The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg overturned an appeal filed by five terror suspects on Tuesday, including radical Islamic cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, against their extradition from Britain to the United States to face terrorism charges.
In their appeal, the five suspects had argued that the prospects of their solitary imprisonment in a US maximum security prison with the possibility of a life imprisonment would be in direct violation of their human rights.
Nevertheless, the seven-member ECHR judges panel unanimously rejected their appeal, and ruled their extradition to the United States permissible under EU laws as US prison conditions would not violate their human rights.
In their ruling, the ECHR judges panel said assurances provided by the US Justice Department as well as conditions at ADX Florence, a Federal supermax jail in Colorado, guaranteed that the rights of the suspects will not be violated while in the US.
"Having fully considered all the evidence from both parties, including specifically prepared statements by officials at ADX Florence as well as letters provided by the US Department of Justice, the court held that conditions at ADX would not amount to ill-treatment," the judges said in their ruling.
"Save for cases involving the death penalty, it has even more rarely found that there would be a violation of Article 3 (that no-one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) if an applicant were to be removed to a state which had a long history of respect of democracy, human rights and the rule of law," they added.
The judges, however, deferred the extradition of a sixth suspect, namely Haroon Aswat, to the US, saying that they needed to study more submissions from Britain's Home Office on his schizophrenia and assess how he would be treated if sent to the US. The remaining five now have three months to convince the Grand Chamber to review the entire case.
Masri is currently serving a seven-year sentence in UK for spreading racial hatred and urging his followers to murder non-Muslims. He has been fighting extradition to the US since the request was first filed in May 2004. He is blind in one eye and wears a hook in place of a hand he claims to have lost while fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s. He first came to Britain on a student visa and later acquired a British passport through marriage.
Egyptian-born Masri is wanted in the US for various terrorism charges, including funding terrorism, organizing a terrorist training camp in Oregon between 1998 and 2000 and helping in the kidnapping of 12 Westerners in Yemen in 1998. Haroon Aswat is also accused in connection with the Oregon training camp.
Two of the suspects, namely Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, are accused of supporting terrorism by using a website operated in London. The remaining two, Adel Abdul Bary and Khaled al-Fawwaz, are accused of involvement in organizing the 1998 US Embassy bombings in East Africa.
British Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed Tuesday's ECHR ruling, saying: "I think it is very important that the deportation and expulsion arrangements [work] promptly and properly, particularly when people are accused of very serious crimes."
Meanwhile, Home Secretary Theresa May said she would now "work to ensure that the suspects are handed over to the U.S. authorities as quickly as possible".
Separately, The US Justice Department said it was "pleased" with the ECHR ruling, and added: "We look forward to the court's decision becoming final and to the extradition of these defendants to stand trial in the United States."
The development came just three months after the ECHR blocked the deportation of radical Islamic cleric Abu Qatada from Britain to his home country of Jordan as he risked facing trial on the basis of evidence extracted by torturing co-defendants. The court said such a possibility would amount to a "flagrant denial of justice."
by RTT Staff Writer
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