Troubled Water: AI, Gita Sahgal & Moazzam Begg

NB. Sorry lots of long quoted text in this post, if you are already aware of various articles just skip to the next bit.

As a member of Amnesty International I am very aware of the organisation’s occasional difficulties and the many powerful and vicious enemies it has (put simply people who enjoy and profit from genocide and torturing people to death would gladly have all of AI killed, yes folks that is the reality), as such relying solely on an article in The Sunday Times and Gita Sahgal’s statement as the basis of judging issues surrounding Moazzam Begg & CagePrisoners is short sighted. Certainly she has earned respect with her work, but there are problems with the article and her decision to pursue her position in media that regularly is soft on (and at times supports) human rights abuses is odd. Suggestions in comments by Craig @ Stoppyblog of a post Irene Khan power score settling/jostling for position are disappointing if true (don’t seem to be able to link to specific comments with Echo, anyone know how/if you can?). Conversely AI suspending her seems counterproductive to resolving the matter.

The journalist, Richard Kerbaj enjoys his work specialising in exposing shortcomings, crime & corruption in the Muslim community, he exposed child abuse in Australia within an Islamic council, certainly great work although his attitude seems somewhat glib & inappropriate in this profile interview-

In 2006, a young reporter flew across Australia to meet an anonymous source at a secret location. On arrival, the reporter, Richard Kerbaj, was handed hundreds of confidential documents, exposing sexual abuse and fraud within a leading Islamic council.

It was a colossal scoop. The series of stories that followed in The Australian rocked the foundations of Australia’s Muslim community and toppled the powerful eight-person council executive.

“It was like a journalist’s wet dream,” grins Kerbaj. “I had to contain my excitement. It was like being a kid in a lolly factory and thinking all these lollies are here, but I’ll just take them and eat them later on.”

And in coverage of interfaith consultations with the police in 2008 ahead of the 2012 Olympics he was shown to be accentuating community tensions between Jewish and Muslim experts the participants themselves rejected. First The Times article-

The Times: Police are warned of Ramadan tensions during Games by Richard Kerbaj and Ruth Gledhill October 27, 2008

Specialist advice is being given to Scotland Yard on how to reduce tensions between police and Muslims during the London Olympics because of growing concerns about the Games clashing with the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast during the day, The Times has learnt.

Experts will also warn the Metropolitan Police to ensure that the planned commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the massacre of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Games does not offend local and travelling Muslims.

The recommendations have been made by inter-faith advisers to Scotland Yard, where antiterrorism police are preparing to combat any possible Islamic terrorist threat to the Games.

Community tensions in the lead-up to the games have already been raised by a controversial Muslim movement, Tablighi Jamaat, which plans to build Britain’s largest mosque and Islamic complex near the 2012 Olympic stadium site.

Michael Mumisa, an Islamic scholar, and one of four experts hired by Scotland Yard who began training the police this week on inter-faith issues, said that the commemoration of the 11 Israeli athletes, killed by Palestinian militants from the Black September Organisation at the 1972 Munich Games, could become a national security threat if it was not managed properly and was perceived by Muslims to be “hijacking” the Games.

Edward Kessler, executive director of the Woolfe Institute, which deals with inter-faith dialogue, teaching and research, said that police needed to have a “minimum level of faith literacy” to help them deal with religious issues during the London Games. Dr Kessler said: “During Ramadan you’re going to have a lot of tired, hungry, less evenly tempered people because they haven’t eaten for 18 hours.”

Now a response in The Jewish Chronicle where the quoted Dr. Edward Kessler says ‘Sheikh Mumisa’s words have been twisted in a way that is not accurate.

The Jewish Chronicle: ‘Security’ row over Munich tribute at 2012 By Leon Symons, October 30, 2008

Allegations that a police trainer has labelled a proposed commemoration of the Munich Olympics massacre at the 2012 London Olympics “a security threat” have been vehemently denied.

An Islamic scholar, hired by Scotland Yard to train police on interfaith issues, had warned that a commemoration ceremony “could become a national security threat if it was not managed properly and was perceived by Muslims to be ‘hijacking’ the Games”, The Times reported this week.

The scholar, Sheikh Michael Mumisa, was addressing senior officers from the Yard’s Transport Operations Command Unit during a two-day training course on faith and interfaith, held last month at the Woolf Institute for the Study of Jewish-Christian and Jewish-Muslim Relations in Cambridge. The course was the first of its kind held by the Institute.

Its executive director, Edward Kessler, said: “Sheikh Mumisa’s words have been twisted in a way that is not accurate. I know what was said because I was there throughout the course. We were very unhappy with what appeared because it did not reflect the course that the officers took.

“We are not experts in terrorism, we are experts in faith and interfaith and that’s what they were here to learn. It was a very positive programme which dealt with subjects including antisemitism and Islamophobia.

“The possibility of a ceremony to commemorate the Munich Olympics massacre was mentioned as being key to the Jewish community. But it was discussed in terms of one type of commemoration being wholly appropriate and another being wholly inappropriate. The police would have to deal with the situation on the ground and the point was that they should be aware of the sensitivities of each faith community. It was certainly not talked of as a ‘national security threat’ or the Games being ‘hijacked’.”

Sheikh Mumisa was not at the Institute and could not be contacted for a comment. Eleven Israeli athletes were killed by the Palestinian Black September group at the 1972 Munich Games. The 2012 Games will mark the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre.

Alex Goldberg, chief executive of the London Jewish Forum, said that any commemoration would be “up to the families of those who died, with the Israel Olympic Association and, ultimately, the International Olympic Committee to decide what it will be”.

Now to the current article in The Sunday Times by Richard Kerbaj: Amnesty International is ‘damaged’ by Taliban link An official at the human rights charity deplores its work with a ‘jihadist’ which reports on Gita Sahgal’s concerns and objections about Moazzam Begg & CagePrisoners, Begg writes a response today that poses serious questions again as to the standard of reporting-

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: 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


However there is not simply The Sunday Times article there is also Gita Sahgal’s statement, so rather than take a mediated source over which some questions hang we should concentrate on her own words-

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.

Amnesty International have a statement too-

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.

I think until Gita Sahgal & Moazzam Begg meet and discuss the issues all of this is much of a muchness, both are deserving of our respect and of being allowed the space to resolve matters as both are doing good work fighting for human rights. This is not simply human rights activists getting played by Murdoch’s media but it could descend into that and only the war criminals will win in that fight, there is a global movement by states, corporations, religious and political ideologies to destroy human rights.


10 Responses to “Troubled Water: AI, Gita Sahgal & Moazzam Begg”

  1. harpymarx Says:

    I just kinda think there’s more to come out of this and I don’t think it is cut and dried (I said that on my own blog re initial thoughts). But what does concern me is how the right-wing have jumped on this, certainly the so-called ‘decent left’ (see Spectator). Also, why give the quotes and interview to the Times..a Murdoch paper. Equally, as someone who has supported WAF and have heard Gita speak on many occasions (and my support for WAF goes back to its first conference in ’89), I admire and respect her. But to go on from the text in the Times (albeit not the best organised article) I think she is wrong. There’s not a hierarchy of deserving/undeserving when it comes to human rights, you can’t pick and choose. And what precisely has Caged Prisoners done wrong? There are times when you will have to work with, engage with people you have fundamental disagreements but you work with them.

    Also I don’t think it is helpful in the least when Islamophobia Watch decided to use the word ‘nutty’ when describing WAF. Where is the added value re argument/debate? It personalises and insults… and applied to a woman’s organisation. Not clever, as even if there are valid arguments I was kinda put off..and it’s sloppy and lazy and kinda sexist.

  2. RickB Says:

    Thanks for the heads up, I have checked out Iwatch on this and indeed don’t see what the point of ‘nutty’ is, having perused a few comment threads here and there we really do not need more polarising and lazy invective.
    I am sure more is to come and more gleeful schadenfreude from the right and ‘decent’ war loving left to come. Sahgal is making strong charges against Begg & CagePrisoners but I see no substantiation so far (commenters around the web seem to be wilfully misinterpreting the site as if campaigning against abuses of a prisoner equals endorsing their views, which is ludicrous and would halt virtually all human rights work as people pick and choose who they agree with and leave everyone else to rot) and as you say is she applying a kind of deserving/undeserving test upon people and their rights?
    Clearly the article was designed to get attention and she has not disowned it so again I find it odd she would pursue this course and stand by a very slanted piece.

  3. Defending Moazzam Begg and Amnesty International | Andy Worthington Says:

    […] is also significant that Sahgal confided in Richard Kernaj, a reporter who, as Rick B explained at Ten Percent, enjoys his work “specialising in exposing shortcomings, crime and corruption in the Muslim […]

  4. earwicga Says:

    I have transcripted Gita Sahgal’s interview on Radio 4’s Today programme here:

    Am working on transcripting Sahgal’s interview on the World Service.

  5. RickB Says:

    Thanks, good stuff.

  6. Defending Moazzam Begg and Amnesty International « moof Says:

    […] is also significant that Sahgal confided in Richard Kernaj, a reporter who, as Rick B explained at Ten Percent, enjoys his work “specialising in exposing shortcomings, crime and corruption in the Muslim […]

  7. Amnesty, Moazzam Begg, Gita Sahgal – Link roundup « Earwicga Says:

    […] February 2010 Troubled Water: AI, Gita Sahgal & Moazzam Begg Ten Percent, Rick B (re. Richard Kerbaj’s journalistic […]

  8. Sunday Times continues smear campaign against Moazzam Begg & Amnesty International « Earwicga Says:

    […] 14 February 2010 Second Amnesty chief attacks Islamist links The Sunday Times, Richard Kerbaj […]

  9. Moazzam Begg On Pulling Out of Amnesty Event « Ten Percent Says:

    […] my views.‘ This would appear to be a not uncommon modus operandi for Kerbaj as I have shown. Gita Sahgal continues her campaign but is yet to meet with Begg, but as she clearly has time for […]

  10. Pickled Politics » Rejecting Gita Sahgal’s McCarthyism Says:

    […] recent impressive media appearances by Sahgal include her interview with DNA in which she repeats the hack Kerbaj’s rubbish in the Times in which it was reported that ‘Sam Zarifi … thought the […]

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