ECtHR asks UK to delay extradition of terror suspects to US

The European Court of Human Rights on Thursday ordered (press release; decision) UK to delay the extradition of the radical cleric Egyptian-born radical cleric Mustafa Kamal Mustafa — also known as Abu Hamza al-Masri –  and three other men. The Court said Hamza and the other men shouldn’t be extradited from the UK until it reaches a decision on his claim that the maximum security prison in the U.S. where he is likely to be jailed would violate article 3 of the ECHR, which prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment. The court said it needs more time to rule on that issue.

The US is seeking to prosecute Hamza on charges he supported the Taliban with money and troops, set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon and aided in a 1998 Yemeni kidnapping that left four dead. The UK signed his extradition order after the US gave diplomatic assurances the cleric’s human rights would be respected. Hamza had appealed both the lower court decision to allow his extradition and the UK government’s signing of the extradition papers.

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 communications with the outside world. Thursday’s ruling opens a new front over the U.S. practice of putting convicted criminals in spartan, maximum security prisons for the rest of their lives.

The court dismissed the four suspects’ argument that as non-U.S. citizens their trial would be “a flagrant denial of justice.” It also dismissed their fear they would become “enemy combatants” or sent to a third country — past practices that have been abandoned.

It asked Britain if decades in maximum security was not inhumane, if the four suspects can ever expect “transfer to a normal prison” or see their sentences reduced. In this respect, the 70-page ruling cites the harsh conditions at a maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado, where the suspects will likely be sent, if convicted. Human Rights Watch has said the prison’s conditions violate U.S. international treaty obligations.

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