On Tuesday the European Court of Human Rights will decide if the extradition of six terrorist suspects from the UK to the US can proceed, or if it would breach their fundamental rights.
Among the five is Babar Ahmad, a London Muslim accused of running a website that incited violent jihad in places such as Chechnya and Afghanistan. This case troubles me very greatly. Mr Ahmad was arrested at his home in Tooting in December 2003 by anti-terrorist police, released without charge a few days later, then rearrested in August 2004 after a request for his extradition by the US on allegations relating to the website. He has been incarcerated without charge for eight years.
His case fell under the Extradition Act 2003, which had come into force on January 1, 2004. Under its terms, the United States, and other countries no longer had to support requests for extradition with evidence.
The judge, who ruled against Mr Ahmad, expressed no small concern that his hands were tied by the new law. He described the case as “difficult and troubling”, as the allegations could patently have been tried in Britain. Mr Ahmad lost all the way through the UK system before the European court intervened in 2007. His case has received much less coverage than some of the more high-profile cases — such as the NatWest Three, of which I was one, or that of Gary McKinnon — but his is perhaps the one that should trouble us most as a nation.
I hold no view on Mr Ahmad’s guilt or innocence. The charges are serious, as he admits. But what strikes me about his case is its similarity to the NatWest Three’s. He is a British citizen accused of crimes that, if committed at all, were committed in this country. The Blair Government brought in some of the most draconian anti-terrorist legislation in the world. So why should we consider putting him on a plane to Connecticut, where the US maintains that his website had some server-based connection?
There is something fundamentally wrong with outsourcing our criminal justice system, particularly in cases where the potential penalties are so high. This should worry every citizen of this country.
Supporters of this asymmetrical treaty claim it is vital in cross-border co-operation on international crime. There is little doubt that extradition has a very important role to play, but so do other forms of co-operation. It is worth considering what would happen if the boot were on the other foot. The Americans would say: “Hand over any evidence that you may have, and we will deal with the matter.” That too counts as international co-operation. The Americans look after their own probably better than any nation on Earth.
Implicit in the protracted battle over extradition, highlighted again this weekend by a hackers’ attack on the Home Office website, is that the US does not trust its supposedly closest ally to conduct prosecutions. Our politicians have done much in the past six years to encourage this by feebly failing to fix the law.
It is not too late for our Government to show some spine. Telling our closest partners that we will conduct more cases in the UK, and legislating to allow just that by introducing a forum bar into the Extradition Act, would do no more than bring us into line with the rest of the world. Indeed, David Cameron seems to have hinted at such an aspiration in his recent meeting with President Obama.
Mr Cameron and his party should back their words with deeds, as they promised to in opposition. What is important is that justice is done, and we could do a lot worse than start with the case of Mr Ahmad, which could become a stain on our reputation for fairness and the rule of law.
David Bermingham’s book A Price to Pay is published by Gibson Square. The author’s profits will be divided between Liberty and Fair Trials International
SOURCE: The Times