“The idea that people can be extradited to another country for a crime done in the UK is extraordinary” — thus began an event in London called ‘British justice for British Citizens’, held by families of four British men who are in prison in the UK and will, unless British politicians are quick to take action, be sent off to the US, under the US-UK extradition treaty. The treaty has received much criticism in Britain — the UK Commons Home Affairs Select Committee has said it is “easier to extradite a British citizen to the US than vice versa”.
All four men are British. Of these, two are Muslims. Of the two, one has Asperger’s syndrome, a kind of autism. He writes touching poems from jail — about scrubbing toilets while prison guards demand to know, “Where is your God now?” and about wanting to travel back in time and tripping his mother when she was pregnant with him so she would miscarry.
Accused of running a jihadist website based on undisclosed evidence, Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan have been in UK prisons for eight and six years respectively, fighting extradition. Evidence in their cases was believed to be insufficient to try them in the UK, according to the Crown Prosecution Service, making the former the longest serving prisoner to be held in Britain without charge.
The allegations against them are serious, and no one supporting their cause is arguing otherwise. Their only demand is that these men be tried and convicted in the UK, where they committed the crimes. This does not seem unreasonable and while all British citizens need to be concerned about this treaty, I am more worried about the two British Muslims.
Why? Maajid Nawaz, co-founder and chairman of counter-extremism think thank Quilliam and a former member of the Hizbut Tahrir, explained: “In the ashes of the war on terror, the extradition of Ahmed and Ahsan will be seized upon by Islamist extremists to further increase the void between Muslim communities and their government.”
Why isn’t the US paying attention to this? They are quick to strike us with drones, which reportedly kill more innocent people than militants, which some may say is a cure, but what about tackling and preventing terrorism in other arenas? What about giving these men their due rights by allowing them to be tried in the UK, rather than shipping them off to the US?
The men in question will most likely be locked up in ADX Florence, a ‘super-max’ prison in the US state of Colorado, subjected to ‘special administrative measures’ (SAMS) and tried for crimes committed nowhere near the US mainland. According to David Bermingham, a British banker who was extradited to the US in 2006, chances are that their families may never see them again because they, unlike him, don’t have the contacts and money to get out of this situation.
If the European Court of Human Rights could be convinced that the treatment these men will be given in the US constitutes torture, they could stop the extradition. Unfortunately, it has ruled that this is in fact not going to be the case.
There are many who believe that over the years there has been a constant watering down of fundamental rights in America and that extradition to the US is akin to extradition to Purgatory. Pakistani-American Syed Fahad Hashmi who is now serving a 15-year prison sentence under SAMS gets to see one parent every two weeks and is allowed to read only censored newspapers 30 days after publication. He, too, was held for almost three years without being charged prior to his trial. In principle, many MPs in the UK oppose the terms of the treaty that governs extradition to the US, yet reform is not about to take place any time soon because that would mean a high diplomatic cost for London.
We are all stakeholders in the war on terror and we need to ensure that terrorism is fought in a manner that helps defeat the terrorists. However, the measures used in fighting the war should not give people additional reason to hate the US. In Nawaz’s words: “Humane interventions can make a world of difference in de-radicalising people.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 1st, 2012.