Time Magazine is featuring a story this week which will likely frustrate and infuriate most of you reading this. It deals with the tale of one Jamal al-Harith, who spent a couple of years detained in the United States facilities at Guantánamo Bay. He was eventually released under a deal cut by the Obama administration and returned to England because he was technically a citizen of Great Britain. Upon being freed, Mr. al-Harith became something of a celebrity in liberal circles, receiving quite a bit of sympathy from the British public and their government, as well as a generous payday. That story took a sadly predictable turn this year when he died on the battlefield in Iraq after returning there to continue fighting for ISIS.
Jamal al-Harith, who died in a suicide bomb attack on Iraqi-led coalition forces on Monday, was one of around 16 former Guantánamo Bay detainees paid around $12.4 million by the U.K. government in 2010 after being released from the military prison.
Since the news of the Muslim convert’s death, there has been outrage in Britain over reports that he was awarded around $1.2 million before returning to jihadism, a claim that has been denied by his family. Hadith and other British detainees sued the government over complicity in their alleged ill treatment while in U.S. custody.
The $12.4 million out-of-court settlement was likely offered for fear national security secrets would be disclosed in a court case. “The issue was the legal disclosure rules, where if somebody brings a civil action for damages then they are entitled to disclosure of material, some of which may be national security material,” Lord Carlile, the former independent reviewer of terror legislation, told the BBC on Tuesday.
If you are following the story you probably heard some of the horrible tales being told. Does anyone recall this magazine cover from a couple of years ago?
It seems to me that even as we continue the ongoing debate over domestic issues at the dawn of a new presidential administration, the story of Jamal al-Harith should serve as a constant reminder of the foreign policy challenges which remain to be tackled. Anytime there has been an incident of mistaken identity when pursuing terrorists, collateral damage casualties or any of the other unpleasantness which can result during the fog of war, the media engages in an immediate dog pile to affix blame. That was the case with this guy.
How many times must we be lectured about the amount of sympathy required or the utter lack of the milk of human kindness when criticism of our pursuit of the war on terror comes under discussion? Admittedly, this was just one terrorist. But he was also a very successful one. Because we screwed up, he had the chance to go back to the battlefield and give it another shot. He succeeded, along with two other terrorists, in pulling off a suicide bombing attack against coalition forces in Iraq.
I truly do wish this was a perfect world where mistakes never happen and I would love to be able to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. But when it comes to fighting the intractable forces of Islamic terrorism we unfortunately must sometimes err on the side of caution. I realize that such a statement immediately opens one up to snarky accusations of being willing to “break a few eggs when making an omelette” but so be it. This guy never should have been released from Gitmo, but he was and now we have paid the price for it. The millions of dollars he received from the British government only added insult to injury.
Exit question: are we ever going to learn?