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The US government is attempting to extradite Belmarsh detainee Babar Ahmad on the basis of terrorism allegations. Ian Taylor reports on the legal case and the fears of Ahmad's family.
Three months ago thefour remaining Britons held at Guantanamo Bay were released after being held in confinement for over three years. Yet the family of a British man, Babar Ahmad,30, fear he will face the same treatment if he is deported to the USA under the Extradition Act 2003.
Mr Ahmad is accused of using the internet to raise funds for terrorist/resistance groups in Chechnya and Afghanistan. His family strenuously deny this. Further to that, they ask why he should be extradited to the US instead of prosecuted in Britain on these charges if there is any substance to them.
Under the Extradition Act 2003 -- between former US Attorney General John Ashcroft and David Blunkett when he was Home Secretary (without ever consulting Parliament) -- the US is under no obligation to provide evidence, just an outline of the allegations. It is then for a Magistrate to decide only if the offences are serious enough to merit extradition (although appeals could go all the way to the European Court of Human Rights). This arrangement effectively denies Mr Ahmad's legal team the right to challenge the evidence against him because they are not told what it is.
Mr Ahmad's family have little faith in the US justice system believing that he will not receive a fair trial even under a jury system, especially as a Muslim charged with terror ism-related offences.
The nightmare scenario
The nightmare scenario however, is that the US will invoke “Military Order One” proceedings. As his wife explained, here he may face the “death penalty, will be held in solitary confinement, there is no jury trial, no client-lawyer confidentiality, and will only be represented by military approved lawyers”. It only applies to foreign citizens. “It's Guantanamo Bay, basically,” Mrs Ahmad continued.
Representing the US government at Bow Street Magistrates Court in London on Thursday 24 March, John Hardy said that the United States “will not be seeking to impose a Military Order One”. Nonetheless the family and their legal team remain uncertain as to whether those assurances are fully binding. Mrs Ahmad said “We're at the whims and desires of Bush,” who, as President, is free to change his mind or overrule the assurances given by anyone lower down the chain of command.
Babar Ahmad, who worked in IT support at University College London, was first arrested and violently assaulted by police officers in December 2003 on terrorism-related allegations. He was released six days later without charge. He was later re-arrested to face extradition to the US in August 2004 and is currently being held at Belmarsh Prison.
It has been a terrible ordeal for his family. His case should serve to remind us that the new proposed terror laws are not abstract theoretical issues: they can and will affect people's lives, and in a most devastating manner.
The case continues
Mr Ahmad's case was resumed at Bow Street Magistrates' Court on Monday 18 April and Wednesday 20 April. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the court on Monday to protest against his treatment and the moves to extradite him.
Among those to address the crowd were former Guantanamo Bay detainees Moazzem Begg and Martin Mubanga, who both recounted the various acts of torture and humiliation they had seen and experienced there, and spoke of their fear that Babar will face similar treatment if he is extradited anywhere inside US territory.
On 20 April, the court heard testimony from expert US legal witness Tom Loftlin declaring that the assurances given by the US embassy in London were not necessarily fully binding.
The magistrate, Timothy Workman, announced that he will deliver his verdict at Bow Street Magistrates Court on Tuesday 17 May, for which another demonstration is being planned.
For more information visit: http://www.freebabarahmad.com.