According to his lawyers, Abu Hamza al-Masri suffers from sleep deprivation, depression, and the effects of being confined in an unrelentingly “harsh environment.” In other words, he sounds a lot like my son who is taking his midterms at vet school, only a bit more upbeat.
So—very much like the judges of the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg—I naturally feel a certain affinity for Abu and am, also like the judges, concerned about his mental and physical health. Perhaps he could use one of those Sleep Number beds, so he can relax more in the US, which is where he finally happens to be after far too long.
A little history is in order here. For the last eight years, the former imam of the Finsbury Park mosque in London has been fighting extradition to New York. There he faces 11 charges related to a kidnapping conspiracy in Yemen, which resulted in the deaths of four Western hostages, along with a few more charges: apparently, around a dozen years ago, Masri, less stressed at the time, tried to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon; also, he allegedly provided aid to al-Qaeda.
Since the United States promised not to put Masri to death if convicted in an American court, you’d have thought the European Court of Human Rights, to which the UK is a signatory, would have little problem with his extradition.
However, that’s just what the ECHR did worry about. Endlessly. Would Masri be treated “humanely” in an American jail? Would he, during his long sojourn, be subjected to “degrading treatment”? Is the US and its Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which bans cruel or unusual punishment, as noble, compassionate, and fair-minded as, say, Article 3 of the European Code, which states: “No one shall be subject to torture … or inhuman punishment”? Is life imprisonment, which Abu and his cohorts will very likely get, a form of torture?
These are the kinds of questions the Strasbourg court might mull over when a terrorist is due to be sent back to, say, Saudi Arabia, where guilty verdicts can lead to missing body parts, including heads. But it took five years of hand-wringing for the judges to decide that maybe the US wasn’t Saudi Arabia; and that the supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, which will be the likely future home of Masri and five codefendants, was probably an okay venue, even for a person suffering from insomnia.
What else exactly did Masri’s and the other defendants’ lawyers consider degrading or inhumane about the American supermax prison? Well, there’s a fair chance that, when convicted, all five will end up, separately of course, in solitary confinement, which some of the judges initially found perturbing.
Then, when they discovered that even the Colorado prison forbids permanent solitary confinement for even al-Qaeda prisoners, the judges relented. Masri, they said, could in fact face trial in the US because some day or other he will finally be able to communicate with like-minded fellow prisoners.
And lucky for him: there will indeed be those famished for his words when Masri alights in Colorado. Richard Reid, the notorious shoe bomber and, by happenstance, Abu’s former congregant at the Finsbury Park mosque, is already there.
Photo Credit: CherryX