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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 July 2003, 09:28 GMT 10:28 UK
Letters home from Guantanamo Bay
By Megan Lane
BBC News Online

Every couple of months, a letter arrives at the Birmingham home of Azmat and Gull Begg from their son, Moazzam, a British detainee in Camp Delta who is to be among the first to face trial before a secret US military tribunal.

    November 2002. To Dad, today is the first day of Ramadan and it is going as well as can be expected. Our meals are all arranged, now, to the dark hours. As the weather has become quite cold, now we have been issued with warm thermal underclothes. Boredom here is extreme. I have not seen the sun for over seven months except once, for around two minutes. I wish you all the best for the blessed month of Ramadan and a happy Eid!!! Your son, Moazzam

One of Moazzam Begg's letters

This is an extract from a letter written in the cells of Camp Delta, the controversial US base in Cuba where more than 600 terror suspects are held. It is written by Moazzam Begg, a 35-year-old father of four from Birmingham.

Since his arrest in Islamabad in February 2002 - the same night his wife Sally had told him she was pregnant with their fourth child - Moazzam has written pages and pages to his family in Birmingham.

But few letters get through, and those that do typically have several passages heavily crossed out by those who monitor goings-on at the prison camp.

"I too write and write, but to judge from his comments, few of my letters are delivered," Moazzam's father Azmat Begg tells BBC News Online as he fans out his son's missives, written in neat hand-writing on paper supplied by the Red Cross.

Moazzam writes of family gossip, of boredom, of the nasty creepy-crawlies, and of his uncertain fate.

    January 2003. Dear Mum and Dad, I have done a lot of reading in the past few months (45 books or so), just having read about the United States' war of independence and Civil War. I had a discussion recently with someone about the US's major contribution to civilisation (after talking about Ancient Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China etc). I pondered for many hours and then came up with the answer - peanut butter (both smooth and crunchy). My co-debater was not amused with the results of my hours of research. I have that every now and then and it tastes fairly good! My salaam and love to you all.

His family hope against hope Moazzam and the eight other British suspects will be handed over to the UK to face justice here. Mr Begg is convinced it's a case of mistaken identity, and says his son has been given no indication of what charges he might face.

Azmat Begg
Azmat Begg hopes Brussels will help
But despite supportive noises from the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and a host of MPs, fears are mounting that the US will not bow to pressure to repatriate the pair.

"This country is the mother of justice - how can they say our laws are not good enough?" asks Mr Begg, a retired bank manager who once harboured dreams of becoming a barrister. "If the laws do not exist to try my son here, then we can make new laws."

Mr Begg plans to go to Brussels with Stephen Jakobi, of Fair Trials Abroad, to plead with the EU to intervene. "I don't yet know who we might meet or when we can go. But I would like to go with a delegation with one member of each British family with a son in that camp - so far I'm the only one to step up."

    January 03. The camel spider is the only 10-legged spider in the world and, I believe, it's not an arachnid (technically not a spider). But it grows bigger than human hand-sized, moves like a race-car and has a bite that causes flesh to decay - if left untreated. In the summer there were plenty here, running into the cells and clambering over people; one person was bitten and had to be treated. Thank God it's winter!

Over tea and a plate of sweet dates, Moazzam's mother Gull explains in her soft, Brummie-tinged tones how even daily chores have been thrown into disarray since Moazzam's arrest. All attention is now on keeping his plight in the public eye, in campaigning for his right to fair treatment.

Moazzam and his three children, photo courtesy of Azmat Begg
Moazzam has yet to meet his fourth child, a son born after his arrest
"I'm sorry about the mess. We should be in the middle of redecorating but..." Mrs Begg's voice trails off as she waves a hand around the Beggs' flock-wallpapered terrace house. She is still perplexed at the fate of her son.

Moazzam, like his mother, was born in England; his father in India, under the British Raj.

At 12, Moazzam went to stay with relatives in Pakistan where, his father says, his interests in humanitarian work began.

But the couple have not seen their son for several years now - he, Sally and their young children moved to Afghanistan about a year before the arrest. There they helped install water pumps and tried to set up a school - Moazzam looking after boys, Sally the girls - in the Taleban-run nation.

When the US bombardment began as the war on al-Qaeda took place following the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, the family moved to an apartment in Islamabad to wait out the strikes. They planned to return when the dust had settled. But Moazzam was arrested and the family's funds - about 8,000 - were seized, leaving Sally and the children to fend for themselves in a country where they did not speak the language.

Detainee arrives at in Cuba on a stretcher
Camp Delta holds 680 suspects
"I got a phone call from Moazzam in the middle of the night. At first I could not even tell if it was him, he was speaking so quietly. He said 'Dad, I've been arrested.' I thought he was joking, or that I was still dreaming," Mr Begg says, his voice dropping as he remembers that night.

But Moazzam wasn't joking. Eighteen months on, should efforts to repatriate him fail, he faces trial by a secret military tribunal and years behind bars.

    March 03. Dear Dad, I am doing OK and trying as patiently as possible to overcome despair. These days I have found things getting easier and occupy my time with much of the same activities - exercise, conversation, prayer and sleep. Your son, Moazzam




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