TCS Daily

Holidays in Hell

By Scott Norvell - March 22, 2004 12:00 AM

The Gitmo circus rolled into London last week on a Royal Air Force C-17, and the sideshow is proving anything but boring.

Five Britons caught in Afghanistan during the war and held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay for two years were welcomed to the U.K. by an army of TV cameras, 72-point headlines, salivating publicists and socialist lawyers hell-bent on exposing Camp Delta as a concentration camp in the tropics.

The former detainees, questioned and immediately released by the U.K. government, dived into the fray with gusto.

First out of the gate was Jamal al-Harith, a website designer from Manchester who was known as Ronald Fiddler until he converted to Islam in his 20s. He says he was vacationing in Pakistan after 9/11 when he accidentally crossed the border and got caught up in the madness. (A truck driver offered to take him to Turkey overland, but globetrotter al-Harith was apparently unaware that 1,500 miles of Islamic fundamentalism lay between him and his intended destination.)

London's Daily Mirror touted the WORLD EXCLUSIVE. "Torture in Hell Camp," the headlines screeched. Mysterious injections! Flesh-Carving Metal Shackles! Wire Cages! Rats, Snakes and Scorpions! An "Extreme Reaction Brigade" goose-steps around camp, wading into inmates "in full riot gear, raining blows on them." The food was bad. Cold showers even!

Al-Harith said American hookers were brought to the camp to fondle themselves in front of impressionable young Muslim boys who had never seen an unveiled woman. They were said to be so traumatized they couldn't speak for days.

The Mirror swallowed all this without even a hint of scepticism. And why shouldn't they? These were innocent British citizens held prisoner by the evil warmonger in clear violation of their human rights. Besides, the interview was said to have cost them more than $100,000, and boring stories
about stale corn flakes and sunburn don't sell papers.

Al-Harith is now negotiating a book deal, but his four compatriots are holding out for the really big bucks. They quickly realized that the more lurid their tales, the more money they stand to make.

Terek Dergoul, a 24-year-old who was captured by U.S. forces in the mountains of Tora Bora, teased the tabloids with promises of "explosive" stories about "botched medical experiments." Bidding opened at $350,000. His handlers and publicists were so hungry they started to gnaw on each other. Celebrity publicist Max Clifford, an O.J. veteran hired by Dergoul's family, was bad-mouthing Louise Christian, a Socialist lawyer who also claimed to be representing him, and vice-versa.

Then there is the so-called "Tipton Three," who flew to Pakistan right after 9/11 for a wedding and were captured while on a "humanitarian mission" to deliver food and water to war-torn villages on the Afghan border. The trio, all of them in their 20s and two of them with criminal records, has hired a "media manager" for story rights said to be worth nearly $2 million.

The for-profit stories told by the British detainees differed dramatically from what was coming out thousands of miles away in Afghanistan.

While there were some complaints about physical and emotional abuse, a good number of the 23 Afghan detainees freed at the same time said conditions in Cuba were better than at home in their village. Smiling and waving at photographers, one of them said he harbored no ill-will toward the "good people" of America and that he lacked for nothing during his Cuban sojourn.

A teenager returned home a few weeks earlier and interviewed by The Guardian was practically gushing. "I am lucky I went there," he said. "Now I miss it. Cuba was great." Snorkeling! Spanish Lessons! Volleyball! None of these stories circulated beyond the broadsheet press.

After a few days of dithering and diplomatic denials, the U.S. Embassy in London pulled off the gloves and exposed the British detainees getting all the ink for what they are -- wanna-be jihadis. One of the four was a "weapons-carrying fighter at Tora Bora" who was wounded in a firefight with U.S. troops. The other three, the embassy said in a letter to the Sun, were fighting with a Taliban unit near Konduz when they were captured.

None of that seems to matter to the British press. There was a bit of hand-wringing about how the U.K. government could have so quickly released such hardened warriors -- but from the same folks screaming for Justice Now! only days before.

The embassy's charges were dutifully reported, but with the same weight as the lurid tales of torture in the tropics. Few of the outlets deigned to mention that these young men stand to benefit enormously for their fantastic stories.

Why should they? The barkers of Fleet Street have paid good money for stories to validate their anti-war, anti-American politics. Truth be damned.

Scott Norvell is London Bureau Chief for Fox News. He recently wrote for TCS about "Andalusian Dogs of War."


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