When the attacks on 9/11 occurred, it is fair to say that they changed everything. Ideologies, beliefs and practices were questioned and scrutinised more than ever before in light of this new era. The story has been related countless times; how the West stood defiantly against those who attacked freedom and democracy and, particularly, how the UK’s special friendship with the USA was tried and tested. In George Bush’s memoirs, the reader begins to understand the amicable relationship struck between Blair and Bush, as Bush recounts that Blair’s sense of humour is one of his best traits, and relates that despite the tough decisions, Blair’s position as an ally did not “waver”.
This amicable relationship formed by the two leaders paved the way to further tarnish the human rights records of both countries. From Guantanamo Bay to Bagram Airfield to the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs) in the UK, hand in hand, the UK and USA used a number of measures to ensure that terrorism networks, whose aims were to disrupt and destroy Western economies and societies, would cease to exist. But what’s more, in an effort to demonstrate the loyal friendship between the UK and US, the Extradition Act was amended in the UK to give the US unprecedented access to British citizens who have allegedly committed offences against the US. This reformed Act allowed the US to request the extradition of UK citizens without the need to present evidence prior to the extradition request and, in April 2012, it was revealed that since the extradition reforms, there has not been a single extradition request for US citizens by the UK.
Under these reformed laws, one of the first people to be extradited to the US was David Bermingham along with two of his colleagues, who together formed ‘The NatWest Three’ for charges relating to bank fraud. They were later released and returned to the UK, where Bermingham served the rest of his sentence prior to his release in August 2010. Since then, a number of extradition requests have been made by the US for various reasons. For instance, earlier this year, Christopher Tappin was extradited to the US for allegedly selling batteries to Iran for use in their missile programme. In an attempt to uncover just how unfair this extradition treaty was, Tappin retorted that he had fewer rights than Abu Qatada, who according to Tappin, was allowed to roam the streets of London freely.
For several months now, the cases of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, who have been detained for a combined total of more than 14 years, have generated a considerable amount of attention. Both men from South London have been detained as part of the War on Terror; Babar being the longest detained British citizen to be held without trial, while Talha, a SOAS graduate and poet has Asperger’s syndrome. The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) declared on 10 April 2012 that the extraditions of Talha and Babar, as well as Gary McKinnon and Richard O’Dwyer, will go ahead. It has almost been three months since their initial ruling and it goes without saying that time is running out. Tenth July is the last day for the detainees to submit their appeals to the ECHR and, within weeks, both Talha and Babar could potentially be within the confines of a cell, without human interaction, for 23 hours a day. For 23 hours a day, these men will be alone with only their thoughts, and slowly but surely, they will deteriorate.
The conditions of these prisons have been well documented and, in February 2012, CagePrisoners received a letter from Ahmed Ajaj who was convicted in relation to the 1993 World Trade bombings, where he described in detail what life is like in a Communication Management Unit (CMU). CMUs were created in the aftermath of 9/11 to prevent terrorists from communicating with one another, and a large percentage of the detainees in CMUs are either Muslim or those with unfavourable political ideologies, such as environmental activists. Some of the preventative measures in CMUs include a 15-minute call every day (in English unless requested otherwise), closely monitored mail and no-contact visitations which are limited to two hours twice a month. Despite these non-contact visits, each detainee is strip searched, which has been described as ‘dehumanising and degrading’. This is a reality for many and Ajaj’s letter is only a snapshot of life in a CMU which, in a matter of weeks, could also become a reality for Babar and Talha.
There is little debate when it comes to the US’s hegemony. With over 500 overseas military bases and contractual aid agreements with a number of countries, US influence and global presence is far greater than any other nation state. These extraditions are just a further indication that American imperialism is as prevalent now as ever before. For those who have attended the film screenings or public meetings on the extraditions, we are constantly reminded of the UK’s subservience to the US, and as David Bermingham aptly put it, “these extraditions demonstrate the UK’s obedience to the US”. The public is growing angry, frustrated and worried as these laws could extend to anyone. Hamja Ahsan, Talha’s brother, often reminds people that his brother would actively campaign for those who were arbitrarily detained, such as Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantanamo Bay and, ironically, Babar Ahmad as well.
The most urgent action many organisations are urging the public to take is to write to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, who is responsible for deciding on public prosecutions in the UK. These men are British citizens who have never been to the US and yet are being denied the right to be tried in a British court. The case of Regina v Sheppard and Whittle, established that a person should be tried within the jurisdiction in which the alleged activity took place. Many countries follow this rule by example, such as Ireland – which refuses to extradite its citizens to a foreign country if they can be tried in an Irish court – and France. This Act, which was amended during the momentum of 9/11, needs to be reformed – and calling for Babar and Talha to be tried in the UK is one of the first steps.
In recent months, it has come to the attention of Babar’s lawyers that the Crown Persecution Service had never actually seen evidence seized from Babar’s home while, previously, they repeatedly claimed there was not enough evidence to try Babar in the UK. Why, therefore, are Talha and Babar being held? What evidence does the US have to suggest that these men were actually involved in terrorism offences against the US? Gareth Peirce, who represents both men, reminds us that during their arrests, others in Guantanamo and Bagram were being systematically tortured and abused for information, and it could be possible that Babar and Talha were arrested based on evidence gained from torture.
On the 4 July, the US celebrated Independence Day, remembering that, in 1776, the US declared freedom from Great Britain. Over 200 years has passed since then and the roles have reversed. The UK is considered to be the 51st state of America, a reputation which these extraditions, if they go ahead, will only solidify.