Last Monday, the long struggle of five alleged “terror suspects” against their extradition to the US — under the much-criticised US-UK Extradition Treaty of 2003 — was struck an apparently fatal blow when the European Court of Human Rights refused to hear an appeal they had submitted after the Court first approved their extradition in April. The five men are Babar Ahmad, Syed Talha Ahsan, Mustafa Kamel Mustafa (better known as Abu Hamza al-Masri), Khaled al-Fawwaz and Adel Abdel Bary.
The decision is a blow to human rights defenders, who rightly believe that conditions in US Supermax prisons, where the men would end up, constitute torture, and that they have no chance of receiving a fair trial, as almost all trials involving Muslims accused of terrorism, or providing support to terrorism, end in convictions. It also ignores criticism of the treaty by British MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee, who, in March, criticised the Home Office for “failing to publish the evidence” that lay behind a review of the treaty, undertaken by Sir Scott Baker for the home secretary Teresa May, which, as the Independent put it, found that “it was balanced and there was no basis to see it as ‘unfair or oppressive.'” In contrast, the committee said it had “‘serious misgivings’ about some aspects of the US-UK arrangements and recommended the Government renegotiate the treaty.”
In response to the ruling, two of the men, Abu Hamza and Khaled al-Fawwaz, have launched immediate legal challenges, and in the cases of two others, Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, a businessman, Karl Watkin, has launched a private prosecution to try to prevent their extradition, arguing that they should be tried in the UK because their alleged crime — hosting a pro-jihad website — took place in Britain. The US government argues that it has the right to try the two men, because one of the servers was located in the US.
Refusing to “outsource the country’s criminal justice system to the US,” Karl Watkin said, “I do not need a court in Europe to tell me that an extradition could take place. I say it shouldn’t take place — based on the evidence I’ve seen. The principle is simple — if you are British, and alleged to have done something criminal in this country, then you get prosecuted in this country.” He added, “Their case has next to nothing to do with America. So I await the DPP’s decision on my prosecution as a matter of urgency. Until then Ahmad and Ahsan should stay where they are.”
If you can, please support Mr. Watkin’s private prosecution, by writing urgently to Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, and also to your MPs. Full details of what to do are on the Free Babar Ahmad website.
Below, I’m also posting “Extradition,” the excellent 26-minute documentary about Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad, which I watched back in July, and afterwards spoke about, at a screening in London, which provides a compelling explanation of why the extradition treaty should be scrapped, and why Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad should not be sent to America. Ironically, Talha Ahsan, an Asberger’s sufferer and a poet with such sweeping, multi-cultural points of reference that he could not possibly be associated with terrorism, won a poetry prize just before it was announced that he had lost his appeal.
On September 19, the Free Talha Ahsan website announced that he had won the Platinum Award for his poem “Grieving” at the Koestler Awards 2012, the annual nationwide prisoner arts award, and the prize-winners’ work is currently being exhibited at the Southbank Centre in London. He also won a Bronze award for his poetry collection of the same title. Speaking about the award, his brother Hamja, an arts curator by profession, who has tirelessly been promoting Talha’s case, seeking to overturn the extradition treaty and obtain a fair UK trial for his brother, said, “Talha’s poetry touches and impresses many people in all the cities I have travelled to, from Cardiff to Glasgow to Birmingham, reducing people to tears. His comic poems have made whole crowds of people laugh out loud. He may be extradited to face years of pre-trial solitary confinement in the USA which all evidence shows cause irreversible mental damage. His beautiful creative mind will be gone.”
For further information, I’m cross-posting below a perceptive article about the European court’s ruling, written by my friend Richard Haley of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC), which has campaigned for many years against the US-UK extradition treaty introduced in 2003 by Tony Blair.
Monday’s decision by the European Court of Human Rights not to allow the appeal of Babar Ahmad and others against their extradition to be heard by its Grand Chamber is a stunning setback for international human rights law. The five appellants — all suspected of “terrorism” offences — are virtually certain to be convicted if extradited to the US, since US courts don’t acquit people charged with terrorism. They are then virtually certain to spend years in solitary confinement, in violation of every principle of humanity and decency.
The Strasbourg court’s bizarre decision is the outcome of immense and completely improper pressure brought to bear by the British government. It has been clearly understood by everyone for most of the last year that if the court failed to deliver the verdict required by the British government, the government would do its utmost to use the court’s ongoing reform process to break its power. The court will now survive to all appearances unscathed, but with its credibility badly undermined. Today’s decision means that, at least in extradition cases, the hitherto eccentric US interpretation of human rights law will displace European values in Strasbourg case-law.
There is now an urgent need for the British Parliament to re-assert our own values by enacting domestic legislation to prohibit long-term prisoner isolation, and prohibit the transfer of prisoners to countries where they would be at risk of such treatment. International human rights experts have been calling for some time for such a move, and it should now be delayed no longer. Long-term solitary confinement is cruel and inhuman and should be recognised as a violation of Article 5 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights ["No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."]
Amongst the people now threatened with imminent extradition is Adel Abdul Bary, an Egyptian lawyer and human rights defender who came to Britain as a refugee and is now wanted by the US to face terrorism charges founded on worryingly thin evidence. Another of the unsuccessful appellants is the radical scholar and preacher Abu Hamza. The charges against him could as easily be heard in Britain as in the US. It appears to SACC that he is facing extradition simply because the British and US authorities are dissatisfied with the sentences set out by Parliament and handed down by a British court when Abu Hamza was convicted of a variety of offences in 2006.
Two of the appellants, Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, are facing extradtion to the US to be tried for offences allegedly committed in Britain on the basis of evidence gathered in Britain by the Metropolitan Police. The Strasbourg decision doesn’t change the fact that a British court is the proper place for this evidence to be heard.
The Crown Prosecution Service has so far declined to bring charges. However, British businessman Karl Watkin has recently commenced his own private prosecution of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, a move which Babar Ahmad’s family say they support. The CPS is now in possession of all the material which forms the basis of the US indictment. This material was not at first available to the CPS, having apparently been sent straight to the US by the Metropolitan Police. In these circumstances any attempt to extradite Ahmad and Ahsan would be an outrage against justice and an affront to the British public, who are entitled to see the facts of the case set out before a British court.
There is even more at stake than the hellish injustice threatening these men.
Richard Haley, Chair of SACC, said:
It looks as if the investigation of Babar Ahmad was run from the beginning by the US Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. It looks as the Metropolitan Police were simply acting as the FBI’s errand boys in Britain. It looks as if MI5, who are known to have planted a bug in Ahmad’s home, were also working on behalf of the US authorities. And it looks as if prosecution in Britain was never seriously on the agenda. All this was happening just a couple of years after Tony Blair’s government had given the go-ahead to the US to render British citizens kidnapped in Pakistan and Afghanistan to Guantánamo Bay.
It looks as if anti-terrorism law-enforcement in Britain, as well as overseas, was being surrendered to the US. Was all this just a private arrangement between the Met, MI5 and the FBI, or did government ministers know about it? We need answers to these questions. But first, we need to see the evidence against Ahmad and Ahsan tested in a British court.
POSTSCRIPT 7.30 pm: It was confirmed this afternoon that Babar Ahmad has filed a legal challenge with the High Court, as has Adel Abdel Bary, and it is expected that Talha Ahsan will also file a legal challenge. The four — or five — cases will all be heard tomorrow, Tuesday October 2.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, Beverley Martin wrote:
Great article, Andy.
Carol Anne Grayson wrote:
Well done Andy… very strong article…
Julien Arbor wrote:
Thank you, my friends. My thanks in turn to the tireless campaigners for Talha Ahsan, Babar Ahmad and others – those campaigning for Gary McKinnon and Richard O’Dwyer, for example, even though they don’t face imminent extradition like Talha, Babar and the other three men. So much time devoted to challenging governments who behave like immovable mountains of injustice, while we, like the wind, try to wear them down.
The decision is not final and all the campaigners know why. Because no court decision is ever final. This is established by the court change, that derives from this same European Court calling a factually impossible decision final in 1999. It is described here: http://censoredscottishreferendum.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/court-change.html
Fascinating, Maurice. Thanks for that.
Very impressed by all the effort on this campaign but it does seem like the DPP is playing to the same tune and refusing to authorise the private prosecution.
Not too surprising. Dents my faith in the UK system though. Much like anywhere else.
Thanks, Marcus. Yes, dented faith is the norm, sadly, but the only worthwhile response is to keep pushing those with power and responsibility to do the right thing.
Thank you for your guidance Andy…I will get writing.
You are welcome, Omar. Thanks.
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