BBC interview with terror suspect Barbar Ahmad

6 April 2012 by Adam Wagner

I highly recommend Dominic Casciani’s excellent BBC Newsnight piece on Barbar Ahmad, which is currently available on iPlayer (UK only).

Ahmad’s case cuts across a number of different rights controversies. The BBC challenged the Ministry of Justice’s initial refusal to allow an interview with the terrorist suspect, who is currently held at a maximum security jail, and won – see our post. Ahmad is also currently the longest serving prisoner who has not been charged with a criminal offence; he has been detained for nearly 8 years.

In 2009 Ahmad was paid £60,000 in compensation after he was assaulted by arresting officers in 2003.  And, he is also fighting his extradition to the United States, with the European Court of Human Rights  due to rule on his and others’ (including cleric Abu Hamza) cases this coming Tuesday – for more, see my 2010 post.

As summarised in the Court’s press release, four men allege, in particular that, if extradited and convicted in the USA, their conditions of detention at the US Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum, Florence, Colorado (a “supermax” prison) would amount to ill- treatment under Article 3 ECHR (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment). They further allege that the length of their possible sentences would also violate Article 3.

So lots to consider; watch the full Newsnight piece for more.

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10 comments


  1. John Dowdle says:

    At present, we have to assume Mr Ahmad’s innocence. Therefore, claims that he will end up carrying out a life sentence in solitary confinement are pure speculation – which, I assume, is what the judges made of the case.
    There is also the question as to why British tax payers should meet the cost of incarcerating him here when his alleged offence relates to another jurisdiction?

    1. Fahad Ansari says:

      John, it goes back to the correct forum for trial. In the Court of Appeal decision in R v Sheppard & Whittle from 2010. In that case, the Court considered the correct forum for trial for a crime involving the possession, publication and internet distribution of racially inflammatory material hosted on a remote server in the US. Lord Justice Scott Baker, who Lord Carlile himself described as “one of England & Wales’ most senior and highly respected judges“, ruled that the UK was the appropriate forum for trial because a “substantial measure of the activities” constituting the crime (the operation, maintenance and collation of all material for the website) took place in the UK.

      Ahmad too is accused of operating, maintaining and collating material for a website from the UK which was simply hosted by a remote server in the US for a period of a few months. According to the legal precedent, the correct forum for his trial is the UK and not the US.

  2. Stephen says:

    An interesting concept of human rights. So holding someone in solitary confinement for the duration of a prison sentence does not breach human rights? Methinks the ECtHR has been nobbled by UK public opinion. The ECtHR has done its credibility no good by arriving at this judgement.

  3. Stephen says:

    Mr Ahmad has yet to be found guilty of any offence. I hope he has been properly informed of the allegations. I am not clear what laws he is alleged to have broken although, probably like most people, I am repulsed by the content of the website he is alleged to have created and managed.

    In all probability, at least if he is properly represented, he will get a fair trial in the USA. What concerns me is the punishment he might receive if he is convicted. I do not accept that a gaol sentence served in solitary confinement is either necessary or proportionate. I sincerely hope the ECtHR holds the same view. If it does, then one way around the issue is for Mr Ahmad, should he be convicted, to serve his sentence in the UK.

    One final point. As a British citizen, an I obliged to comply with the laws of the United States as well as British laws? Suppose there is a divergence so that conduct which is a crime in the USA is not a crime in the UK? Can I be extradited to the USA? If so, should Saudi Arabia be permitted to ask for my extradition for adultery, a crime in that country, or for drinking alcohol?

  4. Ismail Bhamjee says:

    WHAT ABOUT THE UNITED NATIONS TREATIES DECLARATION ON INDEPENDENCE ON COLONIAL COUNTRIES SIGNED IN 1960 ABOUT NON-INTERFERENCE IN THOSE COUNTRIES?
    __________________________________________________________

  5. Rob Ward says:

    it is a clear example of why a civilized society should not have or even endorse imprisonment without having any charges brought against him, it is a breach of human rights it is wrong.

    we criticize other countries for doing the very same thing, while we continue to do it and look upon the human rights act as a inconvenience to justice instead of embracing what the human rights act is and stands for.

  6. frednach says:

    I think it is time for changes in legislation in the extradition process, for this case raises the prospect of an abuse of due process argument given the state of affairs where he is not charged by the UK authorities and he does not know the charges by the US authorities having made an application to the Magistrates in 2004. I understand a legislation is contemplated of permitting the Home Secretary discretion to override extradition where a suspects conduct is aroused in this country.

    I would argue that extradition is too simple and must be reformed and scrutinised closely with evidence becoming available to both the defence as well as the prosecution, where material is sensitive then there are usual practices which must be complied with for we cannot become complicit in unlawful extradition.

    One interesting point though what of the soldier who massacred innocent children and women recently in Afghanistan- why is he to be tried in the US, given his deadly conduct was done on Afghan soil, surely he must be tried by the new state of Afghan with new regime ironically orchestrated by the same authority whose agent has blatantly violated the trust and sanctity of innocent life for no reason but revenge? In short extradition process must not become political cattle for the market for the highest bidder or muscle; extradition cannot be a process for abuse of due process, duplicity or complicity for torture, a mere tool for states.

  7. cidermaker says:

    I agree John. It is the usual whining of a criminal caught red-handed with, to put it crudely, his pants down. The conditions, as I understand them, at Florence are tough but are consistent with US Federal Law. I can see no justification for delaying his extradition

  8. John Dowdle says:

    I watched the Newsnight interview yesterday evening and I found Mr Ahmad’s responses evasive, to say the least. It seems unarguable that he was involved in setting up an extremist web site, designed to recruit and promote would-be terrorists. The principal reason he has spent 8 years in custody without being charged is down to him and his legal advisers. He has clearly spent all that time trying to avoid deportation to the USA where he is required to answer to charges relating to his alleged terrorist promoting web site.
    As far as I am aware, no one forced Mr Ahamd to set up the web site.
    If he subsequently discovers that having done so has discomfited him, then I can only say “If you don’t want to spend the time, don’t do the crime”!

    1. Fahad Ansari says:

      Deportation is for foreign nationals. Ahmad is a British citizen. Extradition is for fugitives who commit crimes in one jurisdiction and flee to another. Ahmad’s alleged crimes are said to have been committed in the UK, all the evidence against him was seized in the UK but astonishingly sent to the US before the CPS had ever viewed it to decide whether to prosecute. Serious abuse of process has taken place here with British justice being outsourced to a foreign jurisdiction.

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