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U.K. To Extradite Terrorism Suspects To U.S.


You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.


A court in Europe has cleared the way for Britain to begin the process of extraditing five terrorism suspects to the U.S. Europe's human rights court was asked to consider a question about the maximum security prisons in the U.S. where these suspects might be held, the so-called supermax prisons. The court ruled that conditions in those prisons do not violate inmates' human rights. Vicki Barker has the story from London.

VICKY BARBER, BYLINE: The prisoners include the radical preacher known as Abu Hamza, instantly recognizable here for the hook he has in place of a right hand.

ABU HAMZA: Just do it. Anything will (unintelligible) brother do it. If it's killing, do it.

BARBER: If it's killing, do it, he's telling his London congregation in this file footage aired by the BBC. He was arrested in 2004 and convicted of inciting murder two years later. He's wanted in the U.S. over the 1998 kidnapping of westerners in Yemen and an alleged plan to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon.

VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: Two others, Adel Abdul Bary and Khalid al-Fawwaz, allegedly helped organize the 1998 embassy bombings in East Africa. And Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad are accused of supporting terrorism through websites operated in London. The judges are delaying a decision on a sixth suspect pending reports on his mental health.

British Home Secretary Theresa May says she's pleased a long legal marathon seems to have ended.

THERESA MAY: We'll be working to ensure that we can hand over these individuals, including Abu Hamza, to the United States as soon as possible.

BARKER: The ruling was significant because the men's lawyers were, in effect, putting the American penal system on trial, trying to establish that lifetime sentences or solitary confinement in a supermax prison violate European conventions against torture and inhuman or degrading treatment. But the court ruled that the seriousness of the accusations justified those possible sentences.

Lord Carlile led an independent review of terror legislation under the previous labor government of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

ALEX CARLILE: I don't like some aspects of its penal system, but it's a sovereign and lawful system, and it would have been extraordinary if the European Court of Human Rights had discriminated against the American justice system.

BARKER: Today's ruling is likely to speed up future extraditions of terror suspects under the fast-track treaty enacted between Britain and the U.S. after 9/11. Relatives of one of the defendants, Babar Ahmad, say they'll try to persuade the European court's grand chamber to take the unusual step of reopening and reexamining the entire case. Ahmad has spent nearly eight years fighting his extradition. He's become Britain's longest serving prisoner never to have been charged.

His father, Ashfaq Ahmad, says they will also renew attempts to have him tried here.

ASHFAQ AHMAD: All the evidence against him was gathered in this county. Nevertheless, British justice appears to have been subcontracted to the U.S.

BARKER: Even if an appeal isn't granted, the European court has said the men should not be extradited until its judgment becomes final, and that could take months. For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.