Written By: Fahad Ansari
As the first iconic images from Guantanamo Bay were released in January 2002, a group of Muslim activists took the initiative to approach Islamic organisations in the UK to formulate a community based response to the news that British Muslims were being detained without trial and tortured in the facility. The climate of fear prevailing in Britain at the time, just months after the 9-11 attacks, meant that it was near impossible to garner any such support for a cause that was almost universally perceived as toxic. Undeterred, this handful of volunteers courageously embarked upon a journey to expose the illegality of counter-terrorism practices that were being carried out in the name of the War on Terror. The following year, they established a website in the name of Cageprisoners, now known as CAGE.
With a vision of giving a voice to the hooded and shackled detainees, CAGE collated and published the first ever comprehensive list of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Calling for due process and fundamental human rights for individuals deemed at that time to be the “worst of the worst” and while emotions were still very strong, was not an easy step to take, but one that was critical for the preservation of the rule of law. CAGE’s allegations that torture was being implemented against detainees in Guantanamo was repeatedly dismissed by the Bush administration who described activists as naively swallowing al-Qaida propaganda. As a Muslim organisation campaigning for the rights of the detainees, CAGE was accused of sympathising with terrorists, accusations that other campaign groups such as Amnesty International were spared.
In August 2014, President Obama finally admitted that the US had tortured detainees in Guantanano Bay.
CAGE also published the first detailed detainee accounts of the systematic abuse of the Qur’an by the US authorities in Guantanamo Bay and other prisons used in the War on Terror. It was at this point in 2005 that Moazzam Begg began his relationship with CAGE by writing an introduction to the report. Contrary to widespread media reports, Begg did not found CAGE, as he was incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay at that time. Again, the allegations were initially denied by the US but later a military investigation reported a number of incidents of intentional desecration of the Qur’an.
In October 2005, CAGE produced one of the first reasoned legal arguments for why the British residents detained at Guantanamo Bay at the time should be represented by the British government, despite refusal by the then-Home Secretary Jack Straw to do so. Straw was not the only one to disagree, with many politicians and elements of the media refusing to accept that the UK bore any responsibility for the detainees. Every single one of the British residents has now returned to the UK, with the last Briton to be held, Shaker Aamer, returning amidst incredible fanfare from all sections of the public including the government and opposition, an array of celebrities and even the Daily Mail.
The following year, CAGE became the first organisation to highlight that UK authorities had been directly complicit in the rendition and torture of British citizens, not just in Guantanamo Bay but in prisons in Pakistan, Morocco, Libya and elsewhere. For many years, cabinet members and the security services denied any involvement in such horrific acts and continue to do so despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary that continues to emerge. Several investigations of British complicity in rendition and torture have since taken place.
In December 2014, it was revealed that senior British politicians had lobbied a US intelligence committee to redact any references to British complicity in torture carried out by the CIA. This has led to increased pressure for a full judicial inquiry into the issue of the role of MI6 in the abuse and torture of detainees in the War on Terror.
In 2013, CAGE revealed that Michael Adebolajo, the killer of Fussilier Lee Rigby, had been mistreated in Kenya with the complicity of MI6 and suggested that this could have been a factor in his radicalisation. CAGE again came under severe criticism at the time for taking this stance, an episode repeated on an even greater scale two years later when CAGE revealed MI5’s harassment of Mohammed Emwazi. Yet, on 26 February 2015, the very day that the entire political establishment and mass media berated CAGE as apologists for terrorism for claiming that MI5 harassment could have radicalised Emwazi, David Cameron ordered an inquiry into allegations that MI6 was complicit in the mistreatment of Adebolajo.
CAGE has most recently been targeted for its longstanding criticisms of the PREVENT programme. CAGE has been warning of the McCarthyite implications of PREVENT for many years, at a time when most were blissfully unaware as they sleepwalked into our current surveillance society. Yet it is primarily due to CAGE’s relentless efforts to ‘prevent’ PREVENT that an increasing number of senior politicians, police officers, academics and other professionals as well as the National Union of Students, are now publicly condemning the policy, going as far as to describe it as ‘toxic‘.
CAGE’s history has demonstrated that it is an organisation fully committed to holding governments to account for failing to observe due process and the rule of law. That it has continued to advocate for justice despite the coordinated media and political attacks on it and its members, and in the absence of a bank account for over two years, only underlines the herculean efforts of the organisation. Make no mistake, there is a blatant agenda to shut CAGE down because it is the only organisation that is willing to speak the truth regardless of public vilification. For CAGE, it can take comfort in recognising that this vilification that has been part of its history from its very inception, has always been followed by vindication.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)