Abu Hamza to be extradited, but why did it take so long?

Sep 25, 2012

European court rules that being sent to a US prison would not violate human rights of four terrorism suspects

Odd Anderson

THE IMMINENT extradition to the US of Abu Hamza has been met with approval by most, but some are asking why it took so long for the radical Islamic cleric’s legal case to conclude.

Hamza, a tabloid hate figure, has been fighting extradition to the US on terror charges for the last eight years. He could now be flown to America to face justice in the next few weeks, The Guardian reports today.

Hamza, 54, and four others suspected of terrorism, including Babar Ahmed and Khaled al-Fawwaz, had applied to the European Court of Human Rights for their cases to be heard by the body's Grand Chamber after the court ruled in April that their human rights would not be violated by being sent to a US 'Supermax' jail in Colorado.

Yesterday a panel of five judges rejected that appeal, The Daily Telegraph reports. They endorsed the initial verdict that facilities on offer in the American high-security institution - which include televisions, telephones and arts and crafts - "went beyond" what the five could have expected to receive in a British jail.

The decision brings to an end more than a decade of legal battles which are estimated to have cost the taxpayer more than £4m. Hamza, who has been in custody since May 2004, was initially arrested on charges of stirring up racial hatred and encouraging the murder of non-Muslims.

He has subsequently become seen as an example of how 'soft' British and European courts have been in dealing with terror suspects. Hamza's high profile in the media has been enhanced by his appearance - he has a hook prothesis on his right hand and also lost an eye, reportedly while fighting the Russians in Afghanistan.

The Home Office released a statement yesterday saying: "The home secretary welcomes today's decision not to refer the cases of Abu Hamza and four others to the grand chamber. This follows the judgment of the European court of human rights on 10 April to allow the extradition of these five terrorism suspects to the US.

"We will work to ensure that the individuals are handed over to the US authorities as quickly as possible."

The Sun, a long-time pursuer of Hamza, is predictably gleeful in its coverage of his legal defeat, titling its editorial 'So long, Hook':  "It's almost ten years since The Sun ran the front page headline Sling Your Hook,” says the paper. “We never dreamed it would take a decade to see the back of Abu Hamza, the hook-handed terrorist recruiter who openly promoted murder on our streets.

"But European judges have at last OK’d his extradition to the States. The Home Office says it will now get Hamza on a plane as fast as possible. How’s today looking?"

While the move has been widely welcomed – including, apparently, by Buckingham Palace - some have been asking why it has taken so long for Hamza to be extradited.

Legal blogger Adam Wagner notes that it has taken between three and four years for the Strasbourg court to process the applications, "a very significant delay, especially given the subject matter and the importance of trying terrorist suspects as close to the time of their alleged offences as possible".

Wagner suggests that an "eye-watering" backlog of 150,000 cases at the court is to blame for the delay - although the court disputes this and says that it was the complexity of the case that caused it to take so long.

"Leaving cases to fester for years, especially highly sensitive ones such as those involving serious terrorist charges, is good for no one," concludes Wagner.

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