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Terrorism & Security

Pilot wrongfully accused of 9/11 ties can seek damages from Britain

A British court ruled that the government destroyed Lotfi Raissi's career by imprisoning him for months on terror charges.

By / February 15, 2008

A British man wrongly charged with training the pilots in the Sept. 11 attacks and imprisoned for six months can claim damages from the British government, a British court ruled Thursday. The decision has prompted criticism of Britain's terrorist extradition policies with the United States.

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Britain's Court of Appeal ruled, writes the Scotsman, that the government should reexamine its decision to deny compensation to Lotfi Raissi, in light of the damage it did to Mr. Raissi's career and reputation by arresting him and publicly accusing him of aiding the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Raissi, who attended a flight school in Arizona at the same time as men involved in the attacks, was imprisoned by the British government for four-and-a-half months on terrorism-related charges. The government released him when it could find no evidence to support its accusations.

Lord Justice Hooper, giving judgment today, said: "The public labelling of the appellant as a terrorist by the authorities in this country, and particularly by the [Crown Prosecution Service, the government's criminal prosecutors in England and Wales], over a period of many months has had and continues to have, so it is said, a devastating effect on his life and on his health.
"He considers that, unless he receives a public acknowledgement that he is not a terrorist, he will be unable to get his life back together again."
The judge said the appeal court, which also included the Master of the Rolls, Sir Anthony Clarke and Lady Justice Smith, considered that there was a "considerable body of evidence" to suggest that the police and the CPS were responsible for what the scheme describes as "serious defaults".

The New York Times writes that while the court reserved most of its criticism for British prosecutors, it also condemned the United States for its role in Raissi's arrest. US authorities believed that Raissi was a terrorist and requested he be arrested by British law enforcement.

Mr. Raissi was picked up by the police at his home near Heathrow Airport 10 days after the [September 11] attacks at the request of the United States, the court noted. During the seven days he was questioned by the British police, an F.B.I. agent observed "from a remote location via a television link," the court said.
When the seven-day holding period was up, the United States sought to extradite Mr. Raissi after hastily filing what the court called "trivial" charges: failure to note on his pilot's license application that he had had knee surgery, and that, at the age of 19, he had been arrested for stealing a briefcase at Heathrow and given a false name at the time.
The British court said the United States had abused the extradition process, using it as "a device to secure" Mr. Raissi's "presence in the U.S. for the purpose of investigating 9/11 rather than for the purpose of putting him on trial for nondisclosure offenses."

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