Secrecy and torture have played leading roles in the war on terror. They were also centre stage in the drama that surrounded the UK government’s attempts to deport the radical Muslim cleric, Abu Qatada, to his home country, Jordan.
In 1994, Abu Qatada fled to London, with his wife and five children. He was granted asylum because he had been tortured. During the time he was living in Britain, as well as earning a reputation as a ‘hate preacher’ and ‘extremely dangerous man’, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in Jordan, in his absence, for terrorist activities. That conviction was based on evidence obtained by torture. He was never charged with a crime in the UK, but between 1994 and 2013, there was much heated argument about whether the UK government could deport him back to Jordan. If deported to Jordan, he claimed he would be tortured again. Because the Human Rights Act protects people from the real risk of torture, the government couldn’t deport him. This was true even though a special immigration court found ‘he was heavily involved in terrorist activities’. The UK Home Secretary travelled to Jordan to get them to agree, in writing, that they would not torture him. But there was another barrier. In 2012, the European Court of Human Rights said that he would face an unfair trial in Jordan because the court would use evidence obtained by previous torture.
The final outcome? In 2013, Abu Qatada left the UK after Jordan signed a treaty promising not to use evidence obtained by torture against him. He was finally freed by the Jordanian authorities in 2014, because the prosecution against him for terrorist activities was not proven.
The moral of the story? Human rights, including the right to a fair trial, are for everyone. Even suspected terrorists. Perhaps especially them.