A year ago this week two of my Tooting constituents, Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan, were extradited to the USA on terror charges. Both men are British citizens who had been held in British prisons prior to their extradition. Yet, despite facing very serious allegations, they have never formally been charged with any offences in this country.
Babar has been in custody since 2004 and Talha since 2006. Yet, even after their first year in US custody, they are no nearer to having their day in court. Earlier this year it was reported that their trials may be put back until 2014 due to their size and complexity. With 97% of all defendants in the USA ending up pleading "guilty" as part of a plea bargain, I am not alone in fearing that the same will happen with these two men also.
As their MP, I have been supporting the families of these two British men for a number of years, and have campaigned vociferously for a fair trial. It is truly shocking that two British citizens arrested by the Metropolitan Police and held in British custody without charge or trial for over nine years, despite the allegations being so serious to be covered by British criminal law, were extradited by the authorities to the USA. During all this, Babar Ahmed was severely assaulted during the course of his arrest.
We pride ourselves in Britain on our sense of fair play and decency, and in our trust in the rule of law. As shadow Justice Secretary and as a former human rights lawyer I have come into contact with many brilliant people that contribute to our high quality justice system. It truly is the envy of many other countries across the world, who look to us for moral authority in legal matters. But in the case of Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan, many believe that our justice system has let them down.
We all appreciate that our security services have a crucial job to do and need all of our support. However, we also believe in the rule of law. But, in many people's eyes, this has let down my two constituents. The presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and the principle of due process look to have been jettisoned. I'm on record with my views that the extradition laws passed by the Labour government almost ten years ago are flawed. While changes have now been made, they have come too late to make a difference to my two constituents. This is a terrible shame.
Many people have pointed out to me the inconsistency in the actions of the current Home Secretary. Theresa May blocked the extradition to the USA of Gary McKinnon who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, yet she allowed Syed Talha Ahsan to be extradited despite also suffering from the same condition. She also announced her changes to our extradition laws just a matter of weeks after Babar and Talha had been extradited. These types of apparent double standards make many people question whether these decisions were just.
As their local MP, one year on from their extradition, I want to make sure that we do not forget that Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan are two British men that are still incarcerated thousands of miles from home. We must not forget that these men have never had the opportunity to face any charges in a court of law despite initially being arrested more than nine and seven years ago respectively.
Of course, it is in the public interest to know whether or not these two men are innocent or guilty. This is why they and their supporters asked the Crown Prosecution Service to charge them in the UK so they could have a trial before their own peers. But without a trial to determine the facts we are none the wiser. For the families of these two men, dealing with the daily struggle of having their loved ones locked up without trial, the nightmare continues as they remain in a constant state of limbo.
Rt Hon Sadiq Khan MP is the Shadow Justice Secretary, Shadow Minister for London and MP for Tooting
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