Did UK Guantanamo payouts go to Isil? Government under pressure to prove some of £20m compensation did not fund terrorism
Jamal al-Harith received up to £1 million of UK taxpayers’ money.
by Robert Mendick, Chief Reporter Christopher Hope, Chief Political Correspondent
Telegraph, 22 February 2017 • 10:05pm
The Government is under pressure to prove that none of the £20 million paid to British terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay ended up in the hands of Isil.
The row was ignited following the death of Jamal al-Harith, who received up to £1 million of UK taxpayers’ money before travelling to Iraq where he blew himself up in a suicide bomb attack.
Terror experts and senior politicians expressed their concern that money paid to al-Harith in compensation for two years spent in Guantanamo Bay without charge had been used to fund Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
British Guantanamo detainees: top row from left: Binyam Mohammed al Habashi, Jamil el-Banna, Omar Deghayes, Abdenour Sameur, Bisher Al Rawi, Feroz Abbasi 2nd row: Moazzam Begg, Richard Belmar, Martin Mubanga, Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Ruhal Ahmed 3rd row: Tarek Dergoul, Mohammed Al Ahmed Rachidi. Jamal Udeen, Shaker Aamer, Ahmed Belbacha
It has emerged that four of the 17 British detainees thought to have been given compensation have been accused of links to Islamist groups or individuals in Syria.
One of the men went on a trip with “Jihadi John”, the hostage killer, to Portugal less than a year after the compensation deal was granted, while another has seen three of his nephews fight in Syria.
Downing Street declined 17 times to answer questions over the payment to al-Harith, 50, a Muslim convert born Ronald Fiddler, on the grounds that it was “an intelligence matter”.
But Theresa May, the Prime Minister, was dragged into the scandal over what she knew about the deal when she was home secretary and in overall charge of MI5, the domestic security service.
Writing in Thursday’s Daily Telegraph, Lord Carlile QC, the former terror law watchdog, said: “I hope that what he [al-Harith] did with the money was the subject of careful monitoring, something on which we are entitled to some reassurance from the authorities.”
Lord Carlile, who said the payment should never have been made, added: “I am concerned about the monitoring of money received by people who have been identified as terrorists. I would hope that the money was followed with care to avoid large sums being paid over to terrorist groups.”
Mrs May was also facing questions over how al-Harith was able to evade border controls to travel to Syria in 2014. It is not clear if he was on a terror watchlist when he left for Syria via Turkey in order to join Isil.
Tony Blair, who negotiated al-Harith’s release from Guantanamo, waded into the furore by blaming the Coalition government, which included Mrs May, for striking the deal.
“He was not paid compensation by my government. The compensation was agreed in 2010 by the Conservative government,” said Mr Blair.
A former police and security chief urged the authorities to explain what checks were put in place on how the compensation paid to al-Harith, and the other former detainees, was spent. None of the British detainees were ever charged with terror offences.
Chris Phillips, a former senior police officer who headed up the government’s National Counter Terrorism Security Office, a police unit that worked within the security services, said: “I am almost certain the money given to al-Harith has been frittered into the coffers of Islamic State. The British taxpayer has effectively funded terrorism.”
Tim Loughton, a senior Conservative MP on the home affairs select committee, said: “We may be funding weapons that are being used against us – is there any prospect of claiming £1 million back from his estate?”
Al-Harith, whose family denied he had received £1 million Credit: EPA
Al-Harith’s family issued a statement insisting his payment was nothing like as large as the reported figure of £1 million.
They said he had shared the sum with three other detainees. A law firm acting for the family said in a statement: “The Jamal they knew up until 2001 when he was taken to Guantanamo Bay would not have become involved with a despicable organisation such as so-called Islamic State. He was a peaceful and gentle person.
“Whatever he may or may not have done since then they believe from their own experience he was utterly changed by the physical and mental cruelty and the inhuman treatment he endured for two years at Guantanamo.”
Guantánamo Bay Timeline
10 June 1898
Guantánamo first used by the Americans
Troops arrive in Cuba during the Spanish-America war
23 February 1903
Deal signed to lease the land
Americans sign deal for 4559 miles of land in the bay for around $4000 a year
11 September 2001
al-Qaeda terror attacks
2,996 people killed in four coordinated terrorist attacks across America
11 January 2002
The first detainees arrive at Guantánamo
Prison population reaches peak of 684
9 October 2003
Red Cross official criticizes the facility
Christopher Girod criticizes the indefinite nature of the prisoners detainment, raising questions about the state of their mental health
6 January 2005
Investigation into prisoner abuse allegations
The Pentagon starts an internal investigation. In June it reports 10 cases of misconduct
16 February 2006
UN calls for Camp Delta to be closed
UN human rights investigatiors call for the closure of the interrogation centre at Guantánamo saying prisoner treatment amounts to torture
22 January 2009
Obama issues order for Guantánamo to be shut down
25 April 2011
Guantánamo Bay files leak
Files detail the capture of each prisoner and reveal 150 are innocent Afghans and Pakistanis
16 May 2013
102 out of 166 prisoners go on hunger strike
31 May 2014
US-Taliban Prisoner exchange
US transfers Guantánamo detainees in exchange for army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl
9 December 2014
Senate report concludes CIA use of torture was ‘brutal and ineffective’
The committee found at least 39 detainees were subjected to ‘cold-water dousing’ including Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who experienced excessive water-boarding
10 November 2015
Senate passes bill that blocks transfer of detainees to the US
15 August 2016
15 prisoners sent to UAE in largest single transfer under Obama
19 January 2017
Obama downsizes Guantánamo to 41 detainees
On the eve of leaving the White House, President Obama transfers four Guantanamo detainees to the Persian Gulf – leaving 41 captives in the facility as his presidential term ends.