A senior official with Amnesty International (AI) has accused the organization of putting the human rights of Al Qaeda terror suspects ahead of those of their victims. The Sunday Times of London reports that Gita Sahgal, head of the gender unit at AI's international secretariat, believes that Amnesty's collaboration with former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzem Begg "fundamentally damages" its reputation.
Begg, a resident of Great Britain, was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and held at Guantanamo until 2005 because of his suspected ties to Al Qaeda, which he denies. But the Times reports that "Prior to his arrest, Begg lived with his family in Kabul and praised the Taliban in his memoirs as 'better than anything Afghanistan has had in 20 years.'"
After his release, Begg became a spokesman for Cageprisoners, which describes itself as a "human rights" organization that exists "to raise awareness of the plight of prisoners" held in the war on terror. Among the Muslim inmates it highlights, according to the Sunday Times, "are Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and Abu Qatada, a preacher described as Osama Bin Laden's 'European ambassador.' "
Cageprisoners and Begg have reportedly developed a relationship with Anwar al-Awlaki - the Al Qaeda cleric who became a confidant of Nidal Malik Hasan, charged with carrying out the November 5 Ford Hood massacre in which 13 people were killed. Awlaki has also endorsed the failed Christmas Day airplane attack in Detroit and was linked to several of the 9/11 hijackers.
According to Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens of the Centre for Social Cohesion, a British research group that monitors Islamist organizations, Begg has been a prominent backer of Awlaki. Weekly Standard writer Thomas Joscelyn summarized Meleagrou-Hitchens' findings:
"In 2006, Cage Prisoners organized a public relations campaign to pressure the Yemeni government into releasing Awlaki. Then, when Awlaki was released in 2007, Cage Prisoners told readers that they could submit congratulations to Awlaki through them."
But Begg's record has not stopped Amnesty International from working with him and Cageprisoners. Amnesty's work with the group has taken it to Downing Street to demand the closure of Guantanamo. And Begg has embarked on an AI-hosted European tour urging countries to offer safe haven to freed Guantanamo detainees.
In a January 30 email to Amnesty International leaders, Sahgal objected to Begg's involvement in the group'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," she wrote. "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."
Anne Fitzgerald, policy director of AI's international secretariat, called Begg a "compelling speaker" about detention and said he had been paid expenses for his attendance at its events.
Begg defended his support for the Taliban and the decision by Cageprisoners to highlight the plight of detainees linked to Al Qaeda, telling the Sunday Times: "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."