If you're a British soldier fighting against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, you can earn as little as £17,000 a year. If you train with the enemy and accuse the British state of torture without having to prove it, then you can become an overnight millionaire. This was precisely what happened last week when the government came to financial agreements with former detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
Douglas Murray and I have written a piece for today's Wall Street Journal which lays out exactly what some of those the government paid out big to last week have openly admitted to (under no suggestion of duress). These men were not paragons of virtue that sections of the press would have you believe. For example:
- Moazzam Begg told the U.S. Combatant Status Review Board that he visited a camp on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in 1993 that was 'responsible for training Kashmiri refugees in small arms and mountain tactics,' and that he attended a training camp in Afghanistan in 1998. He also admits fighting in Bosnia.
- The Tipton Three said they went to a Taliban training camp 'on many occasions to find out what was happening.' Their explanation for why this ended up with them firing AK-47s, was that 'you want to hold it. You want to see what it's like.'
- Binyam Mohamed, openly admitted to his legal representative at Guantanamo Bay that he left for Afghanistan in 2001 to receive 'paramilitary training', including in arms handling and explosives. Part of his training was from a senior al Qaida operative. Mohamed said that he intended to go on and fight in Chechnya.
- Richard Belmar also accepted that he travelled to Afghanistan to attend a military training camp in July 2001 to receive basic weapons, war tactics, and navigation training. Despite seeing Osama bin Laden there, Belmar claims it was not until near the end of his training that he realized he was at a terrorist camp. He says he thought it was 'just a military training camp for Muslims'.
Both Mohamed and Belmar acknowledge they were training at al-Qaeda's al Farouq camp, where at least seven of the 9/11 hijackers trained, along with John Walker Lindh (the U.S. citizen convicted in 2002 for joining the Taliban). In the U.S., attendance at the al Farouq camp was enough for a federal court to sentence six Yemeni Americans to prison. In Britain, it is enough to ensure a huge taxpayer funded cash bonanza.
The government said they had no choice but to pay the money. Yet their reasoning was unconvincing. There is some merit to the argument that MI5 and MI6 were not going to relish having to reveal secret intelligence if the case made it to court. But what is to stop the same thing happening in the future? If the state was willing to pay out this time, when it said it as not at fault, I am not sure what will stop further accusations of British complicity in torture now it's clear what a lucrative move it is.
The argument that the payments were necessary in order to 'clear the decks' for their inquiry into British intelligence agencies colluding in torture was nonsense. The Conservatives were the ones that set up the inquiry in the first place. It is simply a matter of priorities.
The fact that it was cheaper to settle out of court than fight the case was also rolled out as an excuse. While I think most of us would agree it's time that state spending was cut, this was a case where we should have spent some money and fought our corner. Of course it's easier to crumple in front of Islamist lawfare than to push back against it. But we don't elect leaders to do with is easy. We elect them to do what is right. And no matter the morality of Guantanamo Bay, training with the Taliban and then receiving huge financial reward for it is clearly not right.