European Human Rights Court rules on landmark terror case

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, has denied the deportation of Abu Qatada (a.k.a. Omar Othman) to Jordan, in the Court’s first ruling that extradition of a suspect would violate his or her right to a fair trial. Qatada, a Jordanian national, arrived in the UK in 1993 after successfully applying for asylum following his detention in Jordan where he claimed he was tortured while in custody. Qatada is considered to be al Qaeda’s ambassador to the United Kingdom.

In 1994, UK officials recognized him as a refugee, and he was permitted to stay until June 1998. Awaiting his application for indefinite status, Qatada was detained in October 2002 under the country’s Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act. In August 2005, Qatada was made aware that authorities planned to deport him back to Jordan.

While living in the UK, Qatada was convicted in absentia for his role in two alleged terrorist plots in 1999 and 2000. Jordanian authorities contend that Qatada incited his followers in Jordan to carry out bombings. In the current proceeding, Qatada made the successful case that his extradition to Jordan would result in a lengthy pretrial detention where he may be subject to torture and a “grossly unfair trial based on evidence obtained by the torture of his co-defendants.”

Despite the UK Special Immigration Appeals Commission’s assurance that Qatada would not be tortured because of agreements negotiated by authorities in the UK and Jordan, and the House of Lords upholding the Commission’s findings, the European Court of Human Rights still believed that Qatada faced a considerable risk of torture at the hands of Jordanian authorities.

In light of Qatada’s previous claims of torture, coupled with UN and human rights organizations’ testimony that the Jordanian General Intelligence Directorate (GID) routinely uses torture and ill-treatment against high-profile terror suspects, such as Abu Qatada, the court was tasked with determining whether the agreements set forth by the UK and Jordan were sufficient to ensure he would not be maltreated.

Assurances were said to have been given at the highest levels of government, including the Jordanian King and senior GID officials, that Qatada would not be tortured, so as to avoid straining the historically strong relations between the two countries. But European Court officials were not convinced that evidence obtained through the torture of co-defendants might not plague Qatada’s chance at a fair trial.

Qatada is currently detained at Long Lartin prison in Worcestershire, England, where he can now apply to be released on bail within days.

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