US PRESIDENT Barack Obama's attempts to reach out to Muslims have been an "utter failure" given his broken promises on several issues including closing Guantánamo Bay detention facility, former inmate Moazzam Begg has said.
Begg, a British national who spent two years in Guantánamo before being released in 2005, fears the detention centre may become permanent.
"People who were released from Guantánamo after Obama came to power told me that conditions had improved slightly but nobody there was under the illusion that [it] was going to close," Begg said during a visit to Dublin.
"It is like a town now and every thing around it has continued to expand. It seems that this is a permanent facility and they intend to keep it as such."
Begg, whose organisation, Cageprisoners, recently expanded its work to include the highlighting of extra-judicial killings, particularly the use of drone strikes, argued little had changed despite Obama's promises. "We say that Bush was the president of torture, but Obama is the president of extra-judicial killing. The difference between the two is that while one used to extra-judicially detain people, the other has gone a step further and extra-judicially kills them."
Begg singled out Obama's decision to authorise the targeting of Yemen-based cleric Anwar al-Awlaki for assassination earlier this year. Cageprisoners took on Awlaki's case when he was detained in Yemen in 2006.
Awlaki has been linked to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has been blamed for several terrorist plots. The group claimed responsibility for the two parcel bombs found on US-bound cargo planes last month. Last year, Awlaki praised Nidal Hasan, the US soldier accused of killing 13 colleagues at Fort Hood, Texas.
Begg said Cageprisoners was still campaigning against Awlaki's targeting by the US, but it was distancing itself from his calls for the killing of civilians. "I have said many times that I don't and we don't support the killing of civilians full stop, whether it is by B-52 bombers or suicide bombers; whether it ordered by Obama or Awlaki."
Begg, who has admitted attending a training camp in Afghanistan in 1993 before moving to the country with his family in mid-2001, was at the centre of a row earlier this year when Gita Sahgal, then head of Amnesty International's gender unit, said the human rights group had been damaged by its collaboration with him. She alleged Begg was a supporter of the Taliban and Cageprisoners was a "pro-jihadi" organisation.
Begg says he later discussed the allegations with Sahgal. "Every argument she put forward seemed to fall apart completely. Because I advocate a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan, she portrayed me as the greatest supporter of the Taliban and therefore, by extension, a supporter of everything they have said in terms of rights of women and so forth. That's not very clever, nor is it very honest."
Begg said he would describe himself as "a human rights campaigner who is Muslim and who has a Muslim ethos . . . I don't like the term Islamist in the way I don't like the term jihadist or any other Islamic terms Anglicised with an -ist at the end . . . I don't know what people are trying to compartmentalise me into.
"If you are asking me what are my feelings towards people fighting occupation, the answer is I completely support them. I believe in the inalienable right to defend yourself against foreign occupation.
"There is no doubt in my mind that if resisting the occupation of Afghanistan was not only considered good but lionised [in the 1980s] by the British government and US . . . then nothing has changed other than interests."