Monday, February 23, 2009 

More on Qatada.

Andy Worthington has probably the last word for now on Abu Qatada in an excellent post calling for the introduction of intercept evidence.

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Friday, February 20, 2009 

Scum-watch: Pathetic apoplexy over Qatada's compensation.

It was to be expected that regardless of the level of payout, the Sun was bound to be outraged by the paying of compensation to Abu Qatada and the other men detained illegally at Belmarsh. Quite why it or anyone else is so surprised that the ECHR awarded compensation is a mystery: a more flagrant breach of both the right to liberty and a fair trial is difficult to imagine, regardless of the threat the men are said to pose. These norms and values are however ones which the Sun and some politicians have no intention of respecting when they are so apparently inimical to common sense.

The Sun's opening paragraph could hardly be more partisan:

A BARMY decision to award terror suspect Abu Qatada and eight others £75,000 for a “breach” of their human rights sparked outrage yesterday.

Barmy and most certainly not a "breach" then. You have to wonder how the Sun would respond to a British citizen abroad being detained without charge for over three years, or indeed to a British citizen not accused of links with terrorism being detained here for over three years without charge. One suspects that their attitude might well be entirely different. That Qatada is a "terror suspect" is irrelevant: he has the same rights as everyone else, and to suggest otherwise is part of where we've gone wrong in attempting to fight the terror threat. Those accused of links with terrorism are fundamentally criminals, and need to be declared as such, with normal criminal prosecution taken against them. That this is itself is controversial is partially why compensation has now rightly been paid out.

Naturally, comparisons with the victims of the 7/7 attacks are brought in:

Survivors of the 7/7 attacks on London in 2005 last night compared the handout to their own battle for compensation.

Jackie Putnam, 58, from Huntingdon, Cambs, suffered memory loss and trauma.

She said: “It seems the rules are there to protect the bad guys and the good ones get pushed aside. The suspects have won justice but there has been little or none of it for the victims of 7/7.”

Victim’s dad Mr Foulkes, of Oldham, Greater Manchester, added: “I despair when I hear of a decision like this, then I get angry because it rubs salt in the wounds.”

None of those given compensation have any link whatsoever to 7/7 to begin with, unless you can somehow make a case that they were inspired by Qatada, something I haven't seen made before. Equally, Putnam might well be referring to justice in the sense of bringing those other than bombers themselves involved to book, but if she's referring purely to compensation then there is no real comparison. Back in 2007 the government had already paid out over £3 million to the victims of the attacks, while another £12 million from a dedicated charitable relief fund had also been distributed, sums which put the total of £75,000 and £2,500 to Qatada into stark relief.

For some unfathomable reason, David Cameron also has to stick his nose in. His contribution would be hilarious if it wasn't both so dire and craven:

Unbelievably, taxpayers are going to have to pay him and other terrorist suspects thousands in compensation for detaining them.

It could have been more, but I resent every penny.

Taxpayers can directly blame Cameron for having to pay him compensation: while he was absent or abstained from the vote on the legalisation which introduced indefinite detention without charge, he subsequently voted in 2004 for the renewal of it. Also, why is it unbelievable? Does Cameron not think that detaining anyone without charge indefinitely is beyond the pale?

You have to shake your head at his sheer shamelessness.

He comes to Britain illegally — we let him stay. In the aftermath of 9/11 we detain him fearing he was planning something.

We say he can leave detention if he leaves the country. He doesn’t.

He drags us through appeals at our own courts and the European Court and we have to pay him for the pleasure.

It's about time we challenged this nonsense about him coming here illegally - by definition the vast majority of those who come here and subsequently seek asylum enter the country illegally, mainly because they have no legal way of doing so. His entry was on a false passport, and if we want to be really picky about it, it was a Conservative government which let him stay. He wasn't detained because we feared he was planning something - he was detained simply because of his links to terrorism. Likewise, why on earth would he leave detention when he's a Palestinian by nationality and so cannot return there, and also quite understandably doesn't want to return to Jordan where he faces potential mistreatment and an unfair trial. Nowhere else will take him, hence he's stuck here. He drags us through all his layers of appeal, as is his right.

This case was not even about whether he might be tortured if returned home — just that he might not get a fair trial by our standards.

Why should it be our responsibility and what should we do about it?

Actually it was about whether he might be tortured - just that the judges rejected that part of his argument, while the appeal court accepted he would not face a fair trial, a decision now overturned by the Lords. Does Qatada not deserve a fair trial "by our standards"?

First, we should have stronger border controls. A Conservative government will set up a dedicated Border Police force.

If dangerous people slip through, we should bring them to justice.

And will this border force stop those with false passports getting in and then claiming asylum? Of course not.

A Conservative government will tear up the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights, so we can deal with human rights issues more sensibly.

It makes a mockery of human rights if we can’t protect ourselves against people who are out to destroy them for everyone else.

Will the Conservatives also then be withdrawing from the Council of Europe, and thus leaving the ECHR altogether? All the HRA does is institute the ECHR in British law; all tearing it up will do is mean those seeking justice will have to wait far longer before they receive it. We also have "protected ourselves" from Qatada, as the Lords judgement showed. The people who make a real mockery of human rights are those that deny they are both universal and that want to make it more difficult for the average person to seek recompense, which is exactly what the Conservatives' position will do.

On then to the Scum's incredibly poorly argued leader:

YESTERDAY was a humiliation for Britain.

We have been ordered by Europe to pay thousands to terror suspects such as Abu Qatada simply because we locked them up to keep our streets safe.

Note that throughout the Sun claims we've been ordered to do this by "Europe". The ECHR does not represent Europe: it is simply a European institution, one which we had a major hand in creating. The Sun's constant conflation of the EU with the ECHR is both misleading and almost certainly deliberate, designed to cause further apoplexy at unaccountable institutions when it simply isn't the case. It also wasn't a "humiliation": the real humiliation was that we were the only nation in Europe post 9/11 which felt that the threat to us was so serious that we had to abandon our own long-held values and liberties, while all the others got on perfectly as they had been, despite similar threats to them also. The idea that we locked up Qatada and the others to keep our streets safe is also ludicrous: if we'd really wanted to do that we would have prosecuted them, not detained them illegally and afterwards even allowed Qatada out on bail.

Worse, this disgraceful ruling means our money could well end up funding weapons to attack our own Forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Qatada and eight other extremists must be paid £75,000 between them in compensation and costs, rules Europe’s crackpot Human Rights Court.

Who is to say the money won’t be recycled into the back pockets of al-Qaeda?

Considering that four of those given compensation have already been deported, that Qatada is in prison and that the others are still on control orders, the chances of any of the money going on weapons to attack forces or to al-Qaida is incredibly slim to non-existent. Even if some did, I hate to break it to the Sun but £2,500 doesn't buy a lot of weaponry; it might barely cover a couple of decent guns. That al-Qaida and other terrorist groups have other rather more dependable sources of cash then those locked up over here is something of a understatement. The costs of course won't go to the men, but rather to their lawyers.

This is the lowest moment since Labour’s catastrophic decision to enforce European human rights laws in Britain.

We have to go cap in hand to a monster like Abu Qatada with a cheque from the very British taxpayers he wants murdered.

The lowest moment since the last lowest moment, obviously. The only thing catastrophic about the HRA to the Sun is that it potentially affects its business model, as we have noted in the past. If we didn't want to have to pay Qatada compensation, we shouldn't have acted illegally; it's pretty damn simple.

Europe’s human rights laws have made this country a laughing stock. We could be funding terrorists to buy guns to shoot our own soldiers.

Is that the third time in a very short article that the Sun's made the same argument? Hasn't that barrel been scraped enough? Do I really need to say again that "Europe's" human rights laws are as much our creation as anyone else's?

We can’t endure the shame of this any longer. We have to change the law.

Britain’s safety must come before pandering to Europe.

So, as previously stated, we're going to both abolish the HRA and withdraw from the ECHR, yes? The idea that we're pandering in any way to Europe is ludicrous: we're simply operating as every other democracy in Europe does, including the authoritarian likes of Russia, which is also signed up to the ECHR. The idea that we would withdraw from it while Russia stayed would make us the real laughing stock, a country which abandons its principles to fight a pathetic threat that has been ridiculously exaggerated. The Sun, as ever, only has its own real interest at heart.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009 

Even "terrorist suspects" deserved more.

It must have come as a great disappointment to the Daily Mail hacks that despite their predictions that Abu Qatada and the others illegally detained without charge at Belmarsh from 2002 to 2005 were about to receive hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation from the European Court of Human Rights that the actual amount turned out to be a rather less outrageous £2,500, rising to over £3,000 for those detained longest. Even this miserly amount was condemned by the Conservatives as "horrifying", when the only thing horrifying about it was that it wasn't far far higher.

In that, the ECHR seems to have decided to be cautious. In its ruling it even accepted the frankly bogus assertion from the government, used to justify the detention without charge for foreign "terrorist suspects" who supposedly couldn't be tried, that there was a "public emergency threatening the life of the nation". This country has only ever faced a public emergency threatening the life of the nation once, from 1939 up until 1944, when the possibility of the Nazis launching an invasion had drastically rescinded. The very notion that somehow the likes of Abu Qatada and the other detainees posed a threat similar to then was insulting in the extreme.

We really ought to set out in detail what the detention without charge or trial amounted to. It meant that someone (as long as they were a foreign national, or in Qatada's case, stripped of their asylum status so they could be designated as one) could be accused of being involved in terrorism, where either the evidence was inadmissable or too flimsy to be brought before a court, and on that basis locked up indefinitely in one our flagship highest security prisons. You were not allowed to know what the evidence was against you, in order to challenge it; your case was instead dealt with by a special advocate appointed by the court. In short, you could only really challenge your detention as a whole by arguing that there was no real threat to the life of the nation, and that therefore the derogation from article 5 of the ECHR was unlawful. This was what the law lords ruled in December 2004. The entire Kafkaesque situation had a devastating effect on the detainees' mental health, as could have been predicted; almost all of them were prescribed anti-depressants, another attempted suicide and Abu Rideh, one of the few to be named and also awarded compensation today, repeatedly harmed himself. He was last known to be seriously ill from a hunger strike in protest at his continuing restriction of liberty under a control order. A stateless Palestinian confined to a wheelchair, the idea that he posed a threat to anyone was always laughable. Yet he too along with the others was only given a small lump sum as the ECHR ruled that their treatment did not amount to inhuman or degrading treatment.

Alan Travis points out the staggering difference between payouts, mentioning that the ECHR had previously awarded £5,500 to a British man who had been unlawfully detained for only 6 days. Some of those held were kept in custody for over 3 years before being released onto the only slightly less onerous control orders. In some cases this amounts to just over £2 compensation for each day spent illegally in custody. Put it this way: if this had happened to British citizens, and not those accused of involvement in terrorism, regardless of the fact that none have ever had to face the accusations in an actual trial, they would have been looking at compensation in the tens, if not hundreds of thousands, as Qatada had initially demanded. The ECHR seems to have decided not to inflame the tabloids further than they already have been; politically wise perhaps, but cowardly in its own way.

Less cowardly was another part of the ruling, which has finally struck a blow directly against the process of the Special Immigration Appeals Committees, where those before them are routinely denied access to the evidence held against them, making it almost impossible for them to be able to adequately challenge it. The ECHR ruled that in some of the cases, although not in all, that this was constituted another breach of article 5. It's unclear what this means for the continuation of SIAC: the ECHR accepted that where more extended information had been provided to those detained without charge, that there had not been breach of the right to a fair trial. This most likely means that the government, rather than being forced to scrap what amounts to little more than a kangaroo court, albeit an independent one, will simply have to hand over slightly more information than it otherwise would have done. A partial victory it might be, but a welcome one nonetheless.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008 

From Stalinesque to Kafkaesque.

While opposition politicians talk of "Stalinesque" arrests and newspapers suddenly decide we're living in a police state, not helped admittedly by a Home Secretary with an apparent tin ear and a police force that wouldn't know subtlety if it shot it 7 times in the head, a genuinely Kafkaesque farce has been continuing concerning someone not as obviously deserving of protection as Damian Green.

Abu Qatada has then been sent back to jail, not for breaching his bail conditions, and not because there was any actual evidence that he was going to breach them, but because secret evidence which Qatada and his lawyers could neither see nor challenge suggested that due to a change in circumstances the chance that he might attempt to abscond had increased.

To suggest that the decision is baffling is to put it mildly. None of the evidence which the Home Office presented in open court in front of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission came close to convincing the commission that Qatada was either about to abscond or that he had breached his bail conditions. Indeed, despite presenting such diverse "evidence" as the fact that Qatada had recorded his children a message on the importance of Eid, had mp3 players, memory cards, video tapes and computer discs in his possession, and that a senior member of al-Qaida had recorded an audio-tape addressing a sheikh on the state of the jihad in Afghanistan, which also called if possible for the sheikh to come and inspire the mujahideen on the front line, the Home Secretary herself, or those acting for her, accepted that Qatada had not breached his bail conditions.

Qatada then finds himself back in prison due to evidence which he has not been informed of, cannot challenge and which in any event only increased the risk that he might attempt to abscond. If nothing else, it's an indictment of the police and security services that despite the imposition of some of the most severe bail restrictions of recent times, with Qatada tagged and only allowed to leave his house for 2 hours a day at set times, doubtless followed during that time and with his house and calls bugged, they still couldn't guarantee that they would be able to track him down were he to attempt to escape or someone to attempt to help him.

Interestingly enough, especially considering the on-going outcry over the arrest of Green, the taking back into custody of Qatada was punctuated by leaks to the Sun, presumably from the Home Office, first of Qatada's renewed detention and then the allegation that Omar Bakri Muhammad was, rather less credibly, "masterminding the plot" to get Qatada out of the UK and to Lebanon, where Muhammad has lived since his presence here was ruled to be not conducive to the public good. As the "evidence" involving Bakri was not given in open court, it either made up part of the case heard in secret, or was just the complete and utter nonsense which the paper often prints about Bakri. While we're hardly likely to become aware whether it was used in the secret sessions, if it was that's a potentially far more serious breach of security than anything that Green is currently alleged to have done.

Qatada finds himself then in utter limbo. Unable to return to Jordan where his trial was tainted by torture, facing the possibility of two further appeals against that decision, both to the Lords and the ECHR, regardless of which way the verdict goes, although it's very unlikely that either will rule against the precedent set first by Chahal vs the UK, which established that those at risk of torture in their home state could not be deported, and recently reaffirmed by Saadi vs Italy, in which the UK intervened, he finds himself back in prison despite never being charged with any offence in this country. The government continues to claim that he poses a "significant threat to national security", yet he has no way of proving the opposite, with his appeal for Norman Kember to be released from the clutches of his abductors in Iraq, hardly the actions of a true takfiri, completely discarded. In the event that he finds a third country willing to take him, it seems unlikely that the government would actually let him leave. He seems destined to spend a few more years yet in a maximum security prison cell, at taxpayers' expense, when if the government could be bothered to attempt to build a criminal case against him, or heaven forfend, make intercept evidence admissible to increase the possibilities of doing just that, the whole mess of attempting to deport him could be brought to a close. The reality is that whilst we are not a police state, for some of those who reside in this country our government is determined to make it as much like one as possible. While everyone screams for justice for Green however, those trapped inside the control order system, not to mention Qatada, continue to suffer.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008 

The plot thickens over Qatada.

No surprises whatsoever to learn that the leak to the Sun that Abu Qatada was allegedly plotting to flee to Lebanon or the Middle East appears to have emerged directly from the Home Office:

Today, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission was told reports in the News International newspaper on Monday, claiming Qatada planned to flee to the Lebanon, appeared to be based on a briefing from "within government".

Andrew O'Connor, for the Home Office, told the commission the alleged briefing was "unauthorised" and of "great concern" to home secretary Jacqui Smith.

"If, as it appears, much of the report in Monday's edition of the Sun was based on a briefing from within the government that briefing was unauthorised. That report is of real concern and inquiries are being made," O'Connor said.

It doesn't mention that the briefing appears to have extended beyond just the allegation that Qatada was intending to flee, with yesterday's paper claiming that Omar Bakri Muhammad was directly involved in the supposed "plot" to get him out of Britain.

If Bakri's involvement is part of the evidence being used by the government to revoke Qatada's bail, then it is not part of that which was presented in open court. If it makes part of the secret evidence which is yet to be put before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, then surely that makes the leak of it to the Sun even more serious. On the other hand, it might have been obtained by the Sun of its own volition: their obsession with Bakri Muhammad despite his exile in Lebanon is cheap and frequently nasty, especially when the paper demands that Muslims condemn his opinions as if he was a mainstream Islamic voice or somehow speaking for them.

Regardless of the leak, the evidence put openly against Qatada to justify the revoking of his bail was incredibly weak, with the main claim that a senior al-Qaida leader, Abu Yayha Al Libi, posted a personal message to Qatada on an "extremist website" the most curious. This appears to be a reference to an 8-minute audiotape released by the al-Fajr media group to the jihadist forums back in July, translation with subtitles on Liveleak, just a day after the first images of Qatada going to the shops during his time allowed out of his house were published. CBS News in their analysis of the tape suggested that it could have been a message to Ayman al-Zawahiri or bin Laden himself, but to make it public over the forums seems a strange thing to do, as would they suggestion that they could visit the battlefield to raise the morale amongst the mujahideen, which could potentially be suicidal. Messages between the leaders of al-Qaida have been intercepted in the past, and there's no reason to believe that even with the potential for them to leak that they would start openly issuing messages to each other across the jihadist forums. It's possible then that it was a message meant to be sent to Qatada, although the tape is vague enough to be anywhere near certain, and if so also suggests that his standing within the highest reaches of al-Qaida is undiminished despite the allegations that he served as a double agent prior to his arrest.

Even if we accept that as fact, and that's jumping to conclusions, there's no evidence to suggest that the message had reached Qatada. He is after all banned from using both mobile phones and the internet, and the government is not suggesting that he has breached those rules, or at least not in open court. Whilst the Daily Mail has alleged he was in contact with a "known terrorist" (Yasser Al-Sirri, who although convicted in absentia in Egypt was cleared on another charge by a court in this country, and was involved in attempts to free Ken Bigley before his execution by the forerunner to al-Qaida in Iraq) who was not on the list of those banned from seeing him, it's difficult to believe with all the security surrounding Qatada, with all his visits having to be approved, that the photographs of them both together are anything especially sinister. Qatada's counsel argued that he had known nothing of the message until it was raised yesterday, and the judge, along with the other accusation made in the open against him, that he had breached the terms of his bail by recording a video of him preaching, with his counsel arguing that all it amounted to was a private talk to his children on the importance of Eid, agreed that neither claim was enough to have his bail revoked. The "secret" evidence against him has yet to be heard. One would imagine that it will have to be far more serious and damning than the above for SIAC to agree to the revoking of his bail.

Equally doubtful is that the government will allow him to leave for a third-country, as his solicitor and sympathisers are apparently looking into. Palestine will not be considered an acceptable destination for obvious reasons, and the chances of any country voluntarily offering him sanctuary, especially when the US government can find no takers for Chinese detainees held at Guantanamo Bay and found not guilty of any offence, are slight to say the least. None of this alters the fact that Qatada's continuing effective detention without charge, with few putting much stock in the House of Lords overturning the decision by the appeal court that he cannot be deported back to Jordan to face trial because the evidence against him was obtained via torture, is wholly unacceptable. As said yesterday, the government needs to make a choice: either build a prosecution case against him and face admitting that he was something of an asset to the security services, as Hamza and Bakri both were to certain extents, or introduce intercept evidence which could help in the bringing of that case. Deportation back to Jordan ought to have been the absolute last resort, not the first.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008 

Man disguised as bird nest attempts escape, news at 11...

It's hard to take seriously the idea that Abu Qatada was somewhere even close to slipping his onerous bail conditions and fleeing to the Middle East, possibly Lebanon. Under his 22-hour a day curfew, he must have been one of the most watched individuals in the country, with doubtless if not MI5 sitting outside his door watching his every move, some similar poor sod from what was Special Branch or the Met doing exactly the same. He wasn't like the individuals on control orders who successfully fled, who were apparently so poorly monitored that it's tempting to suggest that they weren't considered that much of a threat; he is now, with Hamza in Belmarsh and likely to be deported to the United States to serve out the rest of his days in one of their living hell prison facilities, the most well-known and supposedly dangerous Islamic extremist in the country. Losing him would have been unthinkable.

Similarly unthinkable is the supposed idea that Omar Bakri Muhammad was the "mastermind" behind the endeavour. It's interesting of course that both Qatada's re-arrest and now Bakri's role have been leaked to the Sun, the paper which has done the most to exaggerate and overplay the terrorist threat whilst supporting measures such as 90-days detention without charge, around the only newspaper that did so. Views differ massively on Bakri: some agree with his own claim that he's a harmless clown, a loudmouth with only a tiny and dwindling band of supporters, not helped by the revelations in of course, the Sun, that his daughter is a poll dancer with plastic tits paid for by Bakri himself, while others believe that his sects and cells, if successfully closed down, would destroy the majority of the threat overnight. As with most opposing views, the reality is probably somewhere down the middle. Bakri is the almost cuddly jihadist who can be relied upon to make a fool of himself whilst the attention given to him furthers the impression that many Muslims hold similar views, but his groups and followers have in some cases moved on from words into deeds.

The Sun claims that Bakri, in an audio recording you would have to suspect was intercepted by the security services or at least passed on to them, said:

"There are two ways to help (Qatada). One is maybe try to help him against the kuffar (non-believer) to remove all these restrictions. Or by smuggling him outside the country if you can find a way.”

“Try to help him financially or socially – whatever way you can.”

It wouldn't be surprising if this was as far as the supposed plot to get Qatada out of the country might have went. After all, Qatada's release on bail, even on such restrictive conditions, was a huge embarrassment to the government. We still don't have any idea just why Qatada can't be prosecuted when there is such a copious amount of material available on him that could be used against him; additionally, like with Hamza and Bakri, we also just don't know how far security service involvement with him personally went. Allegations have been openly made that Qatada was a double agent, hence perhaps why we have been so determined to deport him and be rid of rather than chance the possibility of such evidence coming out in our rather more transparent justice system than Jordan's equivalent.

In reality, Qatada's sending back to prison solves absolutely nothing except removing the embarrassment of more photographs appearing in the tabloids of Qatada merrily going out to the shop to buy kitchen roll and Diet Coke. It keeps him out of the public eye, but the chances of the House of Lords overturning the Court of Appeal's ruling that he can't be sent to Jordan to stand trial because the evidence against him is tainted by torture are minuscule at best, as they should be. He can't be kept locked indefinitely forever, however much that would be what both the government and the security services would like; either they need to come clean over his role prior to the breaking down of the unwritten covenant where he and other extremist preachers were allowed free reign as long as Britain itself was not a target, or they need to introduce intercept evidence which would help in the bringing of a prosecution. However vile a person is, or how reprehensible their views are, keeping them either in prison without charge or under a control order without charge indefinitely is just as offensive as the possibility of his escape. A decision one way or the other has got to be made.

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