Imprisonment without trial in Britain

Khalid Al-Fawwaz has been in jail for over 11 years and Adel Abdel Bary has been in jail for 10 years. Neither have been tried for any offence, let alone convicted.

People who came along to this week's SACC meeting in Edinburgh had the privilege of viewing two beautiful paintings by Adel Abdel Bary. Adel Bary's work was exhibited in London last year. But Bary is a couple of months into his eleventh year of detention without trial in a British prison. His "crime" is to have attempted to assert his right to a fair trial.

Bary is the subject of an extradition request by the United States for his alleged connection with the Nairobi and Dar es Salaam embassy bombings that killed 223 people in 1998. Another man - a Saudi named Khalid Al-Fawwaz - has been languishing in British jails for just over eleven years, fighting attempts to extradite him on similar charges. A third man - an Egyptian called Ibrahim Eidarous - died of bone cancer in July 2007, while under house arrest in Britain after years of fighting attempts to extradite him in connection with the bombings. Throughout this period he was known to the public only as "Detainee X" as a result of a court order protecting his identity.

Barry and Al-Fawwaz deny any involvement in the bombings, as did Ibrahim Eidarous.

Abdel Bary is a lawyer and went to the United States in 1991 with a colleague to defend another Egyptian charged with the assassination in New York of the ultra-Zionist writer and activist Rabbi Meir Kahana. Bary subsequently sought asylum in Britain. He was arrested on July 10 1999 by police acting on an extradition warrant following a request from the US. At a hearing shortly afterwards, Bary's lawyer Gareth Peirce described the US government's case as "a cocktail of surmise and sensationalised hypothesis."

She would say that, of course. But British prosecutors appear to share her assessment. If there was any real evidence of Bary's involvement in the East African bombings he could be tried in Britain. But through all the decade-long legal tug-of-war over his extradition - deeply frustrating and embarrassing to both the British and US governments - the Crown Office has chosen not to put the charges before a British jury.

Why have these men chosen endless detention in Britain in preference to trial in the US? Gareth Peirce told the Washington Post in 2008:

"They anticipate if they are extradited to America, they will be convicted and locked up for the rest of their lives in utterly grotesque conditions. Even though they are innocent, they don't believe they could be acquitted in an American court."

Some clue as to what the men might expect if they lose their fight against extradition can be gleaned from the treatment received by US citizen (and former student at London Metropolitan University) Syed Fahad Hashmi, extradited form Britain in 2007 to face charges in the US of providing "material support" to Al Qaeda.

Hashmi is being held, awaiting trial, in solitary confinement at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Lower Manhattan, and is under Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), first imposed on him by the Attorney General in October 2007.

Jeanne Theoharis, associate professor of political science at Brooklyn College, CUNY , wrote in The Nation in April this year:

"Under the SAMs, Hashmi is allowed no contact with anyone - except his lawyer and, more recently, his parents - no calls, no letters, no talking to other prisoners through the walls, because his cell is electronically monitored inside and out. He must shower and go to the bathroom in view of the camera. He can write one letter a week to a single member of his family, but he cannot use more than three pieces of paper. He is forbidden any contact - directly or through his attorneys - with the news media. He can read newspapers but only portions approved by his jailers - and not until thirty days after publication. He is allowed only one hour out of his cell a day - which is periodically withheld - and is not allowed fresh air but is forced to exercise in a solitary cage. The SAMs pose a significant threat to Hashmi's mental health and his ability to participate fully in his defense. Their severity casts a pall of suspicion over him, in effect depicting him as guilty before he even enters the courtroom. His 'proclivity for violence' is cited as the reason for these measures - despite the fact that he has never been charged with (let alone convicted of) committing an act of violence."

In January this year, a judge turned down a defence request for a modest amelioration of the conditions of Hashmi's imprisonment.

Much of the evidence against Hashmi is secret. His lawyer has been cleared to review the secret evidence but is forbidden from discussing much of it either with with Hashmi or with any outside experts who do not have security clearance.

As far as can be known, the evidence against Hashmi appears to be circumstantial and based on guilt by association. A key prosecution witness is a Junaid Babar - a man awaiting trial for terrorism who has agreed to serve as a government witness in terror trials in Britain and Canada, as well as in Hashmi's case, in return for a reduced sentence.

Anyone convicted of terrorism in the US is likely to serve their sentence - which is likely to be very long indeed - under conditions of the utmost severity, either at the notorious "Supermax" prison at Florence, Colorado or in special units within other federal prisons.

A former warden described Supermax to a CBS news programme as "a cleaner version of hell." Prisoners there are held in conditions of extreme isolation that fall little short of sensory deprivation. Cells typically measure 12 ft by 7.5 feet. They are soundproof and and are made and furnished entirely from concrete. 23-hour lockdown is normal. Meals are taken in the cells. Exercise - a privilege - is taken in a one-man pen and involves no contact with other prisoners.

This is the justice and penal system that Adel Abdel Bary and Khalid Al-Fawwaz want the right to say no to. Whether they are right to hope for better things from the British system remains to be seen.

Have you visited the graves of the living?
In Belmarsh there are four such blocks.
In every block there are twelve graves,
Made from steel and coated with concrete.
If you wish, call them coffins. They call them 'cells'.
From High Security Graves by Abdel Bary

Injustice is more than fate. It is man-made and you must expose it.
From the prisoners message by Makhlulif, Ramda, Labsi, Boudhiba, Hilali, Bary, Kadre, March 2005