EU OKs UK extradition to US


A view from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

An EU court on Tuesday said it would allow Britain to extradite five terrorism suspects to the US, saying their detention on American soil wouldn’t violate EU rules on human rights.

The suspects have all been indicted by the US on terrorism charges at various times, according to the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.

The decision might seem surprising on its face, given the EU’s past criticism of the American justice system — it’s embrace of the death penalty, for example. But it is an interesting referendum on the US government's current handling of terrorism suspects.

The court was clear to note that it made the decision after the US said that it wouldn’t try them as enemy combatants, a designation that has in the past been controversial, to say the least. Here’s the official ruling:

The Court found that, given assurances provided by the United States, there was no real risk that these four applicants, if extradited to the USA, would either be designated as enemy combatants (with the consequences that that entailed, such as the death penalty) or subjected to extraordinary rendition.

The ruling, then, suggests that the court supports treatment of terrorism suspects that stays within the confines of other suspects in the US. It doesn’t weigh in on any of the unconventional approaches the US has taken, such as indefinite detentions, military tribunals or extraordinary renditions. 

In the instance covered by the current court ruling, the US appears to have told the court that the suspects will be given a civilian trial and, if convicted, held in a federal detention facility, with the same provisions offered to other inmates. That’s why, it appears, the EU has signed off on the move. It seems unlikely the US would be allowed to receive these suspects if they wanted to send them to Guantanamo or submit them to harsh interrogations.

At least four of the men, if convicted, would be held in ADX Florence. This is not a nice place. Located in Colorado, it’s known as a “supermax” prison, one of the facilities in the US that provides maximum security for what are considered extremely dangerous, violent and escape-prone inmates.

There, inmates spend their first year in solitary confinement 23 hours a day. The 12-by-7 foot cells have poured concrete beds and tiny windows.

Several convicted Al Qaeda operatives, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Terry Nichols, Timothy McVeigh’s partner in the Oklahoma City bombings; and the so-called shoe-bomber, Richard Reid are all serving their sentences there. You get the idea.

Per the ruling, “The Court held that conditions at ADX would not amount to ill-treatment.”

So who are these suspects, and what are the charges?

The US most wanted Abu Hamza al-Masri, also known as Mustafa Kamal Mustafa, a Muslim cleric who is blind in one eye, and has a hook in place of his right hand. Hamza has been charged with 11 counts of criminal conduct, according to the ruling. He’s suspected of being involved in the taking of 16 hostages in Yemen in 1998, backing violent jihad in Afghanistan in 2001.

He was also accused of setting up a training camp for jihadis in Oregon with another suspect, Haroon Rashid Aswat. The court said it put off a ruling on Aswat’s case, because it wanted more information about his medical treatment. Aswat has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

According to Reuters:  

British police said the Finsbury Park Mosque in north London which he ran from the late 1990s until 2003 acted as a hotbed of extremism and a global magnet for militants.

Britian arrested Hamza eight years ago on an extradition warrant from the US. You can read more about him here

And the rest? According to the court ruling, two others, Adel Abdul Bary and Khalid Al-Fawwaz were indicted for their alleged ties to the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Al-Fawwaz has been charged with more than 269 counts of murder, the ruling said.

Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan, the ruling said, “are accused of various felonies including providing support to terrorists and conspiracy to kill, kidnap, maim or injure persons or damage property in a foreign country.”

They won’t be sent back right away, however. The court ruled the extraditions must remain on hold until the appeals process expires, which could take months.