A senior official at Amnesty International quit the human rights group this month after raising an alarm over its ties to a former Guantanamo Bay detainee and what she describes as his pro-jihad group.
Gita Sahgal, who headed the gender unit at Amnesty’s office in London, said she was especially worried about Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners’ support for “jihad in self-defense” and radicals such as Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born Yemeni cleric who is suspected of having ties to al Qaeda.
The Obama administration has taken the unusual step of approving the targeted killing of Mr. al-Awlaki.
Ms. Sahgal said the views of Mr. Begg and Cageprisoners do not trouble Amnesty’s senior leadership. “They have stated that the idea of jihad in self-defense is not antithetical to human rights; and have explained that they meant only the specific form of violent jihad that Moazzam Begg and others in Cageprisoners assert is the individual obligation of every Muslim,” she said in a statement on leaving Amnesty.
In a phone interview from London with The Washington Times, Ms. Sahgal said Mr. Begg had gained “enormous legitimacy” from his association with Amnesty.
Susanna Flood, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International, said none of the information provided by Ms. Sahgal persuaded the group to cut its ties with Mr. Begg.
“Nothing that we have heard to date from Gita Sahgal makes us believe that we should have disowned the relationship we have had with Moazzam Begg,” Ms. Flood said.
Mr. Begg, a British citizen, was running a school for girls in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime. He was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and held as an “enemy combatant” at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, between 2003 and 2005.
“Just as his detention without trial in Guantanamo was not justified, his politics and the dangers of legitimizing him by giving him greater visibility and respectability should not be justified either,” Ms. Sahgal said.
Before traveling to Afghanistan, Mr. Begg owned a bookshop, Maktabah al-Ansar in Birmingham, United Kingdom, where a best-selling author was Abdullah Azzam, a mentor of Osama bin Laden. The bookstore also published a jihad manual by Dhiren Barot, a convicted terrorist serving a life sentence in Britain.
Ms. Sahgal first raised a red flag about Amnesty’s ties to Mr. Begg and Cageprisoners in 2008.
“If, in spite of internal opposition, the senior leadership heard nothing to persuade them to cut the link, they seem to have no one who has any analysis of those linked to al Qaeda formations and the violence and discrimination that they are promoting. This is extremely disturbing,” she said.
Ms. Flood said there was no formal relationship among Amnesty International, Mr. Begg and Cageprisoners. She described Mr. Begg as an “effective spokesperson” for the rights of detainees.
Cageprisoners declined to comment.
The group describes itself as a “human rights organization that exists solely to raise awareness of the plight of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and other detainees held as part of the War on Terror.”
Mr. Begg has posted a statement on Cageprisoners’ website addressing questions about his ties to Mr. al-Awlaki. He said Cageprisoners had campaigned for Mr. al-Awlaki when the cleric was detained without trial in Yemen in 2006.
“Cageprisoners never has and never will support the ideology of killing innocent civilians, whether by suicide bombers or B-52s, whether that’s authorized by Awlaki or by [President] Obama. Neither will we be forced into determining a person’s guilt outside a recognized court of law,” Mr. Begg said.