The first case, the one hitting the headlines this week, is that of Jordanian-born alleged terrorist supremo Abu Qatada, who arrived in the UK using a forged passport almost 20 years ago and claimed asylum, and has already been found guilty twice in absentia of terrorist attacks in Jordan. He is reportedly also wanted in seven other countries for terrorist-related offences. He has been labeled Bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe, and over the last few years in the UK has been variously interned, placed under control order, and held in maximum security prisons.
The UK courts ruled that he should be deported to stand trial in his native country, but these rulings were recently overturned by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), as it had concerns that Jordanian diplomatic assurances that he would not be tortured could not be relied on, and that evidence against him in any retrial there might have been obtained using torture.
As a result, Mr Justice Mitting of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) has ruled that he should be released under a strict T-PIM (the new control order). This decision has predictably roused the frothing wrath of the Home Office and the readership of the Daily Mail. Politicians of all flavours have rushed out their sound bites condemning the ECtHR decision.
But can they not see that it is the complacency and the very disdain for law that the British political and intelligence infrastructure has displayed for the last decade that has created this mess in the first place? If, instead of kidnapping, torture, assassination, and indeed internment without trial within the UK, the rule of law had been followed, the country would not currently find itself in this legal quagmire.
There used to be a notion that you used due process to investigate a terrorist suspect as you would any other suspected criminal: gather the evidence, present the case to the Crown Prosecution Service, hold a trial in front of a jury, and work towards a conviction.
How quaintly old-fashioned that all seems today. Instead, since 9/11 and the inception of the hysterically brutal “war on terror” led by the USA, we have seen people in the UK thrown into prison for years on the secret word of anonymous intelligence officers, where even the suspects’ lawyers are not allowed to see the information against their clients. The British legal system has become truly Kafkaesque.
Which leads me to the second case. This was a quote in yesterday’s Guardian about the Abu Qatada ruling:
“The Conservative backbencher Dominic Raab echoed Blunkett’s anger: “This result is a direct result of the perverse ruling by the Strasbourg court. It makes a mockery of human rights law that a terrorist suspect deemed ‘dangerous’ by our courts can’t be returned home, not for fear that he might be tortured, but because European judges don’t trust the Jordanian justice system.””
In the case of Julian Assange, can we really trust the Swedish justice system? While the Swedish judicial system may have an ostensibly more fragrant reputation than that of Jordan, it has been flagrantly politicised and manipulated in the Assange case, as has been repeatedly well documented. Indeed, the Swedish justice system has the highest rate per capita of cases taken to the ECtHR for flouting Article 6 — the right to a fair trial.
If Assange were extradited merely for questioning by police — he has yet to be even charged with any crime in Sweden — there is a strong risk that the Swedes will just shove him straight on the next plane to the US under the legal terms of a “temporary surrender”. And, to bastardise the above quote, who now really trusts the American justice system?
A secret Grand Jury has been convened in Virginia to find a law — any law — with which to prosecute Assange. Hell, if the Yanks can’t find an existing law, they will probably write a new one just for him.
Forget about the fact that Wikileaks is a ground-breaking new form of high-tech journalism that has exposed corrupt practices across the world over the years. The US just wants to make an example of Assange in retaliation for the embarrassment he has caused by exposing US double dealing and war crimes over the last decade, and no doubt as a dreadful example to deter others.
The alleged Wikileaks source, US soldier Private Bradley Manning, has been kept in inhumane and degrading conditions for well over a year and will now be court-martialed. The general assumption is that this process was designed to break him, so that he would implicate Assange and possibly other Wikileaks associates.
In my view, that means that any US trial of Assange could essentially be relying on evidence obtained under torture. And if Assange is extradited and and judicially rendered to the US, he too will face torturous conditions.
So, to summarise, on the one hand we have a man who is wanted in eight countries for terrorist offences, has already been convicted twice in his home country, but who cannot be extradited.
And on the other hand we have a man who has not been charged, tried or convicted of anything, but is merely wanted for questioning on minor and apparently trumped up charges in another country, yet who has also been imprisoned in solitary confinement and held under house arrest. And it looks like the British authorities are happy to collude in his extradition.
Both these men potentially face a mistrial and both may potentially experience what is now euphemistically known as “degrading and inhumane treatment”.
But because one faces being sent back to his home country — now seen for the purposes of his case as a banana republic with a corrupt judicial system that relies on evidence extracted under torture — he shall probably not be extradited. However, the other faces being sent to an alien country well known as a beacon of civil rights and fair judicial system oops, sorry, as a banana republic with a corrupt judicial system that relies on evidence extracted under torture.
The UK has become a legal laughing stock around the world and our judicial framework has been bent completely out of shape by the requirements of the “war on terror” and the rapidly developing corporate fascism of our government.
The UK is currently celebrating the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens. Perhaps the time has come to pause and think about some of the issues he discussed in one of his best-known novels, “A Tale of Two Cities”. Do we want our country to slide further down the path of state terrorism — a phrase adopted from the original Grande Terreur of the French Revolution?
We need to seize back our basic rights, the due process of law, and justice.