British fury at Abu Qatada bail release
by Daniel Mason
British politicians have reacted angrily after a decision by the European Court of Human Rights led to the granting of bail to the radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada, once described as Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe.
Senior immigration judge Mr Justice Mitting's decision to grant bail yesterday followed a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg last month. European judges said Qatada could not be returned to Jordan on the grounds that evidence obtained through torture might be used in his trial. He has been detained without trial in the United Kingdom for more than six-and-a-half years.
But a Home Office spokesman said Qatada remained a "dangerous man" who posed a "real threat to national security". The government has three months to appeal the Strasbourg court's decision and is also attempting to win assurances from Jordan that Qatada would be tried fairly if returned there.
The Attorney General Dominic Grieve told the BBC's Today programme that the government was "obviously very concerned about this case and very much wishes to see Abu Qatada deported to Jordan and, when he is in Jordan, tried fairly if the Jordanian authorities wish to put him on trial. He cannot be deported unless the assurances which are required following the judgment in the European Court of Human Rights can be secured."
The special immigration appeals commission set strict bail conditions. Qatada will be electronically tagged and allowed out of his house for just two hours a day. He will have no access to a mobile phone or the internet, and visitors will be vetted by the security services. He is set to be released on bail within days.
But that was not enough to prevent a furious reaction from members of parliament. Conservative MP Dominic Raab laid the blame at the door of the European court. "It makes a mockery of human rights law that a terrorist suspect deemed 'dangerous' by our own courts can't be returned home, not for fear that he might be tortured, but because European judges don't trust the Jordanian justice system."
Another Conservative MP, Bill Cash, pointed out that the party had pledged to reform the Human Rights Act in its election manifesto, and said the Qatada case showed why it should be repealed. He was echoed by his colleague Charlie Elphicke, who said the decision showed "everything that is wrong with human rights in Europe".
European lawmakers were also critical. UK Independence Party MEP Gerard Batten said: "It seems that we are unable to charge him with any specific offences in this country, so we are forced to let him back on our streets. This just shows that our defences have been emasculated by our subservience to the European courts. Today we are powerless. Those who would do this country down must be laughing at us".
Meanwhile Robin Simcox, a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society think-tank, branded the ruling "a disgrace". He said: "If Abu Qatada is to be released, the government should place him under a Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measure, the successor to control orders. He is far too important an al-Qaeda ideologue not to be under surveillance."
Following the Madrid bombings in 2004, Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón described Qatada as "Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe", and videos containing his hate speeches were found in the flat of one the 9/11 bombers. He was first detained in the United Kingdom in 2002, released on bail in 2008 but then returned to prison on national security grounds. The government has repeatedly failed to deport him to Jordan.
Labour's shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "Abu Qatada should face terror charges in Jordan, and the home secretary needs to urgently accelerate discussions with the Jordanian government to make that possible." The government has been told that Qatada's bail condition could be relaxed after three months if not progress is made in the negotiations with Jordan.
British law lords ruled three years ago that he could be returned but were overruled by the European court in Strasbourg. In his absence Qatada has been convicted in Jordan of involvement in two terrorist conspiracies.
The dispute is the latest in a string of clashes between the British government and the European court. Last month Prime Minister David Cameron called for the court to reform, claiming that decisions such as that on Qatada were "distorting" and "discrediting" the idea of human rights.
Speaking as Britain took over the presidency of the Council of Europe, which runs the court, Cameron said the body should not "undermine its own reputation by going over national decisions where it does not need to".
If you torture people, then you can expect human rights courts to rule against you.
Can't we just stick him on a plane and send him over anyway - then deal with the consequences afterwards?
Laskovar - UK
Laskovar - better still, prevent him from rearing his ugly head ever again. Jeb - but what about the rights of those who will be sanctioned for killing after he's released through the efforts of some misguided human rights tear-shedding lawyer?
Should Qatada or any of his acolytes create a terror incident, the EU will be toast. The prospect of a terrorist event occurring in the UK, Germany, France, Spain or Italy is quite high. And should this happen, which of the faceless, cowardly leaders of this political construct called the EU will stand up and take responsibility? My money is on none of them.
Pierre - Clermont, France