I remember the excitement I felt when I heard that The Confession: Living the War on Terror was going to be made depicting Moazzam Beggs’ life, about time too I thought. The world needed to hear his story. This was a man who had been persecuted by the intelligence services for his beliefs, subjected to physical and psychological torture in detention camps, such as Bagram and Guantanamo Bay, and taken away from his family for countless years. I also felt that the film addressed some of the tension in today’s world as we now approach the end of the Obama administration and his broken promises. Obama vowed to close Guantanamo Bay, yet all he seems to have achieved is a total absence of transparency around the issue and failing to fulfill the promises made surrounding its closure.
The film begins with Moazzam sitting in a morbid interview room, something he has no doubt been accustomed to throughout his persecution. His expression is that of a courageous man and his voice is gentle and genuine. He begins by speaking candidly about his experiences of growing up with racism in Birmingham, which ultimately leads to him embracing his Muslim identity. He describes it as ‘the struggle with the concepts of identity’, of not knowing whether he is British, Asian, Muslim or Pakistani, something that echoes the sentiments of many British Muslims within the UK today. As well as the pressures of being forced to abandon their faith in pursuit of British values. In the late 1990s, Moazzam opens a bookshop and it is at this point that Moazzam becomes of interest to the intelligence services.
Distressing images and footage are shown of the effects of 1991 Persian Gulf War, and the conflict in Bosnia. Deeply concerned with the plight of those suffering at home and abroad, Moazzam travels to Bosnia. The ethnic cleansing, raping, and targeting of women and children and the tendency to turn a blind eye have all become too familiar throughout history. Moazzam then begins to relive the events leading up to him being embroiled in the War on Terror. He also goes on to relive the experiences of being kidnapped and incarcerated in Pakistan, and his detention in Afghanistan’s Bagram and later in Guantanamo Bay.
I think it is worth noting that Moazzams’ story is one that will resonate with a lot of people, not only Muslims, but with those who are critical of Western foreign policy, or even with those who feel compassion to help the oppressed. But for Muslims, the War on Terror has been a War on Islam. Western governments have launched an ideological attack against Muslims through discriminatory counter-terrorism policies that have left the Muslim community feeling stigmatised and alienated from society.
The role of the interviewer, who we never see was also intriguing. By the end of the film, we see his role shift from interviewer to the role of interrogator. I couldn’t help but notice that the agitation and frustration in his voice become apparent when he begins to grill Moazzam about events in the Middle East. He seemed insistent on Moazzam denouncing the actions of Al Qaeda rather than simply disagreeing with them, which echoes the unnecessary and constant demands made by The West for Muslims to condemn atrocities carried out by extremists.
Central to Moazzams’ story is also ‘Andrew’, the MI5 agent who first turns up at Moazzams’ house. Shortly after he meets ‘Andrew’ again when he is stopped at the airport whilst on a visit to Turkey and quizzed about his political beliefs. The next time he encounters ‘Andrew’ is at Bagram with a hood on his head, shackled with a gun pointed to him. If we consider all this contextually, this occurred prior to 7/7, 9/11 and Schedule 7, so it seems that the government and the intelligence services had an agenda which was to construct any brown male with a beard as a suspected terrorist.
Snippets of Moazzams’ late father being interviewed are also included within the documentary. In one clip, you can see that Moazzams’ detention has taken its toll. His face shows the strain he must have been enduring during Moazzams’ incarceration. For me, this was very necessary for the audience to see how the gross injustices at the hands of the government could affect those around you. This was a man who never had the opportunity to witness the birth of his child, and these were children who grew up without a father for many years.
The Confession brilliantly brings to light the atrocities that Moazzam endured whilst in detention. Everyone is familiar with the trademark orange suits; yet, nobody seems to know the extent of how abhorrent the torture methods are. Moazzams’ vivid recollection of rape, being stripped naked, solitary confinement, and emotional blackmail allows the viewer to only imagine the trauma that he endured. Moazzam is now the outreach director for CAGE, a human rights organisation that ‘works to empower communities impacted by the War on Terror’, and highlight and investigate human rights abuses not only in Guantanamo Bay, but under the War on Terror more generally.
Moazzams’ story is a constant reminder of why organisations like CAGE are needed to ensure human rights abuses do not go unnoticed. Not only do CAGE play a positive role in investigating human rights abuses across the globe, but they also campaign against the detention without charge or trial of all individuals and denial of due process. CAGE estimate that 780 men, all Muslim have been detained in Guantanamo Bay outside any legal framework, with some detainees even passing away whilst in the US facility. More recently, CAGE have fought for the release of Mohamedou Ould Slahi. Like Moazaam, Mohamedou was also detained in Guantanamo Bay without charge or trial, and subjected to the most depraved torture techniques which has been described as the most abusive to come to light.
What is important to take away from The Confession is that Moazzam has never been tried or convicted of any crime. The refusal to bring him to trial was all part of the intelligence service’ cold and calculated plan to frame him for crimes that he did not commit. Sadly, this has been an unfortunate reality for many others who have been falsely accused of having links to terrorism.
While there are many take-home messages from the confession, such as the counter-productive methods of the intelligence services and the arbitrary detention of individuals. The one that stands out above these are the devastating consequences of The War on Terror. Particularly the way in which governments respond to wars and global conflicts by dropping bombs on innocent civilians, effectively committing acts of terror themselves, and thereby fomenting and nurturing extremist groups. We need to ask ourselves and our policymakers is this the right way to deal with terrorism because if The War on Terror was supposed to reduce terrorism then it is effectively failing in its aims. Terrorism has become much more of a problem and Daesh is concrete proof that it has failed.
In more recent times, David Cameron’s plans for airstrikes in Syria which 59 per cent of people were not in favour of shows the power of the state as an actor in conflict. It also shows how governments can be complicit in nurturing terrorism. Similarly, the vilification and persecution carried out by the intelligence services and authorities has been a contributory factor in radicalising individuals, and has seen the demonization of the Muslim community as a whole. If I had to describe the film overall, I would say that it’s a thought-provoking and compelling first-hand account that touches excellently upon the unfortunate and harrowing reality of living under The War on Terror.