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The Witch Hunt Must Stop: Why Abu Qatada Should Not Be Deported

29/04/2013 17:46 BST | Updated 29/06/2013 10:12 BST

Why can't Theresa May just prosecute Abu Qatada in an open transparent court instead of deporting him to Jordan? The 'War on Terror' has granted her extraordinary powers for evidence gathering, as well as having special courts without a jury at her disposal. She can charge the accused without him ever knowing what the case or the evidence against him is. She can detain, tag, gag even rename him with impunity. She has powers that befit an Arthur Koestler novel, yet with all these tools at her disposal she can't make anything stick to the man described as 'Bin Laden's right hand man in Europe'. Is the evidence weak or is she simply incompetent? Why sully UK's human rights record further by deporting him to a country that practices torture? Ms. May doesn't need a judge to tell her that torture is evil, her conscience should do that.

Deporting Abu Qatada to Jordan undermines exactly the very same values that her colleague William Hague advocates for the UK:

"...in standing up for freedom, human rights and the rule of law ourselves, we must never use methods that undermine these things. As a democracy we must hold ourselves to the highest standards. This includes being absolutely clear that torture and mistreatment are repugnant, unacceptable and counter-productive. "

One wonders what will happen to Abu Qatada if he is sent to Jordan; a country where torturers according to Human Rights Watch, "enjoy near-total impunity" . In Jordan, as Amnesty international says , you don't need to be a member of AQ to be beaten or whipped, you just need to attend a peaceful demonstration.

It doesn't matter that Ms. May has high level assurances from her Jordanian counterparts that they won't use torture against Abu Qatada. Tony Blair got the same thing from his Algerian counterparts before deporting his Algerian terror suspects. It seems the Algerian government broke their word; Amnesty accused them of torturing the deportees. Let's not be naïve here; countries that have institutionalized torture are not suddenly going to change their tact, least of all with men allegedly linked to AQ. Eradicating attitudes and practices of torture takes years if not decades. High level assurances from governments who practice torture is not worth the paper their written on. If Abu Qatada is sent back Ms May could be an accomplice to torture; effectively putting a bullet to all those things that British democracy holds dear.

Alternatively Ms. May could use the UK's robust legal system that can deal with complicated cases like Abu Qatada's. Prosecute him under UK law and treat him like any other person suspected of committing a crime. Let the court proceedings be open and transparent. If he is found guilty send him to prison if not set him free. After all he has broken no law in the UK and is being held under immigration laws. His family have for a long time expressed a desire to leave the UK to a country other than Jordan due to the racist abuse they have suffered; it is only the Home Office that has refused to grant their request . It is the most simple, sensible, cost effective and above all just solution available.

Failure to do this will reflect badly on the country that exported Habeas Corpus to the world. Failing to prosecute him in a British court and deporting him to Jordan will legitimize torture. It will encourage and justify a discourse of thinly veiled racism, and send out the message that here in the UK some people are more equal than others. When we deport Abu Qatada we undermine one of the checks that prevent us from becoming what we abhor in other countries. Ultimately the case of Abu Qatada is about who we want to be; a country that scapegoats, persecutes and plays political ping pong with people's lives, or a country that sets aside its prejudices and judges a man on the merits of the case. It's time to stop the witch hunt.