The Daily Mail has hit back at Tony Blair, calling him “monstrous” for saying the paper was guilty of “utter hypocrisy” in its attack of him over the case of a British man who became a suicide bomber for Islamic State.
The former PM took the rare step of responding to a story about himself, after the Mail attacked him for the release of Jamal al-Harith from Guantanamo Bay in 2004 and £1 million compensation he later received.
The suicide bomber, born Ronald Fiddler, blew himself up in Mosul, Iraq, earlier this week.
Blair said the Mail was wrong to say his Government paid out the compensation, which was actually awarded under the Coalition Government, when Theresa May was home secretary.
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.”
In response, the Mail said MailOnline, its online separately-edited operation, ran “a misleading headline” that Blair was responsible for the compensation, which has been removed and MailOnline has apologised for.
But it said it was “utterly wrong to accuse the Daily Mail newspaper of inaccuracy”.
In a 300-word statement, a spokesman for Mail newspapers said: “To accuse the Daily Mail newspaper of hypocrisy in this case is monstrous. The Mail has been utterly consistent in its condemnation of Guantanamo Bay, arguing that extraordinary rendition, torture, and locking up people and holding them for years on end without trial was morally wrong.
“All of this happened under Tony Blair’s regime – as did the release of Ronald Fiddler, with the then Home Secretary’s assurance that the detainee’s return would not ‘be a threat to the security of the British people’.
“At the same time, we have always made clear that those detained may have been very bad men – but that did not mean they were not entitled to justice and a fair trial.”
It continued: “When Fiddler returned to Britain our editorial – raising the spectre that he may be a hardened terrorist – declared: ‘This paper holds no torch for terrorists or their sympathisers. If a legitimate case can be proven against any of these men, they deserve everything they get.’ That remains wholeheartedly our position.
“The decision to pay Fiddler £1million was, as was accurately reported in this morning’s Daily Mail newspaper, made in 2010 by the Coalition Government – to avoid an embarrassing court battle which would have revealed the Blair Government’s complicity in rendition and torture.
“The fact remains that the actions which led to this payment were all the responsibility of Tony Blair.”
The suicide bomber’s case has led to questions in Westminster. It also led to farcical scenes in the daily Downing Street press briefing, where the prime minister’s spokesman refused to comment on the case 13 times.