Wednesday 14 November 2012
What's going on?
The radical cleric Abu Qatada moved back home yesterday after attempts to deport him for trial in Jordan were blocked by a British court.
Qatada, once described as right hand man to Osama Bin Laden, has for seven years been fighting extradition to the Middle Eastern country, where he was convicted in absence of involvement in terror attacks.
The legal obstacles to the deportation of Qatada were set out by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), who ruled the possibility remains that evidence extracted by torture will be used against Qatada in a Jordanian retrial.
It will now cost the taxpayer around £5 million a year to keep the cleric's home under surveillance while he is out on bail.
The Prime Minister declared himself “completely fed up” with the impasse and legal experts have warned it could be years before Qatada leaves the country. But are we right to avoid possible contact with torturers, or would you ride roughshod over the European Court of Human Rights and send Qatada out on the next plane?
Case for: taken for a ride
Abu Qatada will be kicking his heels up today, to hell with the electronic tag. There are plenty of reasons to celebrate. First, he has got one over a legal system and political class whose timidity is quite simply appalling. Second, he knows the police outside the window – like the rest of the country – desperately want him gone, and that they’ll cost British taxpayers millions to keep in station so long as he remains. But what is ultimately so galling about this situation is that, on a mere technicality, we’re putting the interests of a terrorist above those of British citizens. Had our leaders the gumption, they could ensure Qatada was tried fairly (perhaps, like the Lockerbie bomber, in a neutral country) and be done with him. But it's hardly a surprise they don’t.
Case against: justice isn't pretty
One can hate Abu Qatada to the fullest possible extent and still admire the legal system that keeps him here in Britain. We have already been shamed by the torture and murder of Baha Mousa – just because Qatada, unlike Mousa, has been ruled a guilty man doesn’t mean we should risk association with torture again. Would you be happy if the witnesses whose testimony is used against this cleric had given evidence extracted only by thumbscrew? Or high-voltage electric shocks? Hot-heads will bluster that hardly matters – but that’s exactly the kind of thinking that leads to Guantanamo. The words of Qatada’s solicitor have the ring of finality: “this country’s position is that we abhor the use of torture”. They must be proved in deed.