Tony Blair has accused the Daily Mail of hypocrisy over its coverage of the death of British suicide bomber Jamal al-Harith.
The paper has countered that his claim is “monstrous”, untrue and based on a misleading headline (now corrected) on sister website Mail Online.
The former Prime Minister was responding to an article published by Mail Online headlined: “Still Think He Wasn’t A Danger, Mr Blair? Fury at Labour government’s £1m compensation for innocent Brit.”
The story in question said: “Tony Blair is facing serious questions after an ‘innocent’ Guantanamo prisoner who pocketed £1m in compensation from the Labour government was allowed to flee the UK to blow himself up in Iraq.”
The article stated that Tony Blair’s Government lobbied for the man’s release from Guantanamo.
Blair today hit back with the following statement: “I would not normally respond to daily stories about events which happened during my time in office but on this occasion I will do so, given the utter hypocrisy with which this story is being covered.
“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.
“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.
“The fact is that this was always a very difficult situation where any Government would have to balance proper concern for civil liberties with desire to protect our security, and 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.
“Pressed again in 2004 on the remaining British detainees at Guantanamo I told the Liaison Committee: ‘The difficulty for us is this: we all know that we are faced with a significant terrorist threat.
“Let us be clear, all of these people…were picked up in circumstances where we believe, at the very least, there are issues that need to be resolved, let us say, in respect of those individuals.
“Certainly from what I have seen about those individual cases, I would need to be very, very clear that there was in place in this country a sufficient infrastructure and machinery to be able to protect our own security.’
“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.”
A spokesperson for the Daily Mail said: “It is utterly wrong to accuse the Daily Mail newspaper of inaccuracy over the Ronald Fiddler story. Indeed, we stand by our story.
“However, our sister organisation Mail Online, which is an independently edited website, did publish a misleading headline which said that Mr Blair’s government was responsible for the £1million payout to Fiddler.
“This ran briefly and has since been removed and corrected. MailOnline apologises for this mistake.
“However, 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.
“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.”