|13 April 2012|
The Guardian welcomed the decision of the European Court of Human Rights to extradite Babar Ahmad and others to the probability of years of solitary confinement in the US. Here's the responses taht the Guardian printed on its letters page on 13 April.
Abu Hamza, Christopher Tappin, Gary McKinnon, Ian Norris, Wojciech Chodan, Jeffrey Tesler, Richard O'Dwyer, Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan are all victims of the same problem: the US-UK extradition treaty (Abu Hamza can be extradited, rules court of human rights, 11 April). British citizens accused of a crime allegedly committed on British soil should be tried in Britain. Instead, British authorities (the DPP) never saw any evidence in order to decide whether to prosecute at all, while some spurious connection to US servers suffices to send , Britons to the US (as is the case with O'Dwyer and Ahmad). That's US universal jurisdiction by the back door. Most free email or cheap domain providers are based in the US. Tomorrow it could be you who unknowingly might commit an offence in the US for an act that is lawful in the UK, as was the case with Norris.
This is how far British sovereignty has been eroded. We are all unknowingly subject to a foreign law. Worse, Ahmad and Ahsan have now been in jail for eight years without charge and have thus served a criminal sentence. Had they been found guilty by a British court they would now be free. Instead of being tried, Ahsan has become mentally ill in detention without evidence, and Ahmad will most likely end up in 23-hours-a-day solitary confinement in the US - considered tantamount to torture by the UN special rapporteur on human rights. The extradition treaty must be torn apart and Britons tried in the UK.
The recent comments of Alex Carlile, the former head of the terror laws watchdog, on the case of my son, Babar Ahmad, suggest that he falls to understand some basic principles of law. He says our family's belief in Babar's innocence is "unsurprising" and based on "loyalty". Not only is this patronising, it fails to address a more fundamental reason for our belief - the presumption of innocence. Babar has never been convicted of the allegations against him despite being detained without trial for almost eight years.
Carlile claims Babar should be extradited because, although the crime was allegedly committed in London over the internet, it was, according to him, committed in the US. As a senior lawyer, Carlile ought to be aware of Regina v Shep-pard & Whittle (2010), involving the possession, publication and internet distribution of racially inflammatory material hosted on a remote server in the US. In that case, Lord Justice Scott Baker ruled that the UK was the appropriate forum for trial because a "substantial measure of the activities" constituting the crime took place in the UK.
Joshua Rozenberg writes of the European court of human rights, "nor will they permit torture or solitary confinement" (European court makes the right call on Abu Hamza, 10 April). Unfortunately, he is mistaken. In Tuesday's judgment allowing the extradition of Abu Hamza and four other men to the US, the Strasbourg judges noted that the court "has never specified a period of time beyond which solitary confinement will attain the minimum level of severity required for article 3". They said "complete sensory isolation", coupled with total social isolation "would be unjustifiable", but avoided ruling out other forms of solitary confinement.
This view appears to be at odds with the views of many human rights experts, including the UN special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, who called last year for a ban on long-term solitary confinement. The Strasbourg decision is disappointing and will have far-reaching consequences. It is to be hoped that the five men will request a referral to the grand chamber of the court.
I am disgusted that a liberal newspaper should apparently welcome the decision of the European court on Abu Hamza and others. A state such as the US, which can even conceive of building "a clean version of hell", as the supermax prison has been described, is barbarous. That this country welcomes the possibility that human beings maybe placed in solitary confinement for the rest of their lives in a prison straight out of Nineteen Eighty-Four brings shame on us.
How unfortunate Theresa May should choose this moment to announce her plan to put human rights challenges to deportation on the grounds of family and private'life out of the reach of foreign nationals (Theresa May pledges to end family rights bar on deportation, 8 April). This comes just as the European court of human rights judgment on the extradition of five men accused of terror offences to the US is handed down.
The intended effect is surely to blur the distinction between extradition and deportation; between untried suspects and those who have served a sentence; and between terror-related offences and the wide range of criminal offences (including very low-level offences) for which long-term UK residents are now facing deportation.
Foreign nationals are an easy target, even when they have lived in the UK most of their lives and have British children. Bail for Immigration Detainees has worked on cases where single parents, who have not committed very serious offences, have been removed from the UK without their children. We have also dealt with cases where such inhuman action has been prevented by legal challenges. The changes May proposes would prevent families from making such challenges. She has sought to trivialise human rights claims made by foreign nationals, but the effects on children in these cases will be catastrophic.
It is deplorable that these measures should be announced in the wake of the passage of the legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders bill, which removes deportation and general immigration matters from the scope of legal aid from April 2013.