The Obama administration may be facing another setback in the quest to close Guantanamo Bay. On Tuesday, several news outlets reported that Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo detainee, has again been placed in custody for terrorism-related offenses linked to the crisis in Syria. Begg, a citizen of the UK, was initially arrested in Islamabad in 2002 and transferred to Guantanamo Bay before being released in 2005. He has maintained that he was involved in charity work and was not a member of any terrorist organization.
Begg was arrested along with three other people at his home in the UK on suspicions that he facilitated terrorist activity in Syria. His supporters were quick to claim that the arrest is a transparent attempt to halt Begg’s efforts to uncover alleged injustices committed by western countries in the Middle East. Begg, who spent significant time in Syria, has written openly about his trips. He claimed to have met with MI5 agents during those trips and that no security issues were raised during those meetings.
During the arrest, police seized Begg’s vehicles and electronic devices for investigation. The police claim that the arrests do not imply guilt and were not a result of an immediate threat to public safety.
This is not the first time Begg has run into trouble since his release from Guantanamo Bay. In 2013, his passport was revoked at Heathrow airport after authorities determined that his international travel was “not in the public interest.” This came after Begg’s criticism of the way the UK was handling the Syria crisis. It is unclear at the moment whether Begg will be charged or what those charges might be.
Proponents of Guantanamo Bay will probably be quick to jump on this arrest as a sign that the detention center needs to stay open. Recidivism has been one of the main arguments standing in the way of the base’s closure, especially after 2012 reports by the Director of National Intelligence claimed that nearly 28% of former Guantanamo detainees are either confirmed or suspected of engaging in militant activity. Those numbers have dropped to as low as 7.5% under the Obama administration, but this recent development is sure to reopen the debate on recidivism.
It is important to emphasize that Begg has not been formally charged with any crimes. It is always possible that he will be cleared of any wrongdoing. However, the statistics mentioned above do include those merely suspected of engaging in terrorist activity after release from Guantanamo. Only time will tell whether the allegations against Begg are true or whether he was truly a threat to the United States and its allies. Until then, supporters of Guantanamo bay have another argument against President Obama’s plans to close the detention center.
Chris Whitten, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research