Moazzam Begg has experienced a generation of conflict. He was detained under suspicion of "terrorism" in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and the UK

He confessed to being a member of al-Qaeda in 2002 and spent almost two years in detention in Guantanamo, yet has never been convicted of any crime. 

In 2014, Begg was arrested once again and charged with "terrorism offences" - only to be released with dropped charges months later.

In a gripping first-hand account, Begg chronicles the forces that he believes led to his confession and describes what life is like for him as a Muslim in modern-day Britain.

Moazzam Begg speaks to journalists after being released from Belmarsh Prison on October 1, 2014, in London, UK [Rob Stothard/Getty Images]


By Ashish Ghadiali

In October 2014, Moazzam Begg was briefly in the limelight again. Widely known as one of the most outspoken of the former Guantanamo detainees, he was released after seven months' imprisonment in Belmarsh prison under suspicion of "terrorism". The case had collapsed. A spokesperson for the West Midlands Police gave a statement saying there wasn't enough evidence to secure a conviction.

For a couple of days, commentators explored the mystery of the situation. Begg had been bullish - both before and after his arrest - about trips into Syria, which he had made with the protection of rebel militias. He said that there, as in Egypt and Libya, he had been investigating allegations of complicity in torture and rendition by the British intelligence agencies.

Clearly a thorn in the side of the state, was he also a "terrorist"? Had Begg escaped justice through some loophole in the law? It remained a distinct possibility, but so did the possibility that he had not committed any crimes. If there wasn't enough evidence to secure a conviction, how could we be sure that there was sufficient evidence to justify the arrest in the first place?

Had Begg escaped justice through some loophole in the law? It remained a distinct possibility, but so did the possibility that he had not committed any crimes.

Ashish Ghadiali

We live in an age when the narrative of "terror" and "counterterrorism" commands our full attention and weighs heavy in public debate around the world. Questions like those about Begg's culpability need urgent answers if citizens are to believe in the legitimacy of the state. But they never were answered.

In the UK, secrecy laws which are the outcome of nearly two decades of a legislative war on "terror" ensure that definitive evidence of this case evaded public scrutiny. Within days the news cycles moved onto new events and other questions and Moazzam Begg, still subject to the law of common sense that there couldn't be smoke if there wasn't a fire, remains what he has been since 1999: a "terror suspect", without a single conviction against him. His passport has been revoked by royal assent since just before his arrest in December 2013.

This erosion of due process surrounding Begg's case left a gap in understanding that I felt was important to address, so I approached him in the weeks after his release, proposing a long-form interview that might shed some light on his story and bring his testimony into public view.

The idea of the single interview format was inspired largely by Errol Morris's The Fog of War and The Unknown Known - two films that pit the testimony of former US Secretaries of State, Robert McNamara and Donald Rumsfeld respectively, against archival histories of the eras they have lived through. To use Morris's phrase, this becomes a way of telling "history from the inside out", a way of exploring the story of an age that takes the subjectivity of its protagonist as a point of departure.

Begg was happy to participate, and through his story, spanning Bosnia, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and the Syrian Civil War, we start to piece together something of the broader story of our own age of the war on "terror". The understanding that emerges is not just of Begg's particular experience, but of the wider polarisation that has shaped our geopolitics over the past quarter-century. 

Gradually, as the narrative unfolds, as we weigh up emotive accounts of suffering and injustice with acts of spin and Begg's own subtle contradictions, the subjectivity of the filmmaker too becomes more and more important to the way the story is told. It ensures that, in counterpoint to the plot, there is a sense of challenge - of scrutiny.

A tension is established between these two points of view, the subject and the filmmaker, and this allows the audience to really see Begg, not as the cardboard cut-out controversialist that soundbite culture and news cycles would have us see him as, but as a complex human being, and so we come to our own conclusions.

It's this engagement with Begg's broader humanity that connects us, I believe, more deeply with our own.

Source: Al Jazeera