Wednesday, July 27, 2005

My neighbour, the jihadi

The Babar Ahmad case has been going on for a long time.
He's accused of supporting terror and raising money through a website to support Islamist extremist causes and also for having classified US military documents. The US is seeking extradition of Mr Ahmad and he is fighting it. His house (and his parents' house) is just up the road from me, within easy walking distance.

His supporters have been very good at raising sympathy for him they have a fairly slick website with lots of baby Babar pictures (he was a cutie) and a lot of assertions and few facts about what he’s done (they seem to alibi him by saying he had a full time job, but so what, lots of people have hobbies and outside interests). His supporters have four basic claims, that he's innocent, that if he has done something wrong he should be tried in Britain, that the law under which he's being extradited - a fast track law - is bad law and that if sent to the US he'll be tortured and subject to sexual and other humiliation. I'll address each of these in turn.

Is Babar Ahmad innocent?
Depends what you mean by innocent and exactly what the charges are, but probably not. As part of a BBC documentary series on the "New Al Qaeda" and episode aired Monday night called outlined Babar Ahmad’s activities in running a website which promoted or glorified jihad – including fighting against British and American troops in Afghanistan, and there was lots of high praise for Osama Bin Laden and the 19 9/11 suicide hikackers. It wasn’t clear to me if he actually funnelled money to terrorists, but he certainly used the website to encourage people to give money and provided some hints and tips about where to give the money.

You can read a copy of the US request for extradition here (pdf link) and make up your own mind. And you can read Evan Kohlman's dossier (link to a pdf)
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I'll go further and disclaim pretty much the whole dang site - do take a look at some of the forums at Scary stuff.

If he’s so bad, why can’t he be tried in Britain?
This was my original question, too and a pretty pertinent one. There’s a perfectly good legal system here that is in many ways similar to the US system. Yes, there are problems with the legal and criminal justice system here and sometimes it doesn’t seem to deliver the outcomes I might prefer, but you can say that about any system. And given that Mr Ahmad would be tried as a foreign national in the US and given the normal prejudices of humans, Mr Ahmad would be at least marginally more likely to receive a fair trial from a jury of his compatriot peers here in the UK.

To answer the question, there are a couple of reasons why Babar Ahmad might be tried in the US and not in the UK. For one, I’m not clear that he’s committed an indictable offence in the UK. Like the US, there’s a tradition of free speech in this country and even if you write, speak or publish pretty nasty or inflammatory stuff you probably aren’t breaking the law (direct incitement to violence or racial hatred – a topic for another day – are illegal). Some of the matters listed in the indictment are his possession of classified US military materials (not really a crime in the UK), and funnelling money to the Taliban, which was not a proscribed terrorist organisation in the UK, but was in the US thanks to Bill Clinton. And then I think there are some website hosting issues , which I couldn’t be bothered to try to untangle. (I did pick up that at one point his site was hosted in Alabama, providing yet another reason to smash them in SEC football) But basically, for technical reasons, this guy may have broken a number of serious US laws, but not so many (or any) UK laws.

Is the fast track extradition law bad law?
The Extradition Act of 2003 does ring alarm bells with me. Babar Ahmad is being extradited under a fast track law which means that he or other terror suspects can be extradited to the US without the US having to produce prima facie evidence. This law applies to extradition requests from the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and if you're being generous, you might say that all these countries use common law and have fairly high standards of evidence. And even though there's no requirement for prima facie evidence there does seem to be plenty of evidence and background work on this case see the request for extradition

And on the face of it, since this case has been dragging on since August 2004, it hardly seems that fast track. And there is clearly a right of appeal or due process at least since Mr Ahmad has been in and out of court fighting the extradition. However, apparently the US didn’t agree to the same conditions for US citizens and residents to be extradited to the UK, so if it isn’t reciprocal it does seem there might be something dodgy about this law. Why didn't the UK government demand at least reciprocity?

If sent to the US will Babar Ahmad be tortured?
Well, as a US citizen, I certainly hope not. Not because I care one whit for Mr Ahmad, but because I believe that when my country deals less than fairly with those held in custody they are acting on my behalf and this damages me.

Many of his supporters have worked themselves up into a frenzy saying that he’ll be treated as an enemy combatant and subject to military tribunal. I don’t think that’s been the suggestion of the US government. However, I don’t think we’ve done ourselves any favours by failure to comply with Geneva Convention regarding the prisoners held at Guantanamo and the abuses at Abu Ghraib, etc. I know that his supporters were taking advantage of the US’s damaged image on matters of terrorism and custody. I absolutely deplore the Abu Ghraib abuses of prisoners. I know that many in the US believe that terror suspects and the like have no rights and I've seen people some who claim that foreigners don't have the same rights as citizens, but we are all supposed to be equal before the law. In the current climate, and given some well-known abuses,

I do worry that Mr Ahmad's treatment in the US will be less than what it should be. All Americans should stand against torture and abuse of prisoners and those in custody who have not yet been convicted of any crime, so that people like Mr Ahmad's supporters will have no ground to stand on and because it's just the right thing to do.

So how do I come down on the Ahmad case?
I don’t care for the 2003 extradition law and believe that there should be a requirement for prima facie evidence in extradition hearings -even if means that sometimes these hearings have to be held in camera to protect security or intelligence sources. However in this case I believe that that requirement has actually been met anyway. I don't want prisoners in US custody to be treated badly, we have to be better than that.

But truth be told, despite all my misgivings, I just don't want this guy back in my neighborhood. I wish you good speed to the US of A, Mr Ahmad.


fg said...

What do you think of the Gary McKinnon case ? He is a British national first arrested in November 2002 and released without charge, but now through the Extradition Act 2003 (who says we do not have retroactive legislation here in the UK ?) is facing extradition to the USA for allegedly "hacking" into over 90 US military computer systems, before and after the supposed high state of alert caused by the September 11th 2001 attacks.

No prima facie evidence has been presented in his case either, and he too fears a Miltary Tribunal, after all, unlike Babar Ahmad, he actually did "attack" the US Military.

The list of computer systems includes some at Pentagon, the NSA Fort Meade, the US Army, the US Air Force and the US Nabvy, NASA etc, all in hiis pursuit of pursuit of "UFO" information and the activities of the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, and because of the criminally negligent computer security procedures in place at the time, for several years previously.

Surely he too should be tried for his alleged crimes here in the UK ?


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Ryan Neff said...

Very nice. Keep up the good work.