Posted Under: Civil Liberties,Criminal Justice,Human Rights,Terrorism
Abu Qatada is a nasty piece of work. Probably. From yesterday evening’s coverage of his release, it’s actually surprisingly difficult to find any specifics as to what it is he’s actually supposed to have done – according to the Guardian “judges accept [he] remains a threat to national security”, and the Daily Mail quotes someone who tells us he has “a litany of terror connections” but both are notably light on specifics. The BBC does have more details, but there seems to be a rather touching faith across much of the mainstream media that if the government wants to lock someone up without charge (especially, it seems, if that someone is brown and beardy), then we can take it as read that they must have done something, so we don’t need to be bothered with the actual details of what that is. Still, it seems unlikely that a man who’s given a sermon condoning suicide bombings and who was once found to be in possession of an envelope full of cash marked ‘For the mujahideen in Chechnya’ is completely free of links with Islamist terrorism, so let’s accept that he probably at least had such links in the past.
The fact remains, though, that he’s never been found guilty – or even put on trial – for any crime in this country. Committing terrorism is a crime. Conspiracy to commit terrorism is a crime. Inciting terrorism is a crime. “Having links to terrorism” isn’t. He has been found guilty in his absence of conspiracy to commit terrorist acts in Jordan – and the British government wants to deport him there – but they’ve been blocked from doing so for the very good reason that the evidence for his conviction was obtained by torture, which as you can imagine is generally held to throw the certitude of any testimony obtained by such into doubt. And since torture and unfair trials seem to be endemic in the Jordanian justice system, I’m also inclined to be cynical about any assurances Jordan’s government gives ours about how if we do deport him we can count on them not to mistreat him.
Of course, the inevitable response to this from many will be incomprehension that we should care at all how he’s treated. There’s hysterical tabloid outrage (such as in the Daily Mail link above) about how much it’s costing the British taxpayer to have him kept under house arrest for 22 hours per day, but no outrage whatsoever at the fact that he’s been detained – for literally years – and then placed under house arrest despite never having been convicted in a fair trial of any crime. But that’s how human rights work – they apply to everyone, even nasty terrorist sympathisers. Restricting someone’s freedom without a fair trial or deporting them to a country where they’ll be tortured isn’t OK, no matter how much we might – justifiably – wish they weren’t in the UK. And no, asking “but what about the human rights of the victims of terrorism?” as Tory MP Robert Halfon did on The World at One yesterday isn’t a sensible response. “Terrorists do it, so we should too” is about the most disastrously misguided principle to apply to criminal justice that I can think of.
It’s at this point that a rightwing troll (if we had any left here at TTE) would probably interject something like “so you’d rather have suspected terrorists roaming free in the streets would you?” The simple answer is yes, I would. That doesn’t mean I’m happy about it, but if we’re supporting the principle of universal human rights, we shouldn’t have to pretend that the people who need theirs upholding are nice people. Abu Qatada might well be a fundamentalist preacher of hate. But if we accept that it’s OK to lock him up then you’re tacitly accepting that we live in a society where you can be indefinitely deprived of your liberty without anyone needing to prove that you’ve done anything wrong. And it’ll take a hell of a lot of would-be terrorists to be walking the streets before I accept that.