Wednesday, February 18, 2009 

Abu Qutata?

The somewhat surprising decision by the House of Lords to overturn Abu Qatada's successful appeal against his deportation to Jordan is a faintly disturbing one. Qatada's appeal, although based on what he claims would be breaches of various articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, was only upheld on article 6, the right to a fair trial. The Special Immigration Appeals Committee, which hears evidence in secret and where the appellants are represented by special advocates, had already held that despite Jordan's undoubted deficiencies in its legal system, Qatada's deportation could only be thrown out if there was likely to be a "flagrant" breach of his right to a fair trial under article 6.

The law lords, in turn, have agreed with the initial decision and threw out the appeal court's ruling that SIAC had erred in not putting enough weight on the possibility that the evidence against Qatada was the result of torture. Lord Phillips, in the ruling, argues (paragraph 153):

I do not accept, however, the conclusion that he has derived from this, namely that it required a high degree of assurance that evidence obtained by torture would not be used in the proceedings in Jordan before it would be lawful to deport Mr Othman to face those proceedings. As Buxton LJ observed, the prohibition on receiving evidence obtained by torture is not primarily because such evidence is unreliable or because the reception of the evidence will make the trial unfair. Rather it is because “the state must stand firm against the conduct that has produced the evidence". That principle applies to the state in which an attempt is made to adduce such evidence. It does not require this state, the United Kingdom, to retain in this country to the detriment of national security a terrorist suspect unless it has a high degree of assurance that evidence obtained by torture will not be adduced against him in Jordan. What is relevant in this appeal is the degree of risk that Mr Othman will suffer a flagrant denial of justice if he is deported to Jordan. As my noble and learned friend Lord Hoffmann said in Montgomery v H M Advocate [2003] 1 AC 641, 649

“…an accused who is convicted on evidence obtained from him by torture has not had a fair trial. But the breach of article 6(1) lies not in the use of torture (which is, separately, a breach of article 3) but in the reception of the evidence by the court for the purposes of determining the charge".

The reason why this decision is so troubling is obvious: the Lords have not only ruled that they accept that the trial Qatada is likely to face in Jordan would not reach the standards we would demand under article 6, but also that it's additionally likely that the evidence against him is the product of torture, as he himself claims. This however does not still add up to what the Lords would consider to be a "flagrant" breach of article 6, which is the threshold at which deporting Qatada to Jordan would be unlawful.

Qatada is quite understandably taking his case to his last port of call, the European Court itself, where the ruling could quite possibly turn out to be another landmark, similar to Chalal vs United Kingdom. Nothing should as yet be ruled out, as the House of Lords ruling is in itself something of a surprise, and one which has been criticised by all the main human rights groups.

It has to be said that it is a horrifically difficult decision to have to make, one which Lord Hope authoratitavely comments on at the beginning of his own argument, something well worth quoting in full:

209. Most people in Britain, I suspect, would be astonished at the amount of care, time and trouble that has been devoted to the question whether it will be safe for the aliens to be returned to their own countries. In each case the Secretary of State has issued a certificate under section 33 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Immigration Act 2001 that the aliens’ removal from the United Kingdom would be conducive to the public good. The measured language of the statute scarcely matches the harm that they would wish to inflict upon our way of life, if they were at liberty to do so. Why hesitate, people may ask. Surely the sooner they are got rid of the better. On their own heads be it if their extremist views expose them to the risk of ill-treatment when they get home.

210. That however is not the way the rule of law works. The lesson of history is that depriving people of its protection because of their beliefs or behaviour, however obnoxious, leads to the disintegration of society. A democracy cannot survive in such an atmosphere, as events in Europe in the 1930s so powerfully demonstrated. It was to eradicate this evil that the European Convention on Human Rights, following the example of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10 December 1948, was prepared for the Governments of European countries to enter into. The most important word in this document appears in article 1, and it is repeated time and time again in the following articles. It is the word “everyone". The rights and fundamental freedoms that the Convention guarantees are not just for some people. They are for everyone. No one, however dangerous, however disgusting, however despicable, is excluded. Those who have no respect for the rule of law - even those who would seek to destroy it - are in the same position as everyone else.

211. The paradox that this system produces is that, from time to time, much time and effort has to be given to the protection of those who may seem to be the least deserving. Indeed it is just because their cases are so unattractive that the law must be especially vigilant to ensure that the standards to which everyone is entitled are adhered to. The rights that the aliens invoke in this case were designed to enshrine values that are essential components of any modern democratic society: the right not to be tortured or subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment, the right to liberty and the right to a fair trial. There is no room for discrimination here. Their protection must be given to everyone. It would be so easy, if it were otherwise, for minority groups of all kinds to be persecuted by the majority. We must not allow this to happen. Feelings of the kind that the aliens’ beliefs and conduct give rise to must be resisted for however long it takes to ensure that they have this protection.

That's around as detailed and sound an argument against the tabloid case for kicking them out immediately that could possibly be made. It's therefore a shame that Lords have effectively ruled that both unfair trials and evidence obtained by torture, as long as both occur outside the countries which have signed up to the ECHR and as long as the breach is not deemed to be "flagrant" are in some way acceptable. It's true that this is not their argument, which is as legally sound as it could possibly be, but that is in effect what they have decided. It comes, as we have seen, at a time when our own connivance with torture is being exposed as never before, when questions are being raised about how deeply involved we have been during the initial stage of the so-called war on terror with almost routine breaches of international law. It gives the impression, however undeserved, that our own values concerning such practices are becoming more jaded and diluted just when the opposite should be the case.

Fundamentally, the extended legal drama concerning Qatada should not have ever even began. If Qatada is as dangerous as the government claims he is, and if he is indeed guilty of inciting racial hatred and radicalising Muslims as he is accused of doing, the question remains why he cannot be tried here. Similarly, we still don't know just how involved Qatada was with our security services, when there are claims in the public domain that he was a double agent, albeit one it seems who is still reasonably well respected within takfirist jihadist circles. If the evidence against him cannot currently be considered outside of closed sessions, then intercept evidence needs to be introduced, although it needs to be in any event urgently. Both of these things should have been considered and potentially implemented before we resorted to simply getting rid of him, back to a country with a poor human rights record that by our own courts' admission would not reach our own standards regarding a fair trial. Instead we seem to be making compromises regarding torture that we need not be. That is an indictment of our politicians, rather than our courts of law.

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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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Thursday, July 10, 2008 

The best press in the world.





(apologies to Private Eye)

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Thursday, June 19, 2008 

Scum-watch: Did we get it wrong on 42 days? Oh look, here's Abu Qatada!

Imagine, if you will, that you've spent the best part of the last 3 years in the highest security prison without charge, awaiting deportation to a country that has routinely practised torture and where the trial in your absentia was almost certainly centred on evidence achieved under torture. Prior to that, you'd spent time on a control order, again without any charge actually being made against you. Your short time on a control order was the result of the law lords striking down your indefinite detention without charge, simply because you were a foreigner rather than a actual British citizen.

Now, after the latest legal challenge that won on the one remaining argument that the British state cannot be complicit in torture whether in a foreign state or not, you've been released on bail. This isn't the sort of bail where you can go and potentially kill someone else, as others recently have. This is 22-hour curfew bail, harsher than a control order, where your freedom amounts to your house and a very small surrounding area around that house, where you can spend those two hours after 10am and after 2pm, with a tag that sends your movements directly to the police who'll be monitoring 24 hours a day. Your points of contact with the outside world will be your telephone, which will naturally be bugged. Anyone else who wants to visit will have to be approved in advance, and don't expect that they will be. You can't visit your place of worship, and if you wanted to get into contact with any of three named gentlemen for some reason, then you specifically can't.

Anyone would think that this is a very funny short of freedom and that this is a very arbitrary form of justice. When you're alleged to be the right-hand man of Osama bin Laden in Europe however, and despite being given asylum, albeit after you arrived on a false passport, then it's perfectly OK, and in fact, complete madness to not deport him immediately straight back to where he came from.

Here's where if you're a tabloid journalist and happen to be completely losing an argument over a related matter that you can do: start a hysterical, typically emotional campaign, conflated with a completely unrelated issue to try and get over your embarrassment. Hence "Sarah dies while Qatada is freed." This is apparently an "insult to our dead", which is especially curious. Generally when you're dead you can't decide what is and what isn't an insult to you, although grasping, opportunistic journalists will attempt to do just that.

The staggering hypocrisy and and contradiction at the heart of the Sun's argument needs to be seen to be believed. According to the paper, those like Sarah are fighting (and dying, in a pointless, unwinnable war which is currently being sickeningly spun as going tremendously well because the Taliban are turning to "terror tactics") for our freedom and for the freedom of the Afghan people. The latter is debateable; the former is complete nonsense. The Sun's solution to this is what we've seen over the last few weeks: to actually remove the very freedoms which those we are meant to be fighting hate, while also conspiring and giving the OK to the sort of mistreatment which breeds resentment and radicalisation.

Qatada is of course the most extreme example of this. No one is going to defend what he believed and preached, or at least, what he believed and preached. I have contended on multiple occasions that there would be enough evidence, were the authorities so inclined, that a case based on his teachings could be brought against him under our criminal justice system, not Jordan's. The Sun's own "discovery" of footage showing him preaching alongside all the other most notable extremists increases the possibility that this could be achieved. Instead, it has to be questioned exactly why we're so determined to get rid of him rather than try him. The suspicion has to be that this is because Qatada, like both Hamza and Bakri Muhammad, had an association with the security services. Unlike Hamza and Muhammad however, where the meetings and cooperation were slight, allegations have been put directly into the public domain that Qatada was a double agent, or at the least much more closesly associated with them than the others.

It was partly these swirling rumours that led directly to his stock dropping hugely amongst those who had previously looked to him as a spiritual leader. While on the run during 2002, even the French security services speculated that MI5 was directly helping to hide him. That appears not to have been so, but what has also directly left Qatada bereft of any support or real sympathy amongst jihadists was his direct appeal for the release of Norman Kember, held in Iraq by those who executed one of his co-captures. When such takfirists that support the likes of the Islamic State of Iraq bend over backwards to try to defend the atrocities that were and are being committed in that benighted country, including the gruesome beheadings of foreign hostages, Qatada was instead calling for the release of a man they considered as a crusader and indistinguishable from the other foreign troops. This lead some to speculate that his stays in prison had mellowed him, and even potentially turned him against al-Qaida, and he wouldn't be the first that has changed in such a manner after a period of imprisonment that inevitably leads to

True or not, the Sun's pathetic campaign is still resorting to casual smears. They complain about him sponging benefits worth £1,000 a month, but how is he meant to work when he can only use the telephone and leave the house for 2 hours a day, let alone how no one would employ him in any case? They moan of the £1 million cost of his bail, without mentioning how much it was costing to hold him in prison and how much it would cost to prosecute him rather than continuing with the deporting charade that shames us all.

Yesterday's Sun leader has disappeared in the ether, so we'll have to make do with tomorrow's:

THOUSANDS of Sun readers are backing our campaign to bundle hate preacher Abu Qatada onto the next plane out of Britain.

They simply can’t fathom why our judges put the “rights” of Osama bin Laden’s top man in Europe before the rights of every man, woman and child in the land to a life free from fear.

Here, let's check, does the HRA guarantee everyone a life free from fear? Hmm, nope. The prohibition of torture is however right there in Article 3, and unlike most of the other articles, there are no limitations on that right. The Sun's argument is, in any case, bollocks. Abu Qatada at the moment poses no threat to anyone, and if he were to be prosecuted, with the evidence against him put through an open court, with it possible that he would be convicted, he would pose even less than no threat.

As the case waits to go to the House of Lords, Britain’s highest court, our message is simple ....

We don’t want to wait till Christmas before you give Qatada the Order of the Boot.

Thankfully, the law lords don't tend to listen to tabloid threats and bullshit, and judging by past decisions, it seems highly unlikely to disagree with the appeal court ruling.

Elsewhere, Kelvin MacKenzie treats us to why he decided not to stand against David Davis. Strangely, none of these reasons include the fact that he was going to get his backside handed to him over 42 days. They do however include his calling of Hull a "shocking place" (a joke, obviously, as he's never been) and the opinion polls that showed him on 17%. This is the real reason though:

But the clincher for me was the money. Clearly The Sun couldn’t put up the cash — so I was going to have to rustle up a maximum of £100,000 to conduct my campaign as candidate for the Red Mist Party.

As Tim points out, this is something of another reverse ferret. Last Friday, "the boss", Mr Murdoch, was good for it. What changed? It couldn't be that Murdoch rather decided that he was on the wrong side of the argument for once, could it? Still, Rebekah Wade has now come up her revenge: torture is fine as long as it's happening to nasty people. Who could possibly disagree?

Gareth Peirce - Is this what it was like for the Irish?

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008 

The right if difficult decision.

The appeal court judges have come to the right if difficult and strewn with problems ruling that Abu Qatada should not be deported back to Jordan. Before jumping on the the typical blaming of the Human Rights Act, it should be noted that the judges' decision was on the grounds that he would not receive a fair trial, not that he was at risk of personally being tortured or mistreated. No one might care if someone who produced fatwas used during the Algerian civil war to kill individuals declared suitably un-Islamic was tortured, but most of us do still care about whether someone receives a trial that doesn't have the appearance of resembling a kangaroo court.

The whole extended legal farce has been one idiocy followed by another. We know quite well that Qatada, much like Hamza and Bakri Mohammad, had at least some sort of relationship with the security services; how far it actually went, whether they were informing or whether there was some sort of pact by where they didn't call for attacks against this country in their preaching is much harder to ascertain. Bisher al-Rawi, formerly held at Guantanamo, was repatriated here because it emerged that he had in fact been helping MI5 all along keep tabs on Qatada, while Jamil el-Banna was approached and urged to become an intelligence asset shortly before he left for Gambia, where he and al-Rawi were subsequently arrested and rendered to Gitmo. Whether this is part of the reason why he has not been simply charged with inciting racial hatred like Hamza eventually was is unclear, but it seems that as with Bakri, the authorities have decided it's much easier to simply get rid of him than to try to build a case against him.

This is strange because despite the case against him in Jordan, it was his preaching here that undoubtedly has influenced some that have subsequently become suicide bombers or plotted terrorist attacks. Like with Hamza and Bakri, the services undoubtedly know what he was up to, and probably have tape after tape of his speeches, or at the very least intercepts of some of his telephone calls. While we simply can't know whether it would be possible to try Qatada here if intercept evidence was allowed in court, a ban that the head of the FBI recently denounced as "untenable", it's difficult to believe that if the government was truly exercised that it couldn't be able to build a viable case against him. Perhaps the difficulty is that unlike Hamza, the US doesn't seem to be making any efforts to attempt to extradite him, where he would undoubtedly face a far longer prison sentence than any he would ultimately face here. Even that isn't certain though, as although Qatada has never been personally linked to any plots here, those recently sentenced have faced sentences of over 20 years.

At the heart of the issue ought to be the acknowledgement that deporting anyone to a country that practises torture, and Jordan is certainly one, with Human Rights Watch only yesterday reporting that up until 2004 Jordan was one of the destinations for those who went through the rendition programme, and they weren't being sent there for the beautiful beaches and excellent prison facilities, ought to be the absolute last resort. Instead the government has used it as the very first resort. "Memorandums of understanding" that aren't worth the paper they're typed on are a ludicrous justification for doing something that we would have never have done prior to 9/11. Under Brown we've been told that despite what Blair said, the rules of the game haven't changed. They ought to prove it by doing the decent thing over Qatada.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007 

Scum-watch: Silence, torture and police grandstanding.

I'm unsure of what to make of the complete silence from the Sun over the decision by Alistair Darling to ask Ofcom to review whether Sky's purchase of a near 18% stake in ITV is in the public interest. As the Grauniad report makes clear, Sky executives and no doubt the Murdochs themselves must be furious. After nearly 10 years of complete sycophancy towards the Blair government from the Sun and the Times, the scratch our back and we'll scratch yours pact seems to have come slightly undone.

On one level, Darling's decision is incredibly inflammatory. For a government that has gone out of its way to try to keep the Murdoch tiger in check, such a snub which could potentially lead to Sky's acquisition of the shares being blocked is like a red rag to a bull. However much Murdoch has denied it, it's always been thought that he would at some point try to buy a stake in one of the terrestrial broadcasters, and most assumed it would be Channel 5. As Nils Pratley suggests, the 2003 Communications Act even seemed to prepare for this to happen. The surprise was that Murdoch instead went for ITV, with no warning that such a purchase was coming, and only very shortly after NTL (now Virgin Media) had attempted a takeover. Many justifiably saw this as Murdoch's attempt to stop Richard Branson from building his own rival empire, and it's most likely been the rage of Branson, however hypocritical and opportunistic it is, that has led to Darling ordering Ofcom to investigate.

The really interesting thing is that Darling has apparently come into agreement with Branson. Although Virgin is now ubiqitious, Branson simply cannot compete in the power stakes with Murdoch. This makes me wonder whether this is either a ploy or a backup plan by the Brownites (of whom Darling is certainly a member) in case Murdoch decides with the departure of Blair to switch allegiance back to the Tories. Brown has courted Wade and Murdoch, most recently at the conference in Davos where they sat side by side, but he would be wise to beware of the knife in the back. John Major believed that it was the Sun switching to Labour that was the final nail in the coffin for the Tories, and with Cameron racing ahead in the polls, Brown must be more than aware that Murdoch backs winners, not losers, however much he got it wrong over Iraq.

It's this that would lead me to expect some suitably outraged editorial or simply a report from today's Scum, making it clear to Labour where its bread is buttered. Instead, there's nothing, not even a report about Darling's decision to bring Ofcom into the equation. News International often doesn't cover things that are potentially embarrassing towards its masters, or that might provoke uncomfortable questions from newspaper readers, but the Times has covered the story. I've tried every search combination possible on the Scum website, and there's nothing there. For now, silence seems to be the order of the day to stop the issue from being further inflamed.

There is however a quite wonderful ranting leader about Abu Qatada (Qatada, Qutada, whatever):

VILE Abu Qatada has spent a third of his life enjoying the warm embrace of the democracy he wants to destroy.

Sadly our indulgence of him is not over yet.

His family scrounged hundreds of thousands of pounds in state handouts after he arrived here on a fake passport in 1993.

Surely took advantage of the welfare state like every other citizen can?

He was granted asylum despite a dossier detailing his extensive links with terrorists.

Taxpayers have since forked out £140,000 to keep him locked up and a scandalous £200,000 in Legal Aid for him to fight the deportation he obviously merits.

This despite £180,000 in cash being found at his home.

Well, if this £180,000 was his, it should be used to pay for his legal representation. If it isn't, there isn't much that can be done about it. Being a "terrorist suspect" does not and never should disqualify you from seeking legal aid. If the government had attempted to try him instead of simply getting rid of him, then he might well be now languishing in a cell like Abu Hamza.

This is the man whose sermons against the West inspired the 9/11 hijackers. How he must chuckle as a Western legal system continues to bend over backwards for him.

Or continues to treat him like anyone else would be. Whichever you prefer.

At least one obstacle to his exit is gone: Jordan, where he has already been convicted of terror attacks, has agreed not to torture him.

A pity, but we all have to compromise.

The Sun being witty about a man potentially being tortured? Who woulda thunk it?!

Elsewhere, the Sun reports on the judge rightly chastising the police for remanding in custody the teenager who so nearly shot dead dear old Dave Cameron with his converted fingers:

A JUDGE attacked cops yesterday for locking up a hoodie who pointed an imaginary gun at Tory leader David Cameron.

Judge Wendy Lloyd said she was “concerned” the yob, 17, had been kept in custody for possessing just £5 of cannabis.

She said: “I am extremely angry about this case. There are robbers and burglars at large. But if you make a silly gesture behind Mr Cameron’s back then you are remanded in custody.”

She fined the lout £25 and released him from custody, where he had been held since Saturday. He faces a burglary rap next week.

It's been a while since I last indulged, but back then an eighth was £10. If prices have stayed broadly the same, he had about a sixteenth of the drug, which is barely enough for a couple of spliffs. Cannabis is a Class C drug, and until recently possession of such a small amount as this young man had would not have been an arrestable offence, unless there were mitigating circumstances. It seems that his boasting was enough for the police to raid his house, and the tiny amount he possessed resulted in his appearance before the judge and being remanded in custody.

You can argue about the merits of the police going after casual drug users, yet there seems to have been little reason for him being kept in custody. He is as the police themselves recognise tagged and under curfew. For such a minor offence, there was no reason for keeping him in, other than to make an example of him.

But police were furious at the judge’s reprimand. A senior source said: “The comments are unbelievable. Maybe this lad will get sent on a holiday camp or skiing to show him the error of his ways.

“He’s already tagged for previous offences. It’s a case of another judge who doesn’t know the reality of life. We certainly hope for the judge’s sake that he doesn’t re-offend.

“We took proper guidance and it was completely correct that he was kept in custody.”

The fact that he's tagged for previous offences doesn't matter when he was arrested simply for possessing a tiny amount of a drug. The whole thing was a complete waste of time and effort on the police's part, and their petulance at being given a dressing down for seeking such publicity by arresting the kid in the first place, when they could have just confiscated his weed and gave him a caution is telling. This isn't to defend the boy for being a thick little prick, but the police ought to know when to leave something alone, and this was one of those cases. He'd already proved that he was a moron, and the police's interference has if anything victimised him for simply being an idle prat around a politician.

Not Saussure also made some good points surrounding the case and contempt of court, and although I haven't named him in this post, the whole issue is something of a grey area.

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Monday, February 26, 2007 

To deport or not to deport the man with the beard.

Few are going to shed any tears over the decision by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission that Abu Qutada can be deported back to Jordan, where he was convicted in absentia of being involved in a number of bomb attacks. While it's impossible to know just how involved he was with al-Qaida prior to 9/11, and some of the charges against him may well be unsubstantiated, it's clear that he was one of three clerics, along with Abu Hamza and Omar Bakri Mohammad, who were the most influential and respected extremist Islamist preachers in the United Kingdom until recently.

While the charge sheets against Hamza and Bakri are an inch thick, nowhere near as much is known about Qutada. We know that videos of his sermons were found in one of the flats in Germany occupied by the 9/11 hijackers, that his declarations were read out at Al-Muhajiroun meetings, and that it's possible he may have been a MI5 double agent, but other than that Qutada is something of an enigma. For a man who is alleged to have the same mindset as the average al-Qaida influenced Salafi jihadist, his plea for Norman Kember to be released by his captives in Iraq was certainly out of character, especially when you consider how others like him are firm believers that non-Muslims and anyone else they don't like are kuffar. It could of course been an attempt to get better treatment in prison, or to try to stop his possible deportation to Jordan, but the authorities made clear at the time that he had not been offered anything in return for his message, and it seems that he approached them rather than them approaching him.

The decision is really not so much about Qutada but about whether we should deport anyone, even terrorist sympathisers/suspects to countries which are known to practice torture. While Jordan is by no means the most egregious of Middle Eastern countries when it comes to mistreatment of prisoners, Human Rights Watch documents how confessions are obtained through sleep deprivation, mock executions and prolonged solitary confinement, as well as beatings. Amnesty International, in a report titled "Your confessions are ready to sign", accuses the Jordanian government of being entirely complicit in the practicing of torture:

they maintain a system of incommunicado detention which facilitates torture and other ill-treatment of detainees and a related special security court whose judgments regularly appear to be based on little more than "confessions" which defendants allege were extracted under torture or other duress.

The fabled memorandum of understanding, which has Jordan agreeing to treat anyone deported to the country humanely, is little more than worthless. It's the equivalent of a nudge and a wink, as well as making it more than clear that torture is indeed practiced in Jordan. The Adaleh Centre for Human Rights Studies (site is in Arabic) has agreed to monitor anyone who is deported from the UK, but just how much access they will be allowed will not become clear until it actually happens.

The main question, as ever, is why Qutada cannot be tried here. SIAC itself is little more than a kangaroo court; it's allowed to hear evidence in secret, and Qutada has been allowed few opportunities to challenge the evidence held against him, other than his rather ambigious sermons which are in the public domain, which are nowhere near as bloodcurdling nor delivered in the oratory more associated with the swivel-eyed Hamza and Bakri. SIAC has been used previously to take a seeming revenge on one of the men acquitted in the "ricin" trial; it heard the exact same evidence as in that trial, with added "secret" evidence, before coming to the decision to recommend that he could be deported to Algeria.

The judge in that case, Mr Justice Ouseley, said that it was "inconceivable" that "Y" would be ill-treated. He could not have been proved more wrong more quickly. Two men who were being held under suspicion of links with terrorism who decided to return to Algeria of their own accord after growing weary of the process and who were promised they would not face criminal proceedings under the amnesty put in place after the civil war, have since been arrested and charged with.... terrorism offences. While there is no "memorandum of understanding" with Algeria, it's an incident that was both predictable and bound to embarrass the government. However, as the men were "terrorist suspects", it's unlikely there'll be any change in policy as a result.

Reasons for why the government wants to be rid of Qutada are manifest. He's a symbol of "Londonistan", however far that particular neologism has been exaggerated. MI5 has denied that he was an agent or ever held in a safehouse by them, two things that had previously been reported, but he's still involved with the rendition of Bisher al-Rawi. al-Rawi is believed to have spied on Qutada for MI5, but outlived his usefulness once Qutada was arrested. On leaving for Gambia, he was stopped by MI5 but allowed to travel, only for MI5 to inform the CIA that he was carrying bomb parts. He was transferred to Guantanamo Bay, and during his Combatant Status Review Tribunal, he was asked mainly about his relationship with Qutada (PDF). Both men are clearly an embarrassment to MI5, whether all the allegations are true or not.

How much of the secret evidence held against Qutada is made up of intercepts we will probably never know. A number of his speeches and his interviews are however available, and if the authorities were so inclined, they could probably get enough together for a prosecution along the lines of the one that resulted in Abu Hamza being convicted for inciting racial hatred. It is however much easier to try to deport him, therefore getting rid of him once and for all. Unlike Bakri, who left before he was arrested in similar circumstances, and who is still preaching his hate in web casts from Lebanon, Qutada faces at the least a long term of imprisonment in Jordan.

Yesterday's Observer argued that it was a lesser evil leaving him to be potentially abused in Jordan than for him to remain here. Such an argument is dubious at best, and "jihadisbad", who, as you might guess isn't the most liberal commentator on Islam in his comment says it's "naive" to think he won't be tortured. If this deportation is to happen, and it appears extremely likely, then the memorandum of understanding needs to be enforced, and properly. No half measures should be tolerated. It may be that there'll be the tiniest violin in the world playing if he is in fact mistreated, but the ruling sets a potentially dangerous precedent, and again shows how little our respect for human rights often is when it comes to those we don't like.

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