On July 10, 2012, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights will decide the fate of five Muslim men facing extradition to the US.
It is the final stage of their legal battle and comes following a unanimous decision of the European Court last April that extraditing the men to the US would not breach their human rights. If the Grand Chamber upholds the decision, the five are likely to spend the rest of their lives in solitary confinement in a Supermax prison that has been roundly condemned, not least by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture who described its conditions as amounting to torture.
The five men include Saudi dissident Khalid al-Fawwaz and Egyptian lawyer Adel Abdul-Bary, who are accused of involvement in the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Both have been imprisoned without trial for over 12 years each, a shocking indictment of the suspension of due process and the rule of law in Britain, especially considering that both men were previously arrested and investigated by the British authorities for the same offences but released without charge.
Also among the five is Abu Hamza al-Misri, a disabled British imam of Egyptian origin, who has already served a lengthy prison sentence after being convicted of inciting hatred. Abu Hamza should have been released from prison over four and a half years ago but his incarceration has continued due to an extradition request from Washington for his alleged involvement, from Britain, in setting up a training camp in the US in 1999. The last two men are Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, both British Muslims, born, raised and educated in Britain, and accused of running a series of websites from the UK in support of insurgents in Chechnya and Afghanistan during the 1990s. Ahmad and Ahsan have been in prison without trial for 8 years and 6 years respectively, with Ahmad having the dubious distinction of being the longest British prisoner to be held on remand in modern British history.
The ongoing incarceration of all five men without trial is all the more hypocritical when viewed through the prism of the rousing reception given by the government last month to Burmese pro-democracy activist Aung Sun Suu Kyi whose 15 years of house arrest in her own country was routinely condemned by successive British governments.
The campaigns to highlight the injustice of the US-UK extradition treaty whereby any individual, British or otherwise, can be arrested, detained and extradited to the US without the need to show evidence, and even where the alleged crime took place in the UK, has been rapidly gaining momentum over the past 12 months. With the extradition of retired British businessman Christopher Tappin to the US earlier this year for allegedly selling batteries to Iran in an FBI sting operation, and the ongoing attempts to extradite computer hacker Gary McKinnon and student Richard O’Dwyer, the general public have awoken from their slumber and realised the far reaching implications of this oppressive agreement. O’Dwyer is accused of running a website from the UK that directed surfers to other sites from which they could download music, an activity that is not illegal in the UK. He faces up to five years in prison if extradited.
Last November, an estimated 149,000 people signed an official government e-petition calling for Ahmad to be put on trial in Britain. On the eve of the first of two parliamentary debates triggered by the petition, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) admitted for the first time since Ahmad’s arrest in December 2003 that they had never seen all the evidence seized from his home before the police sent it to the US. With an increasing number of politicians now calling for a public inquiry into the matter, pressure began to mount on the Director of Public Prosecutions to put Ahmad and Ahsan on trial in Britain. As their lawyers continued to pressure the CPS for further details of what evidence they had actually seen, it transpired that the police had only passed two pieces of paper to them while the bulk of the material seized from Ahmad’s home was sent to the US without the CPS ever having seen it. Recently it has emerged that the officer who authorised these decisions was himself under investigation at the time for the brutal assault committed on Ahmad during the raid of his home.
The plot thickened even further in April this year during the US trial of Adis Medunjanin, accused of a plot to blow up the US subway. The Supergrass (informer or agent provocateur) in that case was Saajid Badat, a British citizen who had been sentenced to 13 years in prison after being convicted of plotting to blow up an airline in 2005. Badat agreed to testify in exchange for a reduction in his sentence by two years. Badat had been arrested one month before the raid on Ahmad’s home and has now admitted that he had been assisting the authorities in a number of cases for several years. Badat said in his evidence that although Ahmad had radicalised him at the time of the Bosnian conflict in the 1990s, he did not want to testify against him but was told by the authorities that he had no choice in the matter. Interestingly, Badat refused to travel to the US to give evidence testifying instead by video link from the UK, fearing that he himself could still be prosecuted for his previous activities.
In recent months two parliamentary committees have investigated the extradition arrangements between the US and Britain and called for the Treaty to be amended to be more balanced and grant greater protection to British citizens and put Ahmad on trial in the UK. A similar motion was unanimously passed in the British parliament. The government has yet to respond to these findings. Perhaps it is waiting for these Muslim terror suspects to be extradited before it implements these recommendations.
In the meantime, the truth about how Britain treats its own citizens continues to spread both nationally and internationally. The mother of Gary McKinnon wrote an open letter to Aung San Suu Kyi regarding her son’s extradition when she visited the UK. The case of Talha Ahsan has attracted the support of artists, poets, writers and thinkers with the academic Noam Chomsky being just the latest to lend his support. Chomsky went further to state that no one suspected of terrorism should be extradited to the US because of “the sharp deterioration of protection of elementary civil rights” in that country. On June 20, a meeting took place in Parliament attended by MPs from all parties as well as lawyers, journalists, academics and families of the men facing extradition. A powerful documentary of the cases is currently being screened in cities around the country with venues packed out. It is soon to be aired on satellite television. On June 23, hundreds demonstrated outside Downing Street demanding the men be tried in Britain with the parents of the men handing in separate letters to the Prime Minister. Earlier in the month, John Carlos, the Olympic medallist who gained pariah status for his black salute on the podium in Mexico in 1968 was also visiting Britain and was shocked by how Ahmad had been treated, drawing parallels with the situation of African Americans in the US in the 1960s.
On July 10, Europe will decide whether these men should be extradited to the US. The British government can pre-empt all this and reclaim the integrity of the oldest criminal justice system in the modern world by simply putting them on trial in a British court. The assumption may be that if Ahmad and others were extradited, then the episode would end and the full truth of the matter will remain concealed. The reality is that if the men are extradited, campaigners will be more determined than ever to expose the injustice that has taken place.