Enemy Combatant (book)

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Enemy Combatant
Enemy Combatant (book).jpg
First UK edition
AuthorMoazzam Begg,
Victoria Brittain
PublisherNew Press (US)
Free Press (UK)
Publication date
ISBN0-7432-8567-0 (Britain)
ISBN 0-7432-8567-0 (US)

Enemy Combatant is a memoir by British Muslim, Moazzam Begg, co-written by Victoria Brittain, former Associate Foreign Editor for The Guardian, about Begg's detention by the government of the United States of America in Bagram Detention Facility and at Camp Echo, Guantanamo Bay and his life prior to that detention. It was published in Britain as Enemy Combatant: A British Muslim's Journey To Guantanamo and Back (ISBN 0-7432-8567-0), and in the US as Enemy Combatant: My Imprisonment at Guantanamo, Bagram, and Kandahar (ISBN 1-59558-136-7).[1][2] In the US, the foreword was written by David Ignatius of The Washington Post.[3]

Begg was seized by Pakistani officers in Islamabad in February 2002, turned over to the U.S., and after prolonged sessions of interrogation, he was released from detention on 25 January 2005. According to statements made by the U.S. military, Begg was an enemy combatant and al-Qaeda member, who recruited others for al-Qaeda, provided money and support to al-Qaeda training camps, received extensive military training in al-Qaeda-run terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, and who was prepared to fight U.S. or allied troops.

Begg admits having spent time at two non-al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan in the 1990s, having supported Muslim fighters in Bosnia and Chechnya, and that he had "thought about" taking up arms in Chechnya. Also, that he had previously met people who have since been linked to terrorism (Khalil al-Deek, Dhiren Barot, and Shahid Akram Butt),[1] but he denies ever having trained for, aided, carried out or planned any acts of terrorism.[4]

Critical reception

The book received praise in Britain for Begg’s "outstanding liberality of mind and evenhandedness toward his captors".[2][5]

Writing in The Guardian, Philippe Sands said "The humour and warmth are striking", "it has affection ... It has humour ... It has insight ... And it has restraint: the flashes of anger .... are in exceptional contrast to the measured understatement of his own "relatively uneventful" treatment at Guantánamo". Sands concluded the book "should be required reading for those who created this dangerous mess, starting with Messrs Bush, Cheney, Gonzales and Rumsfeld".[6]

In The Independent, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown compared the book to the "Holocaust testimonies" of Primo levi and Rabbi Hugo Gryn, saying Begg "writes with the same authenticity and conveys horror without hyperbole". Speaking of the detention centre guards she says "the best parts of Begg's book are those which humanise these operatives and attempt to understand their confusion and corruption. He sees the absurdity of their situation". Of Begg himself she says "this bearded Brummie has an indestructible soul that you feel as you read his account", but, "for a man of intellect and deep faith, he does at times appear perilously impulsive".[2]

It received mixed reviews in the US, Publishers Weekly described it as "a fast-paced, harrowing narrative".[7] John Sifton, a New York-based official from Human Rights Watch, said "Much of the Moazzam Begg story is consistent with other accounts of detention conditions in both Afghanistan and Guantanamo".[8] Jonathan Raban, reviewing the book for The New York Review of Books, wrote " The gaps in his story — and they're more frustrating than downright suspicious — cease at the moment when Begg enters captivity". Raban criticised some "notably talentless" dialogue writing, "Perhaps Begg really did strike up a warm relationship with soldier Jennifer … but only in bad fiction do people speak this way". Finally concluding "There can be no doubt about the reality of the predicament described by Moazzam Begg … the indiscriminate dragnet thrown out by the United States … brought in a catch that included many bystanders who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and whose single common denominator was that they were Muslims"[5]

The New York Times reported "some notable gaps in Mr. Begg's memoir", such as not mentioning his arrest in 1994 for alleged fraud.[1] U-T San Diego said: "Begg has been less than forthcoming about his criminal past ... his cooperation with interrogators ... and his ties to terrorism".[9]

The Muslim News called it an "open, honest and touching account".[10] Begg earned the "Published Writer Award" for the book, at the annual Muslim Writers Awards in March 2008.[11]


  1. ^ a b c Golden, Tim (15 June 2006). "Jihadist or Victim: Ex-Detainee Makes a Case". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 February 2010.
  2. ^ a b c Alibhai-Brown, Yasmin (24 March 2006). "Enemy Combatant by Moazzam Begg with Victoria Brittain". The Independent. London, UK. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  3. ^ Ignatius, David (14 June 2006). "A Prison We Need to Escape". The Washington Post. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  4. ^ Brancaccio, David (28 July 2006). "NOW Transcript – Show 230". NOW. Retrieved 20 November 2016. Begg has denied all these charges, saying that he has "never planned, aided or participated in any attacks against Westerners".
  5. ^ a b Raban, Jonathan (5 October 2006). "The Prisoners Speak". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 20 February 2010.
  6. ^ Sands, Philippe (1 April 2006). "Moazzam Begg shows courage and restraint in his account of his time in Guantánamo". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 November 2016. The humour and warmth are striking against the background of the treatment to which he was subjected and the punishment ... to which he was witness ... the fact that he has emerged to tell his tale with lucidity and intelligence suggests either that the US faces an unprecedented new enemy of crafty subterfuge or - in Begg's case at least - that the US got it very wrong
  7. ^ "Enemy Combatant: My Imprisonment at Guantanamo, Bagram and Kandahar. (Book review)", Publishers Weekly, 19 July 2006. Retrieved 22 February 2010
  8. ^ Lalas, Elizabeth (27 October 2006). "Moazzam Begg's story of detention and abuse: This is Bush's war on terror". Socialist Worker. Retrieved 23 February 2007.
  9. ^ Wilkins, John, "Bars and Stripes; In Moazzam Begg's `Imprisonment', Uncle Sam is a cruel warden", U-T San Diego, 10 September 2006; retrieved 21 February 2010.
  10. ^ Abbas, Tahir (26 May 2006). "Book Review: 'Open, honest and touching account of an ordinary British-born Muslim'". Muslimnews.co.uk. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 26 May 2010.
  11. ^ "Birmingham hosts the Muslim Writers Awards". Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 2016-02-03.

See also

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