Pyrrhic victory

The last obstacle in the way of the judicial trial in the United States of five key associates of Osama bin Laden has been removed with the European Court of Human Rights approving their extradition from the UK to the US.

The five include radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, who is accused of trying to set up a terrorist training camp in the US and assisting hostage-taking in Yemen. The US government put in the first extradition request back in 1998. The delay in deporting them has been attributed to the five accused repeatedly challenging court decisions to extradite them, arguing that they would face inhumane treatment in the US if sent there. The European court’s decision is widely seen as a test of US-European co-operation, especially on the issue of dealing with terrorism. Had the court ruled against extradition it would have been interpreted as signalling European censure of the American judicial system.

While many in the security establishment on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean will celebrate the extradition of Hamza and others to the US, the verdict raises serious concern. The issue raised by the five accused regarding their inhumane treatment in US is not without basis. America’s ‘supermax’ prisons where many terrorism convicts are serving time are notorious for their violation of prisoners’ rights.

Experts are saying that pre-trial conditions in the US for those accused of terror charges deny them a fair trial. This raises an important question: Was the European Court of Human Rights protecting human rights by endorsing their extradition to the US? The decision to extradite Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan is deeply troubling. They are accused of running a jihadi website that supposedly provided support for terror activities. These websites were run in the UK. The crimes they allegedly committed were in the UK. Why are they being sent to the US for trial?

Terrorism has to be fought through the courts. Putting bin Laden’s close associates through a fair trial is the best way to fight terrorism. However, the US and Europe have undermined this fight through their contempt of the rights of the accused. Washington has scored a pyrrhic victory. As for Europe, which lectures India on prison conditions to avoid extraditing people wanted here for serious crimes, its hypocrisy on terrorism stands exposed.

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