Commentary Magazine


Topic: Cageprisoners

Terrorists and the Mantle of Human Rights

Many analysts and scholars have pointed out the strange bedfellows that some self-described progressive organizations make with radical terrorist groups or autocratic regimes. The American Friends Service Committee, for example, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947, subsequently aligned itself with and defended the Khmer Rouge until the full horror of that communist organization’s genocidal campaigns became clear. Lynne Stewart, a prominent lawyer famous for defending left-of-center clients, once told the New York Times that she supported violence “directed at the institutions which perpetuate capitalism, racism and sexism, and at the people who are the appointed guardians of those institutions, and accompanied by popular support.”

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Many analysts and scholars have pointed out the strange bedfellows that some self-described progressive organizations make with radical terrorist groups or autocratic regimes. The American Friends Service Committee, for example, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947, subsequently aligned itself with and defended the Khmer Rouge until the full horror of that communist organization’s genocidal campaigns became clear. Lynne Stewart, a prominent lawyer famous for defending left-of-center clients, once told the New York Times that she supported violence “directed at the institutions which perpetuate capitalism, racism and sexism, and at the people who are the appointed guardians of those institutions, and accompanied by popular support.”

That may have been morally obtuse enough, but she eventually found herself in prison for supporting terrorists who promoted the most extreme forms of racism and sexism. This past January, I highlighted an incident in which Human Rights Watch (HRW) partnered with an organization run by a man subsequently designated by the U.S. Treasury Department as an Al Qaeda financier; HRW never bothered to review its reports and the information which it apparently accepted blindly from al-Karama, the partner in question.

Now, information is surfacing about the United Kingdom-based CAGE (sometimes called CAGEPrisoners) which has led a campaign on behalf of Mahmoud al-Jaidah, a Qatari national arrested and sentenced in the United Arab Emirates for helping al-Islah, the UAE’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood which last year sought to overthrow the government violently.

Here’s the problem: Last February, British police arrested CAGE Outreach Director Moazzam Begg on suspicion of “facilitating terrorism overseas,” and subsequently charged him with “providing terrorist training and funding terrorism overseas” in relation to Syria. This should not have been a surprise. Begg was a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who had confessed to training in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. Despite Begg’s arrest, CAGE continues to promote extremists in the name of human rights. For example, on July 17, 2014, it held a fundraiser to discuss “the ethnical, political, and legal consequences of caring for the oppressed.” Nothing wrong with that, but the event listed Israfil Yilmaz as one of the guest speakers. Yilmaz is a Dutch citizen identified by security officials as a jihadist training Islamist extremists inside Syria. We’re not talking about the so-called moderate opposition. By Yilmaz’s own admission, he said he was with Katiba Muhajireen, a group that in 2013 merged with Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate. Not surprisingly, British authorities intervened. Begg defended Yilmaz, however, as someone he “knew well in Syria.”

Alas, for CAGE, such an embrace of radicals seems more the rule than the exception. In 2009, for example, the group held a fundraising dinner at Kensington Town Hall in London. CAGE announced that the event was to include an “exclusive video message” from Anwar al-Awlaki, the senior Al Qaeda cleric who encouraged the Fort Hood shooting. British authorities ultimately prevented CAGE from playing the message. It’s the intent that counts, though.

The United Arab Emirates is by no means a human rights Utopia and it does not pretend to be a democracy, but it is a moderate country progressing in the right direction. Sometimes, however, a country’s enemies reveal a lot about a country. When Al Qaeda, Qatar, and the Muslim Brotherhood are lining up against the United Arab Emirates, it’s probably not because the Emirates are tolerating or promoting radical Islam. Nor do Al Qaeda affiliates and their defenders in the self-described human rights advocacy community, whether Human Rights Watch itself, al-Karama, or CAGE, seem to have the embrace of human rights at heart when they attack the United Arab Emirates or defend those who appear to support the most extreme forms of terrorism.

Until human rights groups stop interpreting human rights through a subjective political lens, and until they cease allowing themselves to be used knowingly or through their own naivety by hardcore Islamist groups, they will both advance an agenda anathema to freedom, liberty, and individual and they will also make a mockery of their declared and important mission to promote human rights.

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Salman Rushdie Condemns Amnesty International

Rushdie’s blistering statement on the Amnesty scandal will help Westerners further understand the moral dementia afflicting the human-rights community. It reads in full:

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 is a woman of immense integrity and distinction and I am personally grateful to her for the courageous stands she made at the time of the Khomeini fatwa against The Satanic Verses, as a leading member of the groups Southall Black Sisters and Women Against Fundamentalism. It is people like Gita Sahgal who are the true voices of the human rights movement; Amnesty and Begg have revealed, by their statements and actions, that they deserve our contempt.

Rushdie’s blistering statement on the Amnesty scandal will help Westerners further understand the moral dementia afflicting the human-rights community. It reads in full:

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 is a woman of immense integrity and distinction and I am personally grateful to her for the courageous stands she made at the time of the Khomeini fatwa against The Satanic Verses, as a leading member of the groups Southall Black Sisters and Women Against Fundamentalism. It is people like Gita Sahgal who are the true voices of the human rights movement; Amnesty and Begg have revealed, by their statements and actions, that they deserve our contempt.

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The Human-Rights Facade Is Beginning to Crumble

The collaboration between Amnesty International and an unrepentant Islamist named Moazzam Begg has been a source of wonderment among those who follow these kinds of things, but only back-burner wonderment, obscured by the media’s general tendency to protect the credibility of “human rights” NGOs, or at least not ask too many questions.

The UK Times was impelled, finally, to give some space to the fact that Amnesty, one of the two largest human-rights groups* (the other being Human Rights Watch) has been promoting Begg, a former Gitmo detainee and booster of terrorists and radicals. What finally attracted press attention to this outrageous state of affairs was the appearance of a whistleblower from within the ranks of Amnesty.

Meet Gita Sahgal, the head of Amnesty’s gender unit. She went public with her disgust after spending two years in a failed effort to separate Amnesty from Begg:

“I believe the campaign [with Begg’s organization, “Cageprisoners”] fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights,” Sahgal wrote in an email to the organisation’s leaders on January 30. “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.”

No kidding. But this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Amnesty responded to her going public by suspending her. The excellent British blog Harry’s Place has posted her statement:

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 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.

Or, as a British blogger puts it, “upholding concepts of due process and women’s rights may not be best served by strolling along to Downing Street hand in hand with Moazzam Begg, a Salafi Islamist who has attended Jihadi training camps in Afghanistan and Bosnia.”

There is a vital role for groups like HRW and Amnesty to play in the world. Properly understood, their mission is to use their moral authority to shame and condemn tyranny and those who wish to make the world a hospitable place for tyrants and terrorists. But moral authority requires moral clarity. HRW and Amnesty have been overtaken by activists who use their position to wage easy campaigns against open societies instead of taking on the more difficult, thankless, and sometimes dangerous struggle against closed ones.

For people who do not follow these issues closely, there have been a few recent moments that indicate beyond any doubt that something is rotten in the “human-rights community.” One moment was when HRW went to Saudi Arabia to raise money. We have arrived at another such moment: a human-rights organization has suspended an employee for complaining about the organization’s partnership with a terrorist.

*In my opinion, the largest and most important human rights organization in the world is the U.S. Army, but that’s an argument for another time.

The collaboration between Amnesty International and an unrepentant Islamist named Moazzam Begg has been a source of wonderment among those who follow these kinds of things, but only back-burner wonderment, obscured by the media’s general tendency to protect the credibility of “human rights” NGOs, or at least not ask too many questions.

The UK Times was impelled, finally, to give some space to the fact that Amnesty, one of the two largest human-rights groups* (the other being Human Rights Watch) has been promoting Begg, a former Gitmo detainee and booster of terrorists and radicals. What finally attracted press attention to this outrageous state of affairs was the appearance of a whistleblower from within the ranks of Amnesty.

Meet Gita Sahgal, the head of Amnesty’s gender unit. She went public with her disgust after spending two years in a failed effort to separate Amnesty from Begg:

“I believe the campaign [with Begg’s organization, “Cageprisoners”] fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights,” Sahgal wrote in an email to the organisation’s leaders on January 30. “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.”

No kidding. But this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Amnesty responded to her going public by suspending her. The excellent British blog Harry’s Place has posted her statement:

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 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.

Or, as a British blogger puts it, “upholding concepts of due process and women’s rights may not be best served by strolling along to Downing Street hand in hand with Moazzam Begg, a Salafi Islamist who has attended Jihadi training camps in Afghanistan and Bosnia.”

There is a vital role for groups like HRW and Amnesty to play in the world. Properly understood, their mission is to use their moral authority to shame and condemn tyranny and those who wish to make the world a hospitable place for tyrants and terrorists. But moral authority requires moral clarity. HRW and Amnesty have been overtaken by activists who use their position to wage easy campaigns against open societies instead of taking on the more difficult, thankless, and sometimes dangerous struggle against closed ones.

For people who do not follow these issues closely, there have been a few recent moments that indicate beyond any doubt that something is rotten in the “human-rights community.” One moment was when HRW went to Saudi Arabia to raise money. We have arrived at another such moment: a human-rights organization has suspended an employee for complaining about the organization’s partnership with a terrorist.

*In my opinion, the largest and most important human rights organization in the world is the U.S. Army, but that’s an argument for another time.

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