Why Amnesty (or any other proper human rights org) couldn’t work with CAGE again


3:40 pm - March 12th 2015

by Sunny Hundal    


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Amnesty International UK say they no longer consider it appropriate to share a platform with CAGE after their recent comments. About time.

Last week, Cage director Asim Qureshi was invited on to the BBC to justify his comments on Mohammed Emwazi and debate other stances the group have taken.

He went from bad to worse. Qureshi was asked about a claim on the Cage website that British individuals are “killed on the whim of British security agencies” – he couldn’t think of a single example. Later asked if he agreed with Haitham al-Haddad’s views on FGM, stoning of women, domestic violence and more – Qureshi said: “I’m not a scholar”.

Watch

To summarise, the leader of Cage, a self-described ‘human rights organisation’ can’t even be clear on his own stance on several human rights issues. This is a joke, right?

A decade ago, when Asim Qureshi was speaking at a Hizb ut-Tahrir rally, he had no problems acting as a theologian and telling Muslims it was “incumbent upon all of us to support the Jihad [in Iraq, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Israel]”. Has he become less informed about Islam since?

Supporters of Cage say this is about context, that he wasn’t actually encouraging anyone to commit terrorism. Of course, jihad can also be non-violent according to the official definition, but its ridiculous to pretend that the wider context, where some Muslims think jihad implies violent extremism, is irrelevant. When Tommy Robinson said Muslims would pay if there was another 7/7 style attack – we know what he meant, he wasn’t talking about financial compensation. At least he apologised; Qureshi hasn’t.

I have two questions for Cage:
1) We agree that people should have access to justice and due process, and Cage keep referring to the latter re: the Mohammed Emwazi affair. So I asked: Did they think MI5 broke the law in any way in dealing with Emwazi?
2) Why didn’t they release the full tapes of their conversations with Emwazi?

I’ve repeatedly put these two questions to Cage over Twitter. They’ve not answered, despite responding to attacks on me by others.

* * * * *

Its worth saying that Amnesty UK has never had a formal relationship with Cage. In an interview with Radio 4 they say their joint work involved hosting a few events for Moazzam Begg, and lending their name to some publications and letters. Recently they both signed a letter to Cameron calling for a judge-led inquiry into Britain’s alleged involvement in the rendition and torture of terrorist suspects.

5 years ago, when Amnesty UK’s work with Mozazzam Begg was questioned by former employee Gita Sahgal, I came to Amnesty’s defence (though I actually wrote the issue was more complicated than many pretended it was). Recent events show that Gita called it right and I called it wrong, as did Amnesty. I’m happy to admit that, and I regret some of the intemperate language I used.

At the time I was defending Amnesty (not Cage) against people (excluding Gita) who wanted to undermine the organisation for other reasons, i.e. its focus on Guantanamo Bay and Israeli war crimes. I continue to think Amnesty is a great organisation but it should have refused to work with Cage then. I made lots of calls which turned out to be right (unlike many of Amnesty’s critics) but in this case I was wrong. Gita Sahgal’s instincts have been vindicated.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


“5 years ago, when Amnesty UK’s work with Mozazzam Begg was questioned by former employee Gita Sahgal, I came to Amnesty’s defence (though I actually wrote the issue was more complicated than many pretended it was). Recent events show that Gita called it right and I called it wrong, as did Amnesty. I’m happy to admit that, and I regret some of the intemperate language I used.”

I’m hugely impressed by this Sunny.

It takes a big man to admit that they were wrong about something – it shouldn’t be, but it is very rare that people ever do say “I called this wrong”.

It’s funny how the focus has been on Amnesty sharing a few platforms with Cage on a common issue, rather than on those that have been funding Cage over the past five years.
All organisations make mistakes, no least Amnesty, but it’s rare for commentators to acknowledge their’s.
Good call.

Sunny as someone who was defending you on Twitter prior to reading your Pickled Politics piece I’m glad you’ve admitted your mistake. Gita Sahgal was treated disgracefully and I hope you will also directly apologise to her (I’ve read your piece again and calling it “intemperate” makes the stinging criticism seem more benign than it was). That being said some of the criticism you have received recently also seems over the top when one considers that you have always been opposed to Islamism (and one also considers how certain ex jihadis are treated like rock stars). I hope this draws a line under the matter.

4. sackcloth and ashes

‘I made lots of calls which turned out to be right (unlike many of Amnesty’s critics) but in this case I was wrong’.

Sorry, Sunny, which parts were you ‘right’ about?

http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/8791

Was it the bit when you accused her of conducting a ‘desperate vendetta’ against Amnesty?

When you accused her of being in league with ‘neo-cons’?

When you implied that her motives were personal, and not political?

A bit of a clarification is in order here.

I’ve done a piece on Harry’s Place and I’ll quote what I said there:-

http://hurryupharry.org/2015/03/11/amnesty-uncaged/

Over at Liberal Conspiracy Sunny Hundal makes a C minus apology. If you have the energy you can look back at Pickled Politics archives to see the many posts jeering at Gita Saghal and boosting Moazzam Begg.

“5 years ago, when Amnesty UK’s work with Mozazzam Begg was questioned by former employee Gita Sahgal, I came to Amnesty’s defence (though I actually wrote the issue was more complicated than many pretended it was). Recent events show that Gita called it right and I called it wrong, as did Amnesty. I’m happy to admit that, and I regret some of the intemperate language I used.

At the time I was defending Amnesty (not Cage) against people (excluding Gita) who wanted to undermine the organisation for other reasons, i.e. its focus on Guantanamo Bay and Israeli war crimes. I continue to think Amnesty is a great organisation but it should have refused to work with Cage then. I made lots of calls which turned out to be right (unlike many of Amnesty’s critics) but in this case I was wrong. Gita Sahgal’s instincts have been vindicated.”

That last sentence does induce some nausea. When you apologise for being badly wrong, don’t point out how often you were right compared to the less enlightened. Also, it wasn’t Gita’s instincts that were right, it was her knowledge and experience and principles – which should have weighed a good deal heavier in the scales than Begg’s glamour as a Guantanamo detainee. But there you are – half a loaf and all that.

This only works if one assumes Cage were always as they are today, and the issues at stake are identical, they are not, the decision 5 years ago was on the circumstances then largely around Begg, the decision now is on the circumstances now. AI were right then and right now. No need to apologise. Circumstances change.

>> “Gita Sahgal’s instincts”

What now? “Instincts”? Like a dumb animal? What a disgracefully patronising way of describing someone else being right where you were wrong about a gang of fascists.

This statement alone suggests you have learned nothing about how you came to be wrong, that you might be less wrong next time.

8. flyingrodent

I’m really unsure why anyone’s view on this would change dramatically – the situation certainly hasn’t changed at all insofar as

– Cage were then a highly unpleasant bunch with horrible politics, and they still are and;
– Moazzam Begg’s politics are hardly any more palatable now than they were then.

On the other hand, it remains 100% true that

– It’s unacceptable for states to maintain black prison networks for disappearing and torturing thousands of people, even really nasty people;
– It’s especially alarming when the world’s leading proponents of human rights operate black jails for the purposes of torture and disappearance; it’s even more so when those states’ security services point-blank refuse to be held democratically accountable for their actions and the civilian authorities react by issuing a blanket pardon to everyone involved, thus ensuring every kidnapper, jailed, torturer and killer escape justice as completely as any KGB agent ever did; and that
– Very few of Amnesty’s critics, then or now, even bother to acknowledge that this is the case.

And it also remains true that

– There are damn few people around who have been through the US black prisons and are able to speak publicly about it in English, and Begg is one of the few who can; and
– If you lose an internal policy debate with your employer and then give an interview to the Murdoch press denouncing them for the behaviour they’re openly undertaking in full public view, then you’re going to get fired regardless of who you work for, how correct you are or how noble your motives are.

So the situation is pretty much the same as it was then. The only differences in the intervening period is that a) Cage have had more rope to hang themselves with and b) Some American politicians held a press conference to declare that torturing and killing people in secret prisons is, like, bad, man.

Nonetheless, it remains true that if you can barely muster a squeak of disapproval about a vast extrajudicial detention/interrogation program conducted far beyond oversight or recourse, but get really quite volcanically butthurt about somebody getting fired for denouncing her employer to the press, it’s probably you that needs to reassess your priorities rather than anyone else.

”At the time I was defending Amnesty (not Cage) against people (excluding Gita) who wanted to undermine the organisation for other reasons, i.e. its focus on Guantanamo Bay…”

Was Guantanamo such a huge huge deal? It housed many very dangerous people, and many others have been free a long time.
I never got why western liberals got so worked up about it.
It can’t have been much worse than most third world prisons.
Or even brutal US prisons.

I’m glad I never took part in a calling out of the names of every Guantanamo detainee outside Westminster parliament like a small demonstration I saw in 2009 did.
Sunny spoke at it, so must have thought it was a very big issue.

@ damon

It was a big issue and your reasoning tells us why. You say it can’t be any worse than a lot of third world prisons and that may well be true but the penal systems of liberal democracies shouldn’t compare with those of autocracies and dictatorships. Guantanamo certainly did house some bad people but there were a lot picked up on fishing expeditions (it’s amazing what bounty hunters can turn up with when they’re handsomely rewarded). Moreover the rule of law should apply to all not just ‘good’ people or what is the point? Every oppressive regime has justified itself by saying the rule bending only applies to the very worst. The United States demeans itself and it rings pretty hollow when it seeks to lecture the rest of the world on human rights. There is no shame in Sunny’s actions outside Westminster.

@ Rob B

“It’s funny how the focus has been on Amnesty sharing a few platforms with Cage on a common issue, rather than on those that have been funding Cage over the past five years.”

Yes, it’s ‘funny’, because it’s not true. The spotlight has been on Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Roddick Foundation since Cage’s public meltdown, and they have rightly been forced into a public climbdown. The spotlight has now rightly moved on to Amnesty International.

And you are minimising Amnesty’s failures – it didn’t just ‘share a few platforms’ with Cage, it threw Gita Saghal, a respected human rights activist of many years standing, under the bus as a result, and despite her warnings which have been entirely vindicated, and for which there was plentiful evidence even at the time. Amnesty chose to ignore Cage’s support for groups and individuals who are destroyers both of human rights and human lives. That’s quite a failure for a human rights group.

@ Matthew Blott – what do you think should happen to any foreigners who get captured in Tikrit by Iraqi government forces in the next few days? If they insist they’re not Isis fighters but just tourists or aid workers and it can’t be proved otherwise, I guess they have to be let go free.
Is that what you’d suggest?

@ Rick B

“This only works if one assumes Cage were always as they are today,”

They were always as they are now. Provenly. Openly. Qureshi was preaching jihad at Hizb ut Tahrir rallies in 2006, while Cage was promoting Anwar Al Alwaki for years. It’s nonsense to suggest they have suddenly changed or that Amnesty did not know. Amnesty knew and did not care. the only thing that has changed is that Cage very publicly discredited themselves and Amnesty’s dalliance with Cage has been more widely exposed as a result. Enough of the apologism.

@ damon

I see you didn’t address any of the points I made but came up with straw man arguments – no doubt a reference to Moazzam Begg’s bullshit of why he was in Afghanistan. The Iraqi government isn’t exactly a beacon of democracy but let’s pretend that it is in which case anyone fighting against it who isn’t killed during battle should be be arrested and charged (presumably with treason). I’d imagine you’d have a hard time convincing a judge you were an aid worker if you were picked up in a theatre of war amongst a bunch of jihadis with an AK-47 so if there isn’t evidence to convict then yes, we should not be sending them to live in a hole for years on end outside the rule of law. You disagree with this no doubt. Don’t bother arguing any further, it won’t be anything I haven’t already heard to death over at Harry’s Place (ticking time bomb, terrorism, stuff that happened in WWII).

Matthew Blott, are you saying Isis enemy combatants are all guilty of something? Why and what? What about Al-Nusra and other groups? I don’t think we have the right to declare them all guilty of something. Morally perhaps, but I’m sure Amnesty, Cage and Liberty would be on their sides on the legal issues.
Because according to them it’s either criminal charges or freedom. And you too it seems.
Personally I’m not sure what’s best, there was just something about the Amnesty activists roll playing at being prisoners in orange jumps suits that I never liked.
They looked sanctimonious I thought. And middle class.

Sometime in the future people throughout this land will be expected to live their way of life. If not, misery will flow across this so called green and pleasant land !

17. flyingrodent

It’s strange that one fundamental point here can be so mysteriously missed, namely

For most people, it’s fine to

a) disagree with your employers and just get on with it, in the hope that you can change their minds.

It’s also no problem for the average person to

b) disagree with your employers, resign on principle and then denounce your employers to the press.

On the other hand, no human being, in any job on planet Earth, could reasonably expect to be able to

c) disagree with their employers, denounce their employers to the press, and then keep on picking up a paycheque.

I couldn’t do it. You couldn’t do it. These jokers kicking off about how Gita Sahgal should’ve been able to do it, they couldn’t do it either. All of us would be fired on the spot.

(I tried to answer Sunny’s points on this more fully but they were mysteriously mislaid, for some reason).

And yet.

Well you won`t appreciate it coming from me I daresay but this is just the sort of thing we need to hear. I am less convinced by Amnesty UK than you and do nt consider it an honest organisation but the line you draw is nonetheless in the right place

20. Dave Roberts.

You’re getting there Sunny, unlike some of the totally unreconstructed Trot left. What’s all this about ” Israeli war crimes” though? You still need to some work on that.

FlyingRodent: Nonetheless, it remains true that if you can barely muster a squeak of disapproval about a vast extrajudicial detention/interrogation program conducted far beyond oversight or recourse, but get really quite volcanically butthurt about somebody getting fired for denouncing her employer to the press, it’s probably you that needs to reassess your priorities rather than anyone else.

Absolutely true. But then I’ve not spent THAT much time on this matter as some others have.

I did however need to say I got it wrong, because Gita is a decent person, despitee some of the politics of some of those rallying to her cause.

22. the a&e charge nurse

‘Absolutely true’ – it may be, but it also platitudinal and sheds zero light on the issues behind this case.

First of all sharing Sahgal’s concerns does not make somebody indifferent to Guantanamo – that’s an obvious strawman right there.

Secondly, it was never about getting fired (per se) but rather the fault-lines revealed by Sahgals objections to an ideology (shared by Begg, according to Sahgal) that is antithetical to Amnesty’s aspirations.
At the risk of stating the obvious, the wrongness of Guantanamo does not automatically make Begg’s ideas right.

We all know there is a reluctance to examine ideology except to the extent of lambasting opponents who point out that theocracy, an inevitable consequence of Islamism, is incompatible with both liberalism and the avowed aspirations of Amnesty.
So instead of analysis we get items on LC about Abu Qatada’s compo, of why it is OK to treat women like chattel, and now why the very mention of Guantanamo is enough to nullify any objections about some rather dodgy spokespersons who are reminiscent of the slippery, and verbose Unionists and Republicans in Northern Ireland.

23. flyingrodent

But then I’ve not spent THAT much time on this matter as some others have.

Yes, I wasn’t aiming that comment at you Sunny.

I did however need to say I got it wrong, because Gita is a decent person, despitee some of the politics of some of those rallying to her cause.

I never saw any reason to doubt that myself and again, she’s entitled to do and say whatever she likes, as she sees fit.


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