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Monday, February 26, 2007 

To deport or not to deport the man with the beard.

Few are going to shed any tears over the decision by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission that Abu Qutada can be deported back to Jordan, where he was convicted in absentia of being involved in a number of bomb attacks. While it's impossible to know just how involved he was with al-Qaida prior to 9/11, and some of the charges against him may well be unsubstantiated, it's clear that he was one of three clerics, along with Abu Hamza and Omar Bakri Mohammad, who were the most influential and respected extremist Islamist preachers in the United Kingdom until recently.

While the charge sheets against Hamza and Bakri are an inch thick, nowhere near as much is known about Qutada. We know that videos of his sermons were found in one of the flats in Germany occupied by the 9/11 hijackers, that his declarations were read out at Al-Muhajiroun meetings, and that it's possible he may have been a MI5 double agent, but other than that Qutada is something of an enigma. For a man who is alleged to have the same mindset as the average al-Qaida influenced Salafi jihadist, his plea for Norman Kember to be released by his captives in Iraq was certainly out of character, especially when you consider how others like him are firm believers that non-Muslims and anyone else they don't like are kuffar. It could of course been an attempt to get better treatment in prison, or to try to stop his possible deportation to Jordan, but the authorities made clear at the time that he had not been offered anything in return for his message, and it seems that he approached them rather than them approaching him.

The decision is really not so much about Qutada but about whether we should deport anyone, even terrorist sympathisers/suspects to countries which are known to practice torture. While Jordan is by no means the most egregious of Middle Eastern countries when it comes to mistreatment of prisoners, Human Rights Watch documents how confessions are obtained through sleep deprivation, mock executions and prolonged solitary confinement, as well as beatings. Amnesty International, in a report titled "Your confessions are ready to sign", accuses the Jordanian government of being entirely complicit in the practicing of torture:

they maintain a system of incommunicado detention which facilitates torture and other ill-treatment of detainees and a related special security court whose judgments regularly appear to be based on little more than "confessions" which defendants allege were extracted under torture or other duress.

The fabled memorandum of understanding, which has Jordan agreeing to treat anyone deported to the country humanely, is little more than worthless. It's the equivalent of a nudge and a wink, as well as making it more than clear that torture is indeed practiced in Jordan. The Adaleh Centre for Human Rights Studies (site is in Arabic) has agreed to monitor anyone who is deported from the UK, but just how much access they will be allowed will not become clear until it actually happens.

The main question, as ever, is why Qutada cannot be tried here. SIAC itself is little more than a kangaroo court; it's allowed to hear evidence in secret, and Qutada has been allowed few opportunities to challenge the evidence held against him, other than his rather ambigious sermons which are in the public domain, which are nowhere near as bloodcurdling nor delivered in the oratory more associated with the swivel-eyed Hamza and Bakri. SIAC has been used previously to take a seeming revenge on one of the men acquitted in the "ricin" trial; it heard the exact same evidence as in that trial, with added "secret" evidence, before coming to the decision to recommend that he could be deported to Algeria.

The judge in that case, Mr Justice Ouseley, said that it was "inconceivable" that "Y" would be ill-treated. He could not have been proved more wrong more quickly. Two men who were being held under suspicion of links with terrorism who decided to return to Algeria of their own accord after growing weary of the process and who were promised they would not face criminal proceedings under the amnesty put in place after the civil war, have since been arrested and charged with.... terrorism offences. While there is no "memorandum of understanding" with Algeria, it's an incident that was both predictable and bound to embarrass the government. However, as the men were "terrorist suspects", it's unlikely there'll be any change in policy as a result.

Reasons for why the government wants to be rid of Qutada are manifest. He's a symbol of "Londonistan", however far that particular neologism has been exaggerated. MI5 has denied that he was an agent or ever held in a safehouse by them, two things that had previously been reported, but he's still involved with the rendition of Bisher al-Rawi. al-Rawi is believed to have spied on Qutada for MI5, but outlived his usefulness once Qutada was arrested. On leaving for Gambia, he was stopped by MI5 but allowed to travel, only for MI5 to inform the CIA that he was carrying bomb parts. He was transferred to Guantanamo Bay, and during his Combatant Status Review Tribunal, he was asked mainly about his relationship with Qutada (PDF). Both men are clearly an embarrassment to MI5, whether all the allegations are true or not.

How much of the secret evidence held against Qutada is made up of intercepts we will probably never know. A number of his speeches and his interviews are however available, and if the authorities were so inclined, they could probably get enough together for a prosecution along the lines of the one that resulted in Abu Hamza being convicted for inciting racial hatred. It is however much easier to try to deport him, therefore getting rid of him once and for all. Unlike Bakri, who left before he was arrested in similar circumstances, and who is still preaching his hate in web casts from Lebanon, Qutada faces at the least a long term of imprisonment in Jordan.

Yesterday's Observer argued that it was a lesser evil leaving him to be potentially abused in Jordan than for him to remain here. Such an argument is dubious at best, and "jihadisbad", who, as you might guess isn't the most liberal commentator on Islam in his comment says it's "naive" to think he won't be tortured. If this deportation is to happen, and it appears extremely likely, then the memorandum of understanding needs to be enforced, and properly. No half measures should be tolerated. It may be that there'll be the tiniest violin in the world playing if he is in fact mistreated, but the ruling sets a potentially dangerous precedent, and again shows how little our respect for human rights often is when it comes to those we don't like.

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