violence. Also the fact that signatories of the petition to Amnesty include (among others) the founder of Women Living Under Muslim Laws, the General Secretary of Muslims for Secular Democracy in India, someone from IKWRO, and a former national co-ordinator for Amnesty’s Women’s Rights work in Pakistan. Are these people part of the imperialist juggernaut? Will you tell them that those transnational fundamentalist movements which call themselves Islamic are a fabrication?

Moazzam Begg suffered terrible abuses in Guantanamo. I agree with Gita Sahgal that it is legitimate for Amnesty to hear his experiences, indeed it is crucial. But when it comes to publicly promoting his organisation and placing him on high-profile platforms in partnership with Amnesty, there is the competing consideration of the credibility conferred upon the political agenda of that organisation. Which is why – from a feminist perspective – it needs to be crystal clear, before that happens, that that agenda is consistent with a commitment to universal human rights, including women’s rights and the rights of sexual minorities.

If there is talk of Amnesty’s departments it is because, as gadgetgal points out, it is through those departments that open and informed discussion of these various considerations ought to have taken place, and that inter-departmental discussion should have translated into a transparent statement for the public.

coldharbour // Posted 16 February 2010 at 6:57 pm

As the political motivations/opinions behind Cageprisoners and Moazzam Begg seems rather conjectural, I’ll argue from the point of view that what Jolene thinks of them is entirely correct for the sake of argument. Jolene’s position is that supporting Cageprisoners/Moazzam Begg is mutually exclusive with working for an organization that promotes gender equality as a basic human right. If this is the case, I would ask her how she thinks Cageprisoners being rubbished and ridiculed in the press increases the quality of life for woman in Afghanistan in a material or physical sense? The answer of coarse is that it doesn’t whatsoever, all it does is fuel the legitimacy of the occupation that is murdering innocent woman in Afghanistan day by day. She has argued in previous posts that I have a dogmatic one-dimensional predisposition to support anyone who appears to be against colonialism and imperialism, this is a common line of thinking that comes from falsely conflating ideologically support for the specific views of an anti-colonial movement and being against the consequences of colonialism. The Northern Alliance that the West and Mr. Aaronovitch are giving full support for have had a huge history of atrocities and sexual violence against woman, I wonder how many articles are going to be written in the Times about the way woman are treated in the land the Taliban is going to cede to the West/N.A. in the coming months. This was an article written a couple of months after the invasion of October 2001.

Jolene Tan // Posted 16 February 2010 at 8:08 pm


If criticising Cage Prisoners automatically means legitimising the Afghanistan invasion and all that that invasion entails, then this discussion is manifestly not advancing beyond the continual one-dimensional demand that everyone line up unconditionally between one of two camps. If you think there are unresolved issues with Cage Prisoners then you must necessarily be for war. This doesn’t make any sense whatsoever! As I sense I’m becoming repetitive on this point I am going to bow out of the thread once more.

coldharbour // Posted 17 February 2010 at 5:10 pm

Just found out the Scottish Defence League are marching in Edinburgh on Saturday, very sad indeed. The B.N.P have never had an electoral foothold in Scotland I hope this is not the start of it.

gadgetgal // Posted 18 February 2010 at 7:49 am

@coldharbour – dude, they’re so far right even the BNP have told their members not to get involved with them! But unfortunately I think you might be right, it’s going to be a precursor to the far right getting everywhere now. I hate extremism of any kind, the very word “extremism” should give away how stupid and useless it is, and how much ordinary people don’t want it!!

coldharbour // Posted 18 February 2010 at 10:14 am


Yeah it’s quite funny, I was on the English Defence League website and the were telling people not to seig heil because it would get photographed and give them bad publicity, it was basically a case of we know we’re a bunch of Nazi boneheads just don’t show it when your on the march. You’re right though about those forms of extremists. I used to work with someone who had quite openly far right views, I always used to point out to him the similarities in social attitudes regarding gays, feminism, the justice system, marriage, freedom of the press ect. that he had with Islamic extremists .Don’t really think he was into the self-analysis aspect though, or thinking for that matter…

Nicholas Liu // Posted 18 February 2010 at 6:34 pm

What “shifting goalposts”? Jolene’s point on this thread was to begin with, and has remained, that CagePrisoners keeps questionable company, and that this is good enough reason to question the wisdom of associating with them so closely. She put it well a few comments up: “If an organisation kept citing (say) Pat Robertson with approval, wouldn’t you waver in your belief of their commitment to universal human rights?” If Robertson were suddenly detained without explanation, no doubt Amnesty would be there for him, but one hopes it would perform its duty without validating his opinions. It’s one thing to support a prisoner’s rights and quite another to support hir ideology. Your enemy’s enemy is not always your friend; one can defend the wronged without expressing solidarity with all their positions–the sort of solidarity which Amnesty’s close association has thus far implied.

coldharbour // Posted 28 February 2010 at 7:10 pm

“Jolene’s point on this thread was to begin with, and has remained, that CagePrisoners keeps questionable company”

This was a very common if not universal argument in the pro-colonial political movement in the last century. The common idea was that the beliefs/practices of the indigenous people negated their right to autonomy. My ancestors left to escape being staved to death by the ‘civilized’ British State. They legitimized the violent and vicious occupation on the grounds that they were saving us from being a ‘priest infested backwater’ (as some of the bloggers on here think it still is) so I guess I am meant to be thankful.

”Twas hard the woeful words to frame

To break the ties that bound us

But harder still to bear the shame

Of foreign chains around us’

gadgetgal // Posted 1 March 2010 at 8:59 am

I’m wondering (ignoring for the moment what anyone thinks of CagePrisoners, whether good or bad) if maybe part of the problem with Amnesty right now is trying to cover too many bases at one time. I would argue that CagePrisoners isn’t a bad organisation if you’re talking about fighting for the rights and treatment of people who have been imprisoned, but perhaps they’re not the best group to have on your side when it comes to promoting gender rights and equality. The problem here seems to be that Amnesty is trying to cover both, which according to some of their staff has thereby caused a conflict of interest when they’ve been choosing who to work with and when. Maybe the organisation itself has become too large and unwieldy to actually keep all these interests under one heading – I wonder what the thoughts would be on breaking up the organisation into smaller, more manageable groups, still with the Amnesty banner, but operating completely independently. I don’t know logistically how that would work, but sometimes single interest groups can be more effective anyway because they don’t have to take anything else into consideration when they’re lobbying for their cause.

Any thoughts?

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