From The Daily Mail U.K.
Amnesty chief suspended after attacking group’s links to ‘Britain’s most famous Taliban supporter’
By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 5:51 PM on 09th February 2010
A senior Amnesty International official has been suspended after attacking the human rights charity for allying itself with ‘Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban’.
Gita Sahgal, head of the organisation’s gender unit, branded Amnesty’s links to former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg a ‘gross error of judgment’.
She was removed from her post within a few hours of her criticism emerging, and now a bitter war of words is raging between the activist and her employer.
Both have angrily defended their position over Mr Begg, 42, a Briton held at Guantanamo for three years until 2005 because of suspected links to al-Qaeda.
Miss Sahgal insists Amnesty, which is the world’s biggest human rights organisation, should not be closely associated with Mr Begg because of his role as a figurehead for a campaign group called Cageprisoners.
This group highlights the plight of Guantanamo inmates and other suspects held as part of the war on terror.
It has championed the rights of jailed al-Qaeda members and hate preachers, including Anwar al-Awklaki who allegedly was spiritual adviser to two of the 9/11 attackers.
Al-Awlaki, who was subsequently banned from the UK and is now said to be a commander of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is also thought to have met Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged mastermind of 9/11, Abu Hamza, the hook-handed cleric facing extradition to the U.S. on terror charges and hate-preacher Abu Qatada are also all mentioned on the Cageprisoners website.
Miss Sahgal, 53, an expert on religious fundamentalism who has a 30-year history in human rights campaigning, claims the group ‘actively promotes Islamic Right ideas and individuals’.
By associating itself with Begg and Cageprisoners, Amnesty is risking its reputation on human rights, she argues.
In an e-mail to her bosses at the end of January, she said: ‘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.’
She claims her warning was ignored. Shortly after it was revealed by the Sunday Times last weekend, Amnesty suspended her and launched an internal inquiry.
Miss Sahgal immediately released an angry statement online, claiming: ‘Amnesty International has sanitised the history and politics of ex-Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg, and completely failed to recognise 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. I have raised this issue because of my firm belief in human rights for all.’
She said there was a history of warnings within Amnesty about Mr Begg that had all been ignored.
‘Amnesty has created the impression that Begg is not only a victim of human rights violations but a defender of human rights. Many of my highly respected colleagues, each well-regarded in their area of expertise has said so. Each has been set aside,’ she said.
‘I have been a human rights campaigner for over three decades, defending the rights of women and ethnic minorities, defending religious freedom and the rights of victims of torture, and campaigning against illegal detention and state repression.
‘I have raised the issue of the association of Amnesty International with groups such as Begg’s consistently within the organisation. I have now been suspended for trying to do my job and staying faithful to Amnesty’s mission to protect and defend human rights universally and impartially.’
Her situation has sparked fury among Amnesty’s own members, some of whom are now threatening to quit the organisation and cease donations.
A group set up on social networking website Facebook, named ‘Amnesty International, you b***** hypocrites, reinstate Gita Saghal’ already has almost 700 members.
Moazzam Begg (front left) with Joanna Lumley (top left) and other campaigners at No10 in 2008 asking for the closure of Guantanamo Bay
Originally from Birmingham, Mr Begg went to a training camp in Afghanistan in 1993 and then moved there with his family in 2001.
In his memoirs, he said the Taliban were ‘better than anything Afghanistan has had in 20 years’.
He was picked up by the CIA in 2002 after fleeing to Pakistan. The U.S. claimed he was a member of al-Qaeda who had helped recruit others and fund training camps.
Mr Begg said he was abducted and tortured by the American military. He was freed after three years in Guantanamo and has always denied any connection to al-Qaeda.
Since his release, he has been a vocal campaigner for the rights of detainees and has been involved with Amnesty for several years.
He visited Downing Street with Amnesty to demand the Guantanamo’s closure last month and is currently on a European tour backed by the charity aimed at encouraging countries to take in former inmates.
Amnesty refused to comment on Miss Sahgal’s suspension today. A spokesman described it as a ‘personnel issue’.
But senior director Widney Brown has already posted a response online, refuting Miss Sahgal’s allegations and insisting Amnesty would never favour one group’s human rights over anothers.
She said: ‘Amnesty International is being accused of putting the human rights of some people above those of others. This is not, and has never been, true. Implicit in the accusation is the view that we should choose those whose rights we promote. We reject this view utterly.
‘Amnesty International campaigns for all internationally recognised human rights for all people. It is not about their views, their political opinions, their actions – it’s about upholding the universality of human rights. These are the inalienable rights of all human beings.’
Of Mr Begg, she added: ‘Amnesty International is being criticised for speaking alongside him and for being “soft” on the Taleban, when our record is one of unreserved opposition to their abuses over the years.’
Mr Begg, in his own online response, insists that his memoirs also list human rights abuses perpetrated under the Taliban and stresses that Cageprisoners is only concerned with highlighting human rights abuses.
He points to an article which declares: ‘Cageprisoners never has and never will support the ideology of killing innocent civilians.’
He told the Sunday Times, who published the original article, that Miss Saghal’s claims were ‘ridiculous’ and defended Cageprisoners’ dealings with suspected al-Qaeda supporters.
‘We need to be engaging with those people who we find most unpalatable. I don’t consider anybody a terrorist until they have been charged and convicted of terrorism,’ he said.