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Guantanamo father in plea to Blair

By CNN's Graham Jones

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Azmat Begg: Support of politicians, lawyers, and human rights groups

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BIRMINGHAM, England (CNN) -- Azmat Begg says there is one person between him and a reunion with his son Moazzam, now being held in detention without trial in Guantanamo Bay -- and it is not U.S. President George W. Bush.

Proud father Azmat says UK Prime Minister Tony Blair could win the release of Moazzam, 36, at any time -- but his son, he says, is being wrongly portrayed as a security risk if he is returned to Britain.

"It's entirely in Tony Blair's hands. President Bush says it is in the hands of Mr. Blair.

"Justice is not being done. Tony Blair should bring him back here where he belongs and if he has done anything against the country... he should be put on trial here."

Azmat, 65, has put heart problems aside to run -- from an improvised study in the front room of his suburban home in Sparkbrook, a largely Asian district of England's No.2 city, Birmingham -- a campaign for his son's freedom.

The campaign has attracted the backing of a number of UK politicians, including Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, as well as human rights groups and lawyers. Ex-Beirut hostage Terry Waite has given his support.

The British government says it is not a just matter of Tony Blair "giving the word" that the four remaining British detainees are released -- there are serious security considerations to be weighed against the men's legal rights and welfare.

Certainly Moazzam was conspicuously absent when five of the nine British men held at Guantanamo were released last month -- to be freed without charge after their return to Britain.

Instead, Moazzam -- said by U.S. sources to be "high security risk" -- has been earmarked with fellow British detainee Feroz Abbasi for a military tribunal and a possible prison sentence of 20 years.

Begg senior says it is outrageous no charges have been brought and his son has been denied access to lawyers.

"If he has done anything wrong, done any treason against this country, then he should be tried here in Britain, because he has been born and brought up in this country.

"He should be allowed to see his wife and children and us. I do not know what sort of frame of mind he is in because he has been kept in different places in solitary confinement all the time.

"He should be medically examined, he should be tried -- and if he has done anything wrong he should be punished. If he has not done anything wrong he should be freed.

"I am not saying anything that is not acceptable to the law. I'm asking the government to put him in front of the law and give us access. Why are we deprived of access or letters or anything?"

Moazzam Begg went to Afghanistan in with his wife and family in 2001 before September 11 and the subsequent U.S.-led bombing campaign.

He had agreed, said his father, to open with his wife Sally a school for basic literacy and numeracy "because they are deprived people in the world and they should be shown the right path with the help of education."

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Moazzam Begg: Family says he went to Afghanistan to help the poor

"He was supplying water to the remote villages by inserting hand pumps. When he did the fifth one the bombarding started. He took his wife and children and crossed the border and came to Pakistan."

It was in Pakistan where he was arrested in February, 2002, before being transferred to a cell at Bagram air base, Afghanistan, and subsequently, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

There have been murmurings since then about what exactly he was doing in Afghanistan.

Leaks to British newspapers, apparently of intelligence reports, have said Moazzam spent time in an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, where he allegedly learned to make bombs; they quoted documents found at one camp showing money transfers to al Qaeda in the name Moazzmar Begg; and they alleged that he had been linked to a plot to attack the British Houses of Parliament.

A spokesman for Britain's Foreign Office said he was "aware of the allegations" but was unable to comment on them as they may figure in any legal proceedings that might follow.

Azmat Begg dismissed the reports: "One Washington paper has has given some allegation saying that Moazzam was involved in making some airplane, a manual plane which was suppose to fly from Afghanistan and blast the White House in America. He would have to be a technical genius to do that."

Instead, Begg senior defends his son.

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This image of detainees was released by the U.S. in 2002.

"Neither him nor me or anybody in our family was a supporter of Osama Bin Laden. In fact, I didn't hear his name or of his organization until the twin towers were destroyed."

He says he and Moazzam's wife and family -- including a son whom he has never seen -- are distraught.

"There are a lot of difficulties and distress and they miss him very much."

Begg senior denies his son could be a security threat if is returned to Britain.

"I don't think he is a security risk. My son has been born and brought up here. I know my son inside out, he is a great son, and I know he is not involved in anything wrong.

"I have five sons and is the most obedient. He is polite, nice, kind and a God-fearing person. He is very considerate and he has never been rude to me. He is a lovely husband, a father of four. He cannot be involved in anything wrong."

The British Foreign Office spokesman said that the matter was "highly sensitive and complex" with two main considerations: first, the fight against international terrorism and second, the safety of British citizens abroad.

It was not just a question of "anyone giving the word" that detainees should be released.

Britain had been working hard with the U.S. to ensure the men were either tried fairly under international law or returned to the UK, he said.

He added, however: "We have to weigh security considerations against the welfare and legal rights of the detainees."


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