Rights court halts extradition of four terror suspects to US
BRUSSELS — An international court ordered Britain yesterday to hold off on extraditing four terrorism suspects to the United States, saying it must show that life terms without parole in maximum-security prisons would not violate Europe’s human rights charter.
The suspects include three Britons and Mustafa Kamal Mustafa — the Egyptian-born radical cleric also known as Abu Hamza al-Masri, the one-eyed, hook-handed hardliner accused of setting up a terrorist training camp in rural Oregon.
The European Court of Human Rights gave Britain until Sept. 2 to respond to questions about the punishment they will face.
If convicted of charges filed between 2004 and 2006, they could get lifelong jail terms without parole in maximum-security conditions, including concrete furniture, timed showers, tiny cell windows, and no communication with the outside world.
Masri contends he has lost his Egyptian nationality, but Britain considers him an Egyptian citizen. He has also been linked to the taking of 16 hostages in Yemen in 1998 and to preaching jihad in Afghanistan.
The other suspects are Masri’s alleged coconspirator, Haroon Rashid Aswat, and Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan. Ahmad is accused of running websites to raise money, appeal for fighters, and provide equipment such as gas masks and night-vision goggles for terrorists. Ahsan is charged with conspiring to support terrorists via the Internet.
Europe and the United States have long disagreed on the merit of the death penalty. The ruling yesterday opens a new front, this one over the US practice of putting criminals convicted of brutal crimes in spartan, maximum-security prisons for the rest of their lives.
It is now up to Britain, presumably in collaboration with US legal specialists, to show it is not cruel or degrading.
After the four exhausted their appeals against extradition in British courts, they turned to the European Court of Human Rights, based in Strasbourg, France.
They argued that incarceration in the United States will be so long and harsh it would amount to a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights of 1950. The article says, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.’’
The court dismissed the four suspects’ argument that as non-US citizens their trial would be “a flagrant denial of justice.’’ It also dismissed their fear that they would become “enemy combatants’’ or sent to a third country, past practices that have been abandoned.