Begg spoke with RT for the ‘Ghosts of War,’ a special project looking at the fallout of the US invasion and 20-year occupation of Afghanistan, which officially ended on Monday.
“I was begging to go to Guantanamo because what I had seen and witnessed in Bagram was so destructive, to this day I can’t sleep.”
Born in the UK to Pakistani parents, Begg had moved to Taliban-run Afghanistan with his family in July 2001. After the US invasion, they sought shelter in Pakistan. In February 2002, Pakistani authorities arrested him and turned him over to the US troops, “without any legal process at all.” For the next year, he was held in Bagram, a notorious prison camp next to the now-abandoned airbase.
During his year-long detention in Bagram, Begg says he saw two people “beaten to death” by US soldiers. A subsequent US military inquiry found that the cause of death of the two men, identified as Dilawar and Habibullah, was indeed homicide.
“For me this place epitomized what the US was doing in Afghanistan,” he told RT.
“They were bringing people to this torture site – Afghans, ordinary Afghans – and abusing them outside the rule of law, and then allowing some of them to go back home. And they would go home and tell people ‘this is what the Americans did’.”
In February 2003, Begg was sent to Guantanamo Bay, a US-controlled enclave in Cuba where a camp had been built for ‘enemy combatants’ captured in the so-called Global War on Terror.
“We were stripped, we were beaten, we were spat upon, we were humiliated, photographs of us [were] taken,” he told RT. His captors also played sounds from the next room suggesting his wife was being tortured there, and showed him photos of his children.
“What they wanted me to do was to sign a confession that I was a member of Al-Qaeda, which I was not,” he said.
Among his fellow inmates were several Taliban members, who he says are now senior figures in the new Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, proclaimed after the US-backed government collapsed in mid-August.
The Taliban takeover prompted a frantic scramble by Westerners and Afghans who worked with them to flee the country, which officially came to an end on Monday when the last US military flight departed Kabul.
At one point in his Guantanamo captivity, Begg says he stopped thinking of himself as a human being and started calling himself 588, the number he was assigned. He showed RT a hand-made calendar he kept and the letters from his children, redacted by US censors.
“My children were growing up without me, and every day without them was a stab in the heart.”
Begg was released in January 2005 and sent to the UK. The US never charged him with any crime. “The War on Terror was not a police operation, it was a military operation,” he told RT.
While in Guantanamo, some of the American guards treated him with compassion, talking to him, giving him chocolate, and sometimes letting him watch movies on a smuggled DVD player. Begg called those “little acts of humanity that I’ve never forgotten to this day.”
“I left Guantanamo not hating America because of those soldiers,” he told RT.
Begg added that some US troops have written to him afterward, saying that the war “destroyed” them and that they can’t sleep at night. While some 15,000 US troops and contractors died in the ‘War on Terror,’ twice that number have committed suicide, according to the Costs of War project.
“This is a defeat, it’s a military defeat, however you want to look at it,” Begg says of the US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan, which left the Taliban in possession of all the military equipment and infrastructure built up for the US-backed regime.
He thinks “imperial hubris” won’t allow the West to come to terms with this outcome and move forward.