Refusing the Extradition of Abu Hamza

Isabel Hilton, a visiting professor at Harvard, writing in The Guardian, explains why Britain should refuse to extradite Abu Hamza.

...the measure of a legal system's virtue does not rest on how it treats lovable innocents, but on how it tests the evidence against those whom public opinion is ready to condemn. Thus far, the British authorities clearly found Abu Hamza guilty of terminal unlikeability. They had not, however, charged him with anything more. Now a British court must decide on his extradition to the US. There are many reasons for extreme caution.

The US attorney general, John Ashcroft, is reaping the rewards of the extradition treaty quietly signed by David Blunkett in March 2003. The US extradition hearings against Lotfi Raissi, - accused of involvement with the 9/11 plot - had been thrown out for lack of evidence. The new treaty removed the need for the case to be made in a British court. Abu Hamza is the first major case to come up under a treaty that parliament never debated and which is not reciprocal. He is accused of sending Feroz Abassi, one of the British Guantánamo detainees, to an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan, of plotting to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon, and of involvement with the group that took 16 westerners hostage in Yemen in 1998.

The charges sound damning, until you examine the source of much of the evidence. The US now commands an international gulag of unaccountable detention centres where ill treatment is used to extract "evidence" and "confessions". Feroz Abassi may have confessed to attending an al-Qaida training camp, but he has also been subjected to appalling treatment: he was one of the first of the Guantánamo detainees to be sent to Camp Echo, where prisoners are kept in solitary confinement and where, according to other prisoners, he was subjected to interrogation four times a day.

The case of James Ujaama, who supplied the Oregon terrorist training camp allegation, is equally disturbing. Ujaama was born James Ernest Thompson and grew up in Seattle. He became a web designer, wrote a novel and was committed to charitable social work. In 1996 he moved to London for a while, converted to Islam and is said to have met Abu Hamza. By 9/11 he was back in the US. In August 2003 he was charged with conspiring to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon. Had he been convicted on all the original charges he could have been sentenced to 25 years. Alternatively, he could have been designated an illegal combatant and detained indefinitely. Or he could give the FBI what they wanted to hear.

Testimony bought with promises of leniency--in an era when freedom is such a far more precious commodity than money. How reliable is this information?

He[Ujaama] held out for nine months, before signing a plea agreement in April. He was sentenced to two years, minus time already served. By July he will be free except in one respect - he is not allowed to talk about the case for 10 years.

Still, when he was sentenced, Ujaama continued to insist that the ranch in Oregon was intended not for terrorism but for "legitimate and legal religious training". "I have come to accept it was illegal in the US," he added. "I don't agree with that law, and that's my right." This sounds less like a man who has repented of terrorism than a man forced to buy his liberty with his conscience.

Ms. Hilton is not happy with John Ashcroft:

Three days ago, lawyers defending a man called Daniel Bright on a murder charge finally won their case. The FBI knew that Bright was convicted of a murder he had not committed because they had another man's confession, but they refused to disclose the name of the guilty man to Bright's defence.

The man who ordered them to fight against disclosure every inch of the way was John Ashcroft. In terrorism cases, US lawyers are now fighting the growing practice of using evidence collected by the intelligence services through dubious interrogations, while the defence is denied access to the witnesses or information about the circumstances under which the statements were given. The defence of the unlikeable Mr Hamza, were he extradited, would face exactly that problem. As things stand, his chances of a fair trial do not look good.

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