HOODED and kneeling on the cold cell floor, his wrists and ankles strapped behind his back, a young father-of-three from Birmingham was kicked and beaten from every side.

"The Americans told me if I refused to co-operate - to confess - they would send me to Egypt for interrogation," Moazzam Begg told his Worcester audience on Tuesday night. "There, they said, prisoners always confess immediately."

Mr Begg was living in Afghanistan with his family when the war broke out so he moved to neighbouring Pakistan.

It was there that he was arrested by the CIA in 2002 and became a prisoner of the US military for three years.

He was held first at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan - where he says he was beaten and tortured - and then for the final two years in a small metal cage at the notorious prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.

Despite repeatedly being accused of being a member of the terrorist group al-Qaeda - a charge he vehemently denies -the law student was never actually charged with a crime, and was eventually returned to the UK following pressure from the British Government. On his return home he was briefly questioned by police and then released without charge.

Now a thoughtful, articulate public speaker and successful author, 39-year-old Mr Begg was invited to Worcester this week to address a packed meeting of the city's Stop the War group.

The message he brought with him was how the institutionalised process of "dehumanisation" can lead people to commit terrible atrocities against one another.

"I saw two men beaten to death at Bagram," he said. "The most terrifying things were done to us. My clothes were ripped off with knives, photographs were taken of all of us in the most humiliating positions. We were punched and kicked and spat at, and I didn't understand where this rage came from. Why were they holding me responsible for everything?

"But the torture which happened to me in Bagram, also happened in the Abu Graib prison in Iraq, and in Guantanamo Bay," he said. "For the average soldiers, they were told we were the worst of the worst, that we were all murderers, terrorists, the scum of the earth. The dehumanisation process had begun - they were told you can do these things to these people, because they are less than human."

And he warned that the camp at Guantanamo is just the visible face of a global network of extra-judicial prisons for terror suspects.

"Guantanamo Bay is the end of the process," he said. "Anyone who has gone through the rendition process will tell you Guantanamo is the tip of the iceberg, the visible part.

"After a year at Bagram, I was looking forward to going to Guantanamo Bay."