Abu Qatada, a radical Islamist cleric seen as a senior al-Qaeda operative in Europe, strolled out of British prison on Tuesday with an electronic bracelet on his ankle and a smile on his face, after a decade of legal wrangling over his case ended in a stalemate. Even the left-wing papers in the U.K. are queasy about this outcome.
The terrorist cleric – who has ties to 9/11 plotter Zaccarias Moussaoui, thwarted shoe bomber Richard Reid, and the late Osama bin Laden – has been orbiting the British legal system in a holding pattern since 2001. The problem, in a nutshell, is that British authorities don’t seem confident they have a tight enough case to prevail against Abu Qatada’s lawyers in civilian court. They do have ample reason to deport him, and he’s facing serious charges in his home country… which happens to be Jordan. The British courts fear that Jordan will torture the Palestinian-born Abu Qatada if he’s remanded to their custody, or use evidence obtained by torture against him in court, despite assurances to the contrary offered by no less than King Abdullah II.
So, even though the radical cleric got into the U.K. with forged documents to begin with, he’s apparently become a permanent fixture upon the British landscape. As reported by the Associated Press:
Judge John Mitting said he was not convinced the cleric would receive a fair trial, despite the government’s insistence that it has won assurances from Jordan over how Abu Qatada’s case would be handled — including from Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
Mitting said there remained a real risk that evidence obtained through torture would be used against Abu Qatada, which would be a breach of his human rights.
Under the terms of his bail, Mitting said, the cleric must observe a 16-hour curfew, wear an electronic anklet, cannot use the Internet and is barred from contacting certain people.
Britain’s government has said it will appeal against Mitting’s ruling, arguing that he applied the wrong criteria in making his decision.
“We are going to challenge it, we are going to take it to appeal. We are absolutely determined to see this man get on a plane and go back to Jordan. He does not belong here,” Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told ITV television Tuesday.
The really wonderful part of this situation is that it’s going to cost the British public 5 million pounds (about $8 million U.S.) per year to monitor Abu Qatada’s house arrest. As the UK Independent points out, the al-Qaeda bigshot has basically defeated both the British government and its people, and it’s hard to imagine a situation he would enjoy more:
Abu Qatada will be kicking his heels up today, to hell with the electronic tag. There are plenty of reasons to celebrate. First, he has got one over a legal system and political class whose timidity is quite simply appalling. Second, he knows the police outside the window ??? like the rest of the country ??? desperately want him gone, and that they???ll cost British taxpayers millions to keep in station so long as he remains. What is ultimately so galling about this situation is that, on a mere technicality, we???re putting the interests of a terrorist above those of British citizens. Had our leaders the gumption, they could ensure Qatada was tried fairly (perhaps, like the Lockerbie bomber, in a neutral country) and be done with him. But it’s hardly a surprise they don???t.
The UK Daily Mail describes Abu Qatda’s release as the “surrender” of a system paralyzed by partisan warfare, and an “appalling indictment of a pygmy political class which has cravenly ceded control of this country’s national security to a foreign court,” by which they mean the European Court of Human Rights.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said the judgment showed ???a very real need for major changes to the way the European human rights framework operates???.
The ???extremely frustrated??? Prime Minister ??? like millions of angry and disbelieving Britons ??? declared that he was ???completely fed up with the fact that this man is still at large in our country???.
Yet, for all this hand-wringing, the depressing reality is that nothing is likely to change.
It is to the credit of Western nations that they have taken care to avoid the Nietzsche trap of becoming the monsters they grapple with, but combined with the hyper-legalized fetishes and bitter internal politics typical of the West, this noble impulse has devolved into paralysis. That’s not much of a problem for the enemies we face. They’re not much impressed with blustery talk of how they’ve been “decimated,” and they join Abu Qatada in smirking at civilization’s inability to deal effectively with even the most obvious villains.
On the bright side, the terms of Abu Qatada’s bail include a prohibition against using the Internet. If the U.K. takes that as seriously as American courts do, the radical cleric could find himself swiftly returned to prison. Just ask the guy who uploaded the “Innocence of Muslims” video to YouTube.