The Daily Mail was outraged last week by the news that Jamal al Harith, an ISIS suicide bomber had once been interned in Guantanamo Bay until the Labour government obtained his release. Even worse he had been proclaimed innocent and paid £1 million in compensation. Signal for a scornful attack on the bleeding heart liberals who campaigned on his behalf and their media friends like … erm … The Daily Mail.
Yes, the Mail had campaigned for the release of Britons held without trial at Guantanamo Bay and greeted the release of Jamal al Harith and four other Britons with the headline Freedom at last for Guantanamo Britons. Its editorial on 20th February 2004 chimed with similar sentiments across the media, including the Times, Telegraph and Independent.
“Welcome though the impending release of five British detainees may be, the fact is that they have been kept … for more than two years, without charge, without access to their families and without legal representation. This isn’t the justice America insists on for its own citizens. This smacks of crude revenge by a nation so traumatised by the horrors of 9/11 that it subjects prisoners to an ordeal that should shame any civilised society …
“It has taken long months of hard negotiations to get five Britons out, even though it is clear the US authorities had no evidence against them. What confidence can there be in the likely treatment of the four remaining?”
In fact Prime Minister Blair had been criticized by the Conservative opposition for being too eager to please President Bush and slow to act on behalf of British detainees. The compensation payment marks another twisted encounter with the truth for the Daily Mail. A number of ex-detainees, including Jamal al Harith, were taking civil action against the British government for its alleged complicity in their detention without trial and torture by the USA and its agents. They claimed that British secret service agents were present during interrogations and provided the questions, even if they did not participate directly.
But attitudes in the UK had hardened in the wake of terror attacks in London in July 2005. The Mail was grudging in its approval for an out of court settlement agreed by the coalition government led by Cameron in November 2010. According to Max Hastings writing in the Mail,
However our government had little choice save to approve this out-of-court settlement. It was advised that, if these men’s cases went to full hearings, the legal costs would be enormous, sensitive intelligence would be made public and, in any case, the Government was bound to lose.
The sum of £1 million per detainee was being bandied about at the time. Relatives of Jamal al Harith deny that he ever received such a sum. It is likely that the £20 million total for all the out of court settlements would have been substantially reduced once legal costs had been paid.
So congratulations to the Daily Mail. In the words of New Statesman blogger, Media Mole, its attack on its own campaign over Guantanamo Bay,
will cause much heartache for its leftier readers – so do address your dilemma by telling us who you side with in this Alien vs. Predator setup: which monster do you side with? Tony Blair or the Daily Mail?