Babar Ahmad: My unjust extradition, after eight years in detention without charge
As a British citizen who has lived here since birth, studied, worked full-time and paid taxes, I should face trial here
After fighting a lengthy battle lasting more than eight years, I expect to be extradited to the US imminently. Since my detention without charge began in August 2004, millions of pounds of British taxpayer’s money has been spent on keeping me in a high-security prison all these years, on legal costs and parliamentary business. In addition, there have been at least 10 demonstrations attended by hundreds of people, several parliamentary debates and thousands of letters written to MPs, ministers and public officials. As if all this was not enough, last year nearly 150,000 people signed an e-petition to Downing Street calling for me to be put on trial in Britain.
As well as tangible costs, the government has paid a price in outrage, disillusionment with legitimate forms of protest and resentment towards the justice system. This is not to mention the tens of thousands of pounds spent by my family (all British taxpayers) out of their own money supporting me, visiting me in prison and campaigning for me to be tried here in Britain, something they mistakenly thought their taxes had already paid for.
So why has this battle been fought? Why should I be put on trial in Britain? Why have I spent all this time and effort fighting extradition (or “avoiding extradition” as some like to put it)? As a British citizen who has lived since birth in Britain, studied, worked full-time and paid taxes, if I am accused of any offence here in Britain I expect at the very least to face trial here in Britain.
I am not against the concept of extradition; in fact I support it, but only for fugitives. If someone is accused of murder in Texas or robbery in New York, then flees to Britain as a fugitive, of course that person should be extradited to face trial in the land where he allegedly committed the crime. Ministers have frequently defended our extradition arrangements with the US by claiming that the US also extradites people, including its own citizens, to Britain, so it is mutually reciprocal. However, the question to ask is how many people has the US extradited to Britain who are accused of committing offences on American soil? The answer is none, because US authorities considering foreign extradition requests understand very well that extradition should be for fugitives, not resident alleged offenders.
As well as not being anti-extradition, I am not anti-US either. The US is a sovereign nation with a justice system that it can run how it wants. If you disagree with US penal policies, or believe them to be harsh, the answer is simple as we say in prison, “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” As a British citizen living in Britain during the period of the allegations against me, is it unreasonable to assume that I would have considered myself subject to British law, not US law (or that of any other country)? Indeed, as the government’s former terrorism watchdog Lord Carlile said in the case of computer hacker Gary McKinnon: “There is no doubt that Mr McKinnon could be prosecuted in this country, given that the acts of unlawful access occurred within our jurisdiction (ie from his computer in north London) and that he has admitted the offences. The English legal system is perfectly positioned to deal with cases of this nature making McKinnon’s extradition both unnecessary and disproportionate.”
After my initial arrest in December 2003 during which Metropolitan police officers inflicted at least 73 injuries on me, I would have thought that the police would give to the CPS any material found in my house with a view to considering prosecuting me in the UK. After six days in custody I was released without charge and I returned to my full-time job at Imperial College London. However, as has recently been uncovered in legal documents, the Metropolitan police only showed a fraction of the material seized in my house to the CPS, sending the rest straight to the US so that it could seek my extradition (which it did do eight months later). What is even more concerning is that, at the time the senior police officer in charge of my case decided to effectively “outsource” my case to the US, he himself was a suspect in the separate investigation into the police assault on me (though he was never charged).
The recent decision by the CPS not to prosecute me for reasons of insufficient evidence still does not answer the central question at the crux of the matter: why did the Metropolitan police not hand over to the CPS all of the material it seized from my house in December 2003? Extraditing me to the US will not bury this question under the carpet: it will only amplify the problem.
In recent years, successive British governments have lined up to offer apologies, or compensation (or both) to victims of cover-ups and miscarriages of justice: Hillsborough, Bloody Sunday, former Guantanamo inmates… It is said that the only lesson we learn from history is that we do not learn from history. In years to come, will future generations look proudly at this period of British history, a period in which a British citizen was detained without charge for a record time of over eight years then extradited to a foreign land where he was not a fugitive from justice? They will ask: was the extradition of Babar Ahmad worth it?