Tony Blair has accused the Daily Mail of “utter hypocrisy” after the newspaper criticised him over the case of a British man who became a suicide bomber on behalf of Islamic State.
Jamal al-Harith, a former Guantanamo Bay inmate, blew himself up in Mosul, Iraq, earlier this week.
The Manchester-born man was picked up by US forces in Afghanistan in 2001 and imprisoned.
However he was released in 2004 after Blair’s government lobbied the US to return him to the UK. Harith later received £1m in compensation.
In a strongly worded statement today, Blair said it was David Cameron’s Conservative government that paid the money 2010 - not his.
And Blair attacked the Daily Mail for criticising him - pointing out the newspaper itself had campaigned for Harith to be released from Guantanamo.
“I would not normally respond to daily stories about events which happened during my time on office but on this occasion I will do so, given the utter hypocrisy with which this story is being covered,” Blair said.
“The Daily Mail is running a story entitled ‘Still Think He Wasn’t A Danger, Mr Blair? Fury at Labour government’s £1m compensation for innocent Brit’, regarding news a former Guantanamo Bay detainee launched a suicide attack on behalf of ISIS this week.
“It is correct that Jamal al-Harith was released from Guantanamo Bay at the request of the British Government in 2004. This followed a massive media and Parliamentary campaign, led by the Daily Mail, the very paper that is now supposedly so outraged at his release and strongly supported by the then Conservative Opposition.”
Blair added in his statement: “The Mail headline shortly after he was released after months of their campaigning was ‘Freedom At Last for Guantanamo Britons’. They then quoted with approval various human rights activists saying ‘clearly by what’s happened they’re not bad guys, they are entirely innocent.’
“He was not paid compensation by my Government. The compensation was agreed in 2010 by the Conservative Government.
“When his release was announced in very measured terms in 2004, pointing out the risks which remained with Guantanamo detainees, the Conservative MPs reacted by strongly criticising not the release but why it had taken so long.”
Mail Online story from 2004:
Arthur Snell, the former head of the government’s counter-terrorism Prevent programme, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning that the authorities had clearly “failed” in the case.
Blair said it was “was always a very difficult situation where any Government would have to balance proper concern for civil liberties with desire to protect our security”.
“We were likely to be attacked whatever course we took. The reason it did take a long time for their release was precisely the anxiety over their true affiliations,” he said.
Blair added: “But those who demanded their release should not be allowed to get away with now telling us that it is a scandal that it happened.”
Harith had previously been known as Ronald Fiddler but changed his name.
Downing Street refused to comment on May’s role in the case, claiming it was “an intelligence issue”.
But the PM’s spokesman did say that the media had reported “as fact” that the man was Fiddler but “there is no independent confirmation of the identity of this man”.
When asked about the case and whether Jeremy Corbyn thinks the £1m compensation should have been paid, a senior Labour source said such issues should be decided “on their basic merits”.
“I think anyone who cares about basic democratic values, human rights and is opposed to torture and illegal detention without trial understands that the Guantanamo camp has been both ineffective – as has been shown - and a generator of terrorism.
“Over the past 16 years, the abuse of human rights, the illegal kidnapping of suspects, the illegal detention of people without trial or charge and the use of torture in the ‘war on terror’ has been a recruiter for terrorism.”
Labour Shadow Business Minister Barry Gardiner today said former Labour home secretary David Blunkett had been “absolutely wrong” in 2004 to say Harith was not a threat.
“It is really galling that someone like that was given that settlement and clearly there was a failure at that time of information coming back from Guantanamo,” he told the BBC.
Gardiner said Labour had got the “balance wrong in not making sure that when people came back they were properly monitored and kept in check”.