Salman Rushdie made a statement yesterday attacking Amnesty International‘s decision to partner with Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners, Begg’s advocacy group for Guantanamo prisoners.


“Amnesty International has done its reputation incalculable damage by allying itself with Moazzam Begg and his group Cageprisoners, and holding them up as human rights advocates. It looks very much as if Amnesty’s leadership is suffering from a kind of moral bankruptcy, and has lost the ability to distinguish right from wrong. It has greatly compounded its error by suspending the redoubtable Gita Sahgal for the crime of going public with her concerns.”

Gita Sahgal was the former Head of Amnesty Internationals Gender Unit. Sahgal had described Begg as “Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban” and contended the partnership severely brought into question AI’s ethics. Rushdie is a long time friend of Sahgal and supports her position.

From the Times:

Amnesty’s work with Cageprisoners took it to Downing Street last month to demand the closure of Guantanamo Bay. Begg has also embarked on a European tour, hosted by Amnesty, urging countries to offer safe haven to Guantanamo detainees. This is despite concerns about former inmates returning to terrorism.

Of course, one’s thoughts on this affair depends on whether or not you think Begg is seditious as his critics state.

If we are looking for impartial perspectives then Fahad Ansari, spokesperson for Cageprisoners is probably not the best source (although he states important facts about Begg’s past). I prefer to rely on British journalist Andy Worthington who has devoted his past eight years to researching and writing responsibly on Guantanamo.

Worthington looks at every angle, but states at the outset that Sahgal and the Rupert Murdoch owned Times may have been pursuant of an “editorial policy”:

That Sahgal also chose to air her complaints in the Sunday Times, a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, is also significant, particularly because the Times first attempted to smear Begg and Cageprisoners a month ago, in connection with the failed plane bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, in an article by the normally reliable Sean O’Neill, entitled, “Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had links with London campaign group.” To me, this suggests that Sahgal may have been used as part of an ongoing attempt to vilify Begg that was part of a specific editorial policy.

The danger here is that people will dig in their heels on previously staked ground; that legitimate criticism of the illegal Guantanamo will be eclipsed by accusation and counter-assertion about the character of Begg.

One to watch ….