The UK government has decided to award seven former Guantanamo detainees millions of dollars in an out-of-court settlement, according to multiple press accounts. Why? The ex-Gitmo detainees claim that British authorities knew they were being tortured during their detention by the U.S. and other countries. And the Brits reportedly do not want their intelligence officials to become embroiled in costly and time-consuming litigation.
When the proposed settlement was first announced earlier this year, UK prime minister David Cameron explained his government’s rationale. “Our [intelligence] services are paralysed by paperwork as they try to defend themselves in lengthy court cases with uncertain rules,” Cameron said. “We cannot have their work impeded by these allegations.”
Cameron’s reasoning makes sense from a certain point of view. But he is still wrong.
The struggle against the West’s jihadist foes is as much an information war as it is a military conflict. The contest for hearts and minds, both in the Muslim world and in the West, is a significant part of the war. Britain’s capitulation to the former Gitmo detainees might be evidence that the West is losing this battle.
To defeat the UK government, all the former Gitmo detainees and their lawyers had to do was claim they were tortured and then bury government officials in paperwork. It didn’t even matter that their claims have been repeatedly investigated and disproved. I’ve written about this previously, so I will not recount all of the facts again. (See, for example, here and here.)
However, consider two striking examples.
One of the former Gitmo detainees who is profiting from his phony torture claims is Moazzam Begg. The U.S. government has investigated Begg’s claims four times – that’s right, four times. The DoD investigated his story three times. The Department of Justice’s Inspector General also investigated Begg’s claims as part of its comprehensive review of the FBI’s involvement in detainee operations around the world.
What did they find? There is no evidence to substantiate any of Begg’s allegations. Moreover, Begg willingly signed an eight-page confession that detailed his Taliban and al Qaeda ties. (I reproduced the relevant excerpts from the inspector general’s report here.)
Begg stands to receive a large payout from the UK government nonetheless.
Binyam Mohamed is another one of the seven detainees who will reportedly be getting paid. Mohamed claims that his private parts were repeatedly sliced with a razor over an 18-month period while he was detained in Morocco. If this is true, then it certainly amounts to torture and it should be condemned in no uncertain terms.
The problem is, there is no evidence that it is true, and the U.S. government’s medical records do not substantiate Mohamed’s story. Mohamed is represented by lawyers working for Reprieve, a radical British outfit that spreads anti-Gitmo, anti-American myths. Reprieve has repeatedly pushed Mohamed’s razor-torture story, forcing the U.S. to respond. You can read part of the U.S. response in a PDF document published on Reprieve’s website. Here, according to Reprieve, is what U.S. officials found:
There is no evidence to support counsel’s claim that Mr. Mohamed’s genitalia were brutalized. Nothing abnormal about his genitalia is noted in any of his medical records. He received complete medical intake evaluations after he arrived in DoD control and upon arrival at Guantanamo. The doctors did not identify any scarring on his genitalia. He has never complained to doctors about his genitalia…
Reprieve’s response is laughable. The organization did not dispute the U.S. government’s claim that there is no scarring on Mohamed’s genitalia. Instead, Reprieve argued:
Mr. Mohamed explained in his original allegations three years ago that he was cut with a razor – and any person who shaves will understand that this is a torturer’s weapon of choice because cuts heal relatively quickly, and leave little obvious evidence in the long term (else every shaver would have the face of Frankenstein).
To compare shaving one’s beard to 18 months of genital mutilation is absurd on its face. A nick on the face is one thing. Deliberate cuts on one’s most sensitive parts over the span of a year and a half are quite another. But that is what Reprieve argued. The reason is straightforward. When Binyam Mohamed arrived at Guantanamo after being held at other detention facilities (including in Morocco), there was no physical evidence to back up his outrageous claim. His story, when compared to the actual evidence, falls apart. In fact, the only publicly available evidence suggests that Binyam was subjected to treatment that was far less severe, such as sleep deprivation, while he was detained abroad.
Binyam Mohamed stands to receive a big payday regardless.
And on it goes. The UK government has decided that it is not worth fighting these false claims. That is the wrong decision and to see why we only need to look at the warnings of another British prime minister, Tony Blair.
In his autobiography (A Journey: My Political Life), Blair warned that the West has failed to combat the jihadists’ “narrative.” That is, the West is not fighting the information war, which requires the UK and U.S. to dispute the jihadists’ propaganda. The jihadists portray the West as being at war with Muslims in general. As part of this supposed religiously bigoted war, the jihadists claim that America routinely abuses and tortures innocent Muslims. In the jihadists’ anti-American, anti-British propaganda, Binyam Mohamed (who plotted with senior al Qaeda terrorists to strike the American Homeland in 2002), and Moazzam Begg (who is an avowed jihadist and admitted to the FBI that he conspired with the Taliban and al Qaeda in a variety of ways) become victims.
Now the British government has added additional grist for the jihadists’ propaganda mill. David Cameron and other senior UK officials may not want to fight a lengthy and costly lawsuit. But they have, in many respects, taken a far more costly route. They have allowed jihadists to frame the narrative through which this war is viewed.
They are not alone in this regard. The U.S. has failed, too. But at least the American government has not rewarded the jihadists for spreading their propaganda.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.