Who is Abu Qatada and why is Britain unable to deport him?
Britain released Islamist preacher Abu Qatada on bail Monday after a British court ruled he could not be extradited to Jordan.
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Earlier this year, judges at the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Qatada could not be extradited to Jordan because Jordanian authorities had not provided assurances that torture-derived evidence would not be used to convict him. Torture is routinely used to interrogate prisoners in Jordan, according to Human Rights Watch. In response, Britain and Jordan signed an agreement on Qatada's extradition that stipulated he would not be subjected to torture or other mistreatment at the hands of Jordanian officials.Skip to next paragraph
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But on Monday, Britain's Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) ruled that Jordan had supplied insufficient assurances that the evidence used against Qatada would not be based on testimony from other tortured witnesses. Despite the diplomatic agreement's assurances, the SIAC notes that there was a "high probability" that statements from two witnesses would be used against Qatada in Jordan, and there was a "real risk" that the testimony from the two had been procured through torture. As such, Qatada is unlikely to receive a fair trial in Jordan, the SIAC writes, and so his extradition cannot be allowed.
What can the British government do now?
Although the SIAC ruling forbids Qatada's present deportation, it does explain how the hurdles to his extradition might be overcome. At the moment, though, the remedies lie largely in the hands of the Jordanian authorities. The SIAC writes that before Qatada could be extradited, Jordan would have to change its criminal code or issue "authoritative rulings" that would bar the use of the witnesses' testimony against him. But such changes could still take years: both because of bureaucratic delays on the Jordanian side, and because Qatada would almost certainly be allowed to appeal any extradition based on those changes.
Alternatively, Britain could pursue legal charges against Qatada in its own courts. Despite the government's long, drawn-out efforts to hand Qatada off to Jordan – not to mention his nearly decade-long incarceration – he has never faced charges within the United Kingdom itself. British media commentators have questioned why the government never pursued charges itself. Liberal Democrat Lord MacDonald, the director of public prosecutions from 2003 to 2008, told the BBC that he had never been shown sufficient evidence to support a criminal prosecution.
Another possibility is for Britain to extradite Qatada to another country besides Jordan to face trial. Qatada is wanted in numerous countries, including the US, where Britain was able to successfully extradite another firebrand Islamist preacher, Abu Hamza, two months ago. But that could also take years – Abu Hamza was only extradited after eight years of appeals.