‘Enemy Combatants’ and A Victimology of State Crime: An Article to Nuance the Experience of Moazzam Begg’s Victimisation at the Hands of the State

In Chains by a Wall

A protest against Guantanamo Bay.

The testimony of Moazzam Begg offers a unique insight into the profound experience of being detained inside the Guantanamo Bay detention centre located in Cuba (Begg, 2007). During Begg’s detention, he experienced a numerous amount of human rights violations whilst in US custody which under the lens of radical victimology can be understood as being victimisation (Rothe and Kauzlarich, 2014). Throughout Begg’s testimony, he acknowledges himself as a victim of the contemporary counter-terrorism legislation introduced in line with the launch of the War on Terror (Begg, 2007). This essay aims to evaluate Begg’s (2007) personal testimony utilising victimological theory as a conceptual vehicle to nuance and deconstruct Begg’s experience as victimisation at the hands of the US. Within this perspective, the fields of radical victimology and a victimology of state crime will be utilised along with the concept of trauma to make sense of Begg’s testimony. Throughout the essay, a range of other literature including international humanitarian law and critical terrorism studies will be consulted to nuance some of the concepts introduced by victimology, as such, there will be an implicit critique of the concept of victimology throughout. The end of the essay will offer a critique of utilising autobiographical data as a methodological tool for understanding the social world.

Enemy Combatant: The Terrifying True Story of a Briton in Guantanamo details the narrative of Moazzam Begg, a middle-class man from Birmingham, and the experience of being detained inside Guantanamo Bay for 3 years under US custody (Begg, 2007). The testimony starts off with Begg’s abduction by the US military in Pakistan, where he had recently moved to and was engaged in creating education programmes for young people in the months following the 9/11 attacks in the US (Begg, 2007). Originally detained in a local Pakistani jail, he was soon transported to and around Afghanistan, being detained in Bagram and Kandahar, before being flown out to the infamous Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba where Begg was held for 3 years in solitary confinement (Begg, 2007). In this process, Begg was labelled as an unlawful enemy combatant which resulted in the stripping of all his rights and status and consequently led to him being exempt from rights under the Geneva Convention because he had purportedly not respected the laws of armed conflict (Hühnert, 2016). During Begg’s detention, he experienced and witnessed numerous human rights violations including the torture and killing of two detainees (Begg, 2007). Eventually, Begg (2007) was released from US custody and was flown back to England where he was released without charge and was given no apology for or explanation of his detention. In Begg’s (2007) testimony, he explained the effect he believed running a Muslim bookstore had which originally brought his attention to the security services, although the exact nature and details of what brought this to the attention of MI5 remains somewhat vague (Sands, 2006). Throughout Begg’s life, he detailed his participation in trips to Bosnia and Chechnya to support Muslim causes which he believes also contributed to the amount of attention he received from the security services (Begg, 2007).

Utilising the perspective of radical victimology, a critical assessment of Begg’s (2007) experience can be undertaken which deconstructs Begg’s detention as a form of state victimisation. This perspective typically concerns itself with victims of police force, war and state violence alongside the more general concern of oppression (Marsh, Cochrane and Melville, 2004). Radical victimology tends to criticise positive victimology’s tendency to focus upon the conventional victim and acts as a vehicle to understand less conventional victims (Marsh, Cochrane and Melville, 2004). In doing this, radical victimology has the potential to expose the structural basis of victimisation, aiding the powerless and the poor (Marsh, Cochrane and Melville, 2004). Taking human rights as the entrance point, as per the tradition of radical victimology, light can be shed on Begg’s experience as state victimisation due to the violation of his human rights as a consequence of the United States’ counter-terrorism policies (McGarry and Walklate, 2015). Throughout Begg’s (2007) testimony, he highlights how he was subject to treatments such as extended solitary confinement; excessively tight shackling; blinding during incidents of extraordinary rendition and exposed to threats of torture. Many of the treatments which Begg was subject to amount to psychological and physical coercion and as such is tantamount to the definition of “torture” and thus a violation of an individual’s human rights (Human Rights Watch, 2005). Among human rights organisations, there is little doubt that what goes on in Guantanamo Bay is a profound violation of human rights (see Amnesty International, 2014; Fosythe and Rieffer-Flanagan, 2007; Human Rights Watch, 2016). The United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 5 sets the boundaries for acceptable treatment of other humans and states that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”, something which the U.S. has clearly violated (United Nations, 2014). Identifying human rights violations in this way is the first step to comprehending the nature of Begg’s victimisation (McGarry and Walklate, 2015). The violation of human rights, whether it be torturing detainees or extra-judicial killings, by state policy should be understood as a state crime (Green and Ward, 2000). Radical victimology as a perspective enables the researcher to deconstruct Begg’s experience to recognise the harms which have occurred which have been rendered invisible because of positivism (McGarry and Walklate, 2015).

Kauzlarich, Matthews and Miller’s (2001) victimology of state crime, which can be seen as an extension of radical victimology, can be utilised to understand why Begg’s victimisation has not been recognised by the state. It is argued that the victimisation which occurs in detention centres such as Guantanamo Bay is often rendered as invisible through the labelling of detainees as “terrorists”; the result is that the legitimacy of these detainees claim to victimisation deteriorates and consequently they are seen to be unworthy of the label of victim (Rothe and Kauzlarich, 2014). The individuals detained by the state are constructed as enemies of the state or “enemy combatants” which ultimately has the effect of hiding the process of victimisation at the hands of the state through the lens of positivism (Rothe and Kauzlarich, 2014). Drawing from the more general lexicons of criminology and international humanitarian law and human rights, the relative invisibility of Begg’s (2007) victimisation can be further developed. The notion of invisibility with regards to Begg’s (2007) victimisation can be understood as a process of “othering”, whereby victims of state crime are extra-judicially “othered” through their conceptual placement beyond the clutches of the legal system (Jamieson and McEvoy, 2005). This process of othering draws on philosophical paradigms and is bound to identity formation; it refers to a process by which “powerful groups […] define subordinate groups into existence in a reductionist way” (Jensen, 2011: 64). In Begg’s (2007) case, through his labelled status as an unlawful enemy combatant he has been legally placed outside the laws which are designed to protect people from harm. Jamieson and McEvoy (2005) argue that by placing victims of conflict “outside the boundary within which values and rules of fairness apply”, has the curious effect of dehumanisation as victims of state violence are rendered as faceless (Cohen, 2001: 97 in Jamieson and McEvoy, 2005: 415). This process of juridical othering is underpinned by the mechanism of an “extra-territorial legal black hole” which enables Begg to be exempt from the protection of domestic and international law (Jamieson and McEvoy, 2005). In Begg’s (2007) case, this has resulted in him being unable to access any legal recourse due to the lack of recognition of his victimisation. As such, victimology can be utilised to help explain the recognition of Begg’s victimisation by the state. However, whilst victimology possesses the ability to ask complex questions, other disciplines and schools of thought need to be consulted to nuance some of the answers which victimology attempts to give.

Delving further into the domain of radical victimological thought, the nature of Begg’s victimisation is best understood through Kauzlarich, Matthews and Miller’s (2001) victimology of state crime. The ideas set about through this perspective brings back the argument for a radical agenda for victimology and concerns itself as a means to understand state crimes which occur through the violation of international law, domestic law and human rights standards (Walklate, 2007). This framework understands a victim to be an “individual or group of individuals who have experienced economic, cultural, or physical harm, pain, exclusion, or exploitation, because of tacit or explicit state actions or policies which violate law or generally defined human rights” (Kauzlarich, Matthews and Miller, 2001: 176). Begg’s (2007) detention resonates with the criteria for this form of victimisation. Throughout Begg’s (2007) confinement in Guantanamo Bay, he was subject to a variety of physical and cultural harms alongside a process of exclusion; this occurred in the form of religious insults where he witnessed the Quran being thrown around; the excessively tight shackling of his hands and feet and solitary confinement to name but a few. These harms constitute the violation of numerous human rights and international laws and were a product of US counter-terrorism measures introduced under the name of the War on Terror (Rothe and Kauzlarich, 2014). Whilst various forms of counter-terrorism legislation existed prior to the 9/11 attacks, the latest legislation enabled more extreme forms of counter-terrorism measures to be taken, including that of indefinite detention (Ralph, 2013). Despite the potential this perspective has for unveiling Begg’s victimisation, its literature remains particularly limited and, as such, other schools of disciplinary thought will subsequently be utilised to nuance many of the concepts that this perspective introduces.

Within Kauzlarich, Matthews and Miller’s literature there are several propositions within a victimology of state crime which are argued to shed light on the nature of state victimisation, one of the first of these to be explored is that “victims of state crime are often blamed for their suffering” (Kauzlarich, Matthews and Miller, 2001: 186). It is argued within this victimological perspective that prisoners are less likely to be treated humanely and sympathetically because of the marginalisation and degradation of their perceived human worth (Kauzlarich, Matthews and Miller, 2014). During Begg’s detention, he encountered a variety of military police as part of his detention who frequently displayed hostile attitudes towards him due to their perception of him as one of the most dangerous people on the planet (Begg, 2007). During his initial abduction by US soldiers, he was shown a set of handcuffs by a US soldier who claimed that he was given them by the wife whose husband had died in the 9/11 attacks; subsequently, Begg was exposed to harsher treatments by these same individuals (Begg, 2007). Within his experience, Begg had been perceived and treated as if he was an enemy of the US state due to his perceived involvement in terroristic acts against the US, although there was no evidence of this levelled against him (Begg, 2007). This perception resulted in a continual stream of harsh treatment where he was met with antagonistic attitudes (Begg, 2007). This treatment can also be nuanced through a victimological concept described by Elias as the “social reality of victimisation” (Elias, 1986: 27). Elias (1986) argues that determining consciousness of Begg’s victimisation is fraught with difficulties due to the symbolic representation of the law which creates a “social reality” of victimisation. The law as a social force has the power to determine how victimisation is seen and understood (Elias, 1986); in Begg’s case the law did not recognise him as a “victim” but as an unlawful enemy combatant (Begg, 2007). Therefore, the status of unlawful enemy combatant defined the social reality of Begg’s victimisation for the military police and as such his victimisation was not recognised by these individual actors (Elias, 1986). Branding Begg as an “enemy combatant” in this way also has the profound effect of placing Begg outside of the moral community (Jamieson and McEvoy, 2005). This can have the profound effect of criminalising the detainees which would alter perceptions of these individuals are they are labelled as enemies by Guantanamo Bay institution (Rothe and Kauzlarich, 2014). Again, this would an influence over the social reality of victimisation as understood by the military police who run the institution of Guantanamo Bay and would consequently affect how Begg is treated by the military police.

Another of the typologies identified by Kauzlarich, Matthews and Miller (2001: 187) is that “victims of state crime are easy targets for repeated victimisation”. This is a peculiar typology for Begg as years after his initial release from Guantanamo Bay he was once again arrested under counter-terrorism laws (McVeigh, 2014). Kauzlarich, Matthews and Miller (2001) argue that ethnic minorities are occasionally subject to instances of institutionalised racism, something which is echoed among the policies introduced in line with the War on Terror (Bhattacharyya, 2006). Since the 9/11 attacks in America, Muslim minorities have received disproportionate attention from crime and security agencies through increased levels of monitoring, surveillance and intervention which has effectively, through counter-terrorism legislation, defined Muslims as a risky and suspect population (Mythen, Walklate and Khan, 2009). This is evidenced by the number of Asian people who have been stopped and searched in the United Kingdom rising by approximately 400% under new counter-terrorism laws introduced in the wake of 9/11 (Mythen, Walklate and Khan, 2009). Begg identifies himself as a part of the trend of Muslims becoming increasingly subject to attention from security services (Begg, 2007). The trends described in this paragraph can be understood through the victimological term of “victim proneness” (Walklate, 2007). This concept is used to describe how there are some groups of people who, as a result of their own characteristics, are more likely to be victimised than other people (Walklate, 2007). Begg is symptomatic of an individual who experiences a high level of victim proneness due to his beliefs and minority status, all of which contributes to him receiving a large amount of attention from counter-terrorism legislation (Mythen, Walklate and Khan, 2009).  Furthermore, Begg notes how nearly all detainees in Guantanamo Bay were Muslims, grounding the argument that Muslims experience distinct levels of attention from counter-terrorism policies into empirical evidence (Begg, 2007).

Another typology brought to light by a victimology of state crime argues that illegal state policies and practices are manifestations of state’s attempting to pursue a particular organisational, bureaucratic or institutional goal (Kauzlarich, Matthews and Miller, 2001). To assess this typology and further understand Begg’s victimisation, literature from critical terrorism studies must be analysed. Whilst the illegality and controversies surrounding practices inside Guantanamo Bay have been established, the motivation for such practices needs to be addressed. Begg (2007) identifies the latest counter-terrorism policies which led to his detention as part of a trend of oppression against Muslims which has existed for decades before the War on Terror. Such trends have been identified by other scholars (Esposito, 2002), although the goal of counter-terrorism policies in the context of the War on Terror might be much more distinct than the general trend which Begg identifies (Begg, 2007). Whilst the War on Terror has the immediate perceived purpose of countering terrorism, it is argued that the policies launched in line with this war are tantamount to state terrorism and serve the specific purpose of promoting principles of neoliberalism and democracy (Blakeley, 2009; Poynting and Whyte, 2012). Following 9/11, Bush launched the War on Terror to combat a perceived threat to the West (Blakeley, 2009). In promoting the international war against terrorism, Bush explicitly promoted the values of democracy and the benefits of free markets and free trade, deeming such political and economic values as essential for defeating terrorism (Blakeley, 2009). This promotion of distinct political and economic values can be contextualised as part of the general trend of the global north attempting to promote their values in the geographical region of the global south (Blakeley, 2009). Such promotions can be understood as in alignment with notions of capitalist and social imperialism and can be used to critically determine the purpose of Guantanamo Bay and why Begg was subject to detainment (Confortini, 2006). Whilst Begg does not recognise this acclaimed purpose of the War on Terror, it is an argument which highlights the bureaucratic purpose of Guantanamo Bay as a tool during the War on Terror to indirectly promote democracy and free markets (Blakeley, 2009).

Whilst a victimology of state crime offers a valuable insight into Begg’s (2007) victimisation, the discipline remains inadequate in fully understanding the legal framework which was designed to protect Begg and the perspective does not account for how Begg’s victimisation was able to take place. To complete this analysis, this essay will utilise literature from the lexicon of international humanitarian law. The adoption of the Geneva Conventions in 1949 signified a substantial development in adopting human rights principles during periods of armed conflict and served to protect individuals during periods of armed conflict (Rowe, 2006). The 3rd Geneva Convention was originally introduced to detail the boundaries relative to the treatment of prisoners during armed conflict, in other words, “prisoners of war” (Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, 2007). However, this treaty did not introduce a “right” to humane treatment, although the State became obligated to ensure that humane treatment took place (Rowe, 2006). Despite this obligation, there have been allegations that the US has not adhered to this responsibility in Guantanamo Bay as they have been accused of neglect and concealment of medical evidence which is indicative of torture having taken place (Iacopino and Xenakis 2011). As such, the US has not upheld this obligation. However, through a careful working of definitions, the US have argued that such Geneva Conventions do not come into play in the first place and as such this obligation does not come into play (Forsythe and Rieffer-Flanagan, 2007). This occurred through a careful reworking of definitions such as “prisoner” and “detainee” and the erosion of certain rights; as a consequence, the activities inside Guantanamo Bay fall just short of the wording of torture utilised inside treaties and legislation, including the United Nation’s Convention Against Terrorism (Forsythe and Rieffer-Flanagan, 2007). Consequently, the Geneva Convention and human right laws do not come into play due to the practices inside Guantanamo Bay not amounting to the legal definition of torture (Forsythe and Rieffer-Flanagan, 2007). The unfortunate reality of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 is that it provides very few means to enforce the protection of an individual who is at the mercy of the detaining State (Rowe, 2006). However, in the cases where the 3rd and 4th (pertaining to the protection of civilians) Geneva Convention does not cover an individual during an international armed conflict, they are entitled to the fundamental guarantees of customary international law, applicable domestic laws and human rights laws (Rowe, 2006; Forsythe and Rieffer-Flanagan, 2007). In response, however, the Bush administration attempted to erase any form of legal framework which guaranteed the detainees these rights (Forsythe and Rieffer-Flanagan, 2007). Furthermore, attempts to circumvent relevant laws included locating the detention facility itself in Cuba; Guantanamo Bay is located in leased territory by the US from Cuba and consequently it has been argued that as the detention centre is outside of United States jurisdiction, detainees would fall out of the legal protections available in the United States (Strauss, 2009). This process of circumvention highlights the limitations of the law and how it has not enabled the protection of human and victims’ rights. As such, this raises implications for the efficacy of the concept of victim in human rights law as it has not protected Begg from becoming victimised by a state.

The assistance provided to Begg (2007) throughout his detention remained minimal although the International Committee of the Red Cross (henceforth the ICRC) acted as an accountability structure to prevent victimisation, according to human rights laws, from taking place (Beigbeder, 2005). This organisation aimed to ensure the relevant Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian laws were being upheld to ensure that no human rights principles are being violated (Beigbeder, 2005). Begg (2007) met this organisation numerous times throughout his detention, and whilst he liked representatives individually he felt that the organisation was nothing more than “glorified postmen” as they only brought and sent mail, which was rarely delivered, and the organisation effected very little positive change (Begg, 2007: 283). Throughout his testimony, Begg (2007) questioned their acclaimed purpose of holding up human rights principles and their neutrality in upholding various human rights laws; these questions were raised by Begg due to the ICRC funding being heavily funded by the US and the violations of his own human rights. Begg’s experience of this organisation highlights the limitations of accountability structures and their ability to protect victims from human rights violations (Begg, 2007). In addition, in past events at Abu Ghraib many detainees were hidden from the ICRC as the state attempted to deceive this accountability structure and outright denied detainees’ existence (Jamieson and McEvoy, 2005). As such, Begg’s experience along with various academic research highlights the limitations of this accountability structure. However, Begg’s testimony did not capture the wider movements of the ICRC during his detention. During Begg’s detention, the ICRC were involved in court cases to argue for the relevance of International Humanitarian Law and the United Nation’s Convention against Torture (Forsythe and Rieffer-Flanagan, 2007). As such, whilst Begg’s testimony offers an insight into the direct contact detainees have with this organisation, this methodology does not capture the organisation’s wider movements.

Returning to the discipline of victimology, the concept of the trauma narrative can be used to assess what effect Guantanamo Bay had on Begg (McGarry and Walklate, 2015). Whilst the concept of the trauma narrative has taken on conflated meanings since its initial creep into the lexicon of victimology, for the purposes of this assignment the definition will be understood as “the traumatic consequences that suffering misfortune can have on individuals” (McGarry and Walklate, 2015: 35). In Begg’s (2007) personal testimony, he identifies several psychological effects which his detention in Guantanamo Bay had on his being. One of the largest consequences for Begg has been readjusting to life outside of solitary confinement; as a result of his individual isolation Begg frequently isolated himself from others as he often just “did not want to see people” (Begg, 2007: 371). In addition, other detainees who he made contact with after his and their release encountered similar trauma (Begg, 2007). In interviews conducted with Begg in the year following his release, Begg discusses psychological troubles and emotional flashbacks which plague his life which has required him to turn to a psychiatrist to manage the emotional trauma which he now experiences (Kassimeris, 2008). In media publications, nearly 10 years after his release, it is revealed how Begg encounters post-traumatic stress disorders because of his detention (Cobain and Ramesh, 2014). This trauma which Begg (2007) experiences is not unique to him but is a common psychological consequence of torture, especially as a result of extended solitary confinement (Başoǧlu et al., 1994). As such, the trauma narrative can be utilised to provide an insight into the consequence of violating Begg’s and other detainees’ human rights.

The usage of personal testimony represents another tool which belongs to the arsenal of victimology (Elias, 1986). Such a tool is highly unique and grants victimology the ability to identify the links between the micro and the macro of the social world (Gemert, 2015). Begg’s (2007) personal testimony offers an insight into the connection which his individual biography has with the wider counter-terrorism policies encountered in the social world (Goodey, 2000). This methodological tool has enabled the researcher to connect Begg’s experience to the wider policies introduced under the War on Terror and in turn offer an insight into some of the consequences which counter-terrorism legislation can have on innocent minorities. Experience and personal testimony in this sense holds value and is a methodology to be respected, although it is not without its limitations (Wylie, 1994). The limitations of one’s own consciousness and their respective critical assessment of their own experience cannot be utilised to gain a clear understanding of the sociological and criminological causes of oppression (Wylie, 1994). The personal experience should not be used as a presupposition to theory but should be used as supplementary to ground a theory in empiricism (Wylie, 1994). In addition, the personal testimony provides a unique insight, particularly for Begg as a middle-class man from Birmingham who has ended up being detained in Guantanamo Bay, but the drawback of this methodology is that it does not provide a generalizable or comparable datum (McGarry and Walklate, 2015).

In conclusion, Begg’s detention inside Guantanamo Bay can be understood as victimisation through the utilisation of perspectives such as radical victimology and a victimology of state crime. These perspectives offer a lens by which the numerous human rights violations which Begg (2007) has been subject to through US counter-terrorism policy can be understood as a state crime (Rothe and Kauzlarich, 2014). In understanding and developing this argument, literature from disciplines such as international human rights law and critical terrorism studies were consulted to nuance some of the concepts which the aforementioned victimology perspectives introduces. The usage of this testimony as a victimological tool has provided us with a unique insight into Begg’s lived experience which has been adversely harmed by counter-terrorism policy. Whilst there are distinct limitations to victim testimonies as a tool, the personal testimony is a valuable and useful addition to the arsenal of victimology (McGarry and Walklate, 2015).




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